Scientific American has a fairly long exposition of China's environmental woes and worries. It puts the Chinese problems in great perspective, assessing whether or not the government can stand by its promises to clean up the environment while continuing to grow the economy at a breakneck pace. And it's not optimistic.
This paragraph does a good job of describing how bad it can get:
"Haze wreathes the country, completely obscuring landmarks like sacred Mount Tai. Breathing can feel like smoking a cigarette, including rawness at the back of the throat and an unrelenting cough. The smog and smoke can achieve a density sufficient to block cellphone reception or prevent GPS from providing the requisite guidance coordinates, with the sky itself become like the ceiling of a building. (Perhaps it’s a defense mechanism against spy satellites, ordinary Chinese joke.) Even China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection provides tacit acknowledgement by noting tersely that a full third of the year in
major cities across the country is taken up by days that boast “substandard air quality.” And that’s just the air."
And this is a pretty good summary of the current economic situation vis-a-vis the environment:
"China may have begun to become rich enough to afford the seeming luxury of a healthy environment (as predicted by economist Simon Kuznets long ago) but that reduction in carbon intensity has come about largely through replacing small, inefficient, heavily polluting coal-fired power plants with larger but more efficient ones (along with a growing contribution from large dams, which have their own environmental impacts in China and beyond.) Pollution apportioned per capita is tiny when meted out over a population of 1.35 billion. Like the rest of the world, a lot depends on class, however. The newly rich are responsible for pollution that exceeds that of the typical European bourgeois, while hundreds of millions of poor peasants hardly contribute to this global environmental burden."And what's also interesting is that the comments have a good (as far as comments section discussions go) discussion of China's energy usage profile, including NUCLEAR ENERGY. Because nuclear energy can maintain or increase their energy output while reducing their emissions drastically. And the Chinese government KNOWS that.