China doesn’t want democracy, but it’s beginning to warm to another Western favorite: cars. Until the 1980’s, China forbade its 1.3 billion citizens to buy vehicles for private use. Bikes, not cars, dominated the country’s roads. Today, however, the streets reveal a different scene—one that looks more like the West. The Chinese, it appears, have ditched their car-free Shangri-la for belching tailpipes and traffic jams.
An opinion piece by Henry Gold of the Toronto Star postulates why the Chinese have picked up bad Western habits:
Perhaps it’s the years of Western chest-beating about the grandeur of capitalism and consumerism. Or perhaps it’s the simple human desire to have and consume more, to be more comfortable. Whatever it is, the Chinese are going the American way…
If the Chinese are following in American drivers’ footsteps, they’re headed in the wrong direction. Despite concerns over climate change, however, this is undoubtedly the case. Statistics from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers reveal that car sales in China have skyrocketed. In the first half of 2006, sales climbed nearly 50% (over 2005 sales) to 1.8 million.
With its rise in popularity, car culture in China has spurred sprawl and exurban development, and has coincided, unsurprisingly, with increased emissions. According to the China Daily, emissions of sulphur dioxide increased by 4.2% in the first half of 2006, while the chemical oxygen demand—a major indicator of water pollution—grew by 3.7%.
It’s bad news that Beijing and other Chinese cities have abandoned their bicycles for Buicks—not only for the Chinese, but for any population that cares about climate change. Cars, in China and elsewhere, are driving us further down a dangerous road that may turn into a dead end, if we don’t put the brakes on soon enough.
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