The Spider Webs and the Lion: How Energy and Environmental Issues Entangle China

May 14, 2014

The rapid economic transformation of China—home to the world’s fastest-growing economy—garners worldwide attention. Economists, politicians, academics and pundits contest how soon the Chinese economy will surpass that of the United States—but not the fact that it will do so eventually. However, hidden beneath the headlines, seven complex energy and environmental challenges have sufficient influence to hinder Chinese growth. The seven farreaching and interconnected webs within China are its insatiable energy demand, debilitating water crisis, cumulative pollution effects, rapid urbanization, a must-grow-to-survive economy, limited central government control and persistent human-over-nature ethos. Individually, each presents a significant obstacle to China’s stability and growth, but collectively their effects make them even more formidable. These challenges will significantly limit growth, inhibit development and potentially undermine the stability of China’s central government. Decisions regarding China’s energy and environmental policies will likely impact the country’s economic development, thus shifting the nation’s current course. China’s rapid growth has made it a global economic power—creating many interdependent relationships between China and other powerful nations; thus, a stumbling China presents significant challenges to the global economy.