After more than three decades of rapid industrialization and modernization, China is on the cusp of potentially becoming the world’s largest economy. Yet China’s economic miracle has imposed tremendous costs on the environment and public health. Topping this list is extensive air pollution, water pollution, and soil contamination—outdoor air pollution, for example, has been linked to 1.2 million premature deaths in China. The result, as shown in the recent viral documentary “Under the Dome,” has been an environmental health crisis that has profound economic, social, and political ramifications. The ascending popularity of the documentary, followed by its quick disappearance from all major websites in China, beget a series of questions on China’s environmental health crisis: What is the nature and magnitude of the crisis? What are its causes and consequences? What is the response of the Chinese government to the crisis and is this response sufficient to the challenges at hand?
In this next installment of the Asia Unbound podcast series, I speak with environmental economist Hu Tao, who currently directs the China program at the World Wildlife Fund. Drawing on his previous role as senior environmental economist at the Policy Research Center in the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection, Hu speaks to what the government is currently doing to stem the crisis, and in what ways he thinks they should be doing more.