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China: The Great Wall of Unknowns
Alex Steffen, 1 Jun 04

China's GNP grew at a staggering 9.1% last year. With a population of almost 1.3 billion (one quarter of whom are kids), that kind of growth stomps a deep footprint.

How deep? Robert Samuelson calls China's impact on the planet The Great Wall of Unknowns:

"The question about China's economy is no longer what it will do to China but what it will do to the rest of the world... '[China] is the world's biggest consumer of copper, tin, zinc, platinum, steel, and iron ore; second biggest of aluminum and lead; third largest of nickel. It is now the world's second-largest oil consumer [after the United States], and accounted for 35 percent of the global rise in oil demand in 2003.' China also produces 50 percent of the world's cameras and 30 percent of air conditioners and TVs, reports the ADB.

"China's thirst for oil contributed to the price jump to more than $40 a barrel. Just last week the Wall Street Journal reported that cement shortages in the United States threaten construction projects. It attributed the scarcities to China (so many ships are tied up in the China trade that U.S. cement imports are shortchanged)."

We've written quite a bit about China's massive environmental problems. We've paid less attention to the fact that China is now one of the world's scientific powerhouses, diving face-first into biotech (green and otherwise), investing in wind power and becoming one of the top five producers of solar cells, with its Chinese Lightning program.

Now, Bruce sends news that, in a crisp display of South-South science, China and Brazil are teaming up to launch a third Earth observation satellite:

"China and Brazil have launched two jointly developed satellites to gather information on the Earth's environment, agriculture, urban planning and water pollution. ... Lula visited China to seek business and strengthen an alliance he hopes might counter U.S. and European influence on the world stage. China is a huge market for Brazilian farm exports and is set to be Brazil's number two trading partner in 2004."

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