As China Roars, Pollution Reaches Deadly Extremes

Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

China’s industrial growth depends on coal, plentiful but polluting, from mines like this one in Shenmu, Shaanxi Province, behind a village store.

Aug. 25 — No country in history has emerged as a major industrial power without creating a legacy of environmental damage that can take decades and big dollops of public wealth to undo.

Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

China’s cement factories, like this one in Ningxia Province, use 45 percent more power than the world average, and its steel makers use about 20 percent more.

But just as the speed and scale of China’s rise as an economic power have no clear parallel in history, so its pollution problem has shattered all precedents. Environmental degradation is now so severe, with such stark domestic and international repercussions, that pollution poses not only a major long-term burden on the Chinese public but also an acute political challenge to the ruling Communist Party. And it is not clear that China can rein in its own economic juggernaut.

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