Car Craze, July 2006: In the past decade, car ownership in China has quadrupled. But what are the environmental and economic implications of the growth of China’s motor industry?
In China, more than anywhere else, cars are synonymous with status. “In the past, I felt jealous of other people driving cars. Now I feel they envy me”, states first time owner Wei Li. Gone are the rivers of bicycles, replaced by gridlocked roads. But cars are already having a serious impact on the country’s environment. China has 16 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities and much of this smog is caused by drivers. And China’s roads are amongst the most deadly in the world. “According to Chinese culture, you can mortally offend someone’s pride if you put on a seatbelt whilst they’re driving”, explains AA spokesman Jason Li. Students train on purpose built roads and only experience real driving conditions after they pass their test. Others are concerned about the foreign policy implications of China’s thirst for fuel. The country already struggles to meet its energy needs. By 2020, it’s thought China will consume 9 million oil barrels a day, pushing up oil prices even further. But new car owners refuse to be put off. As Jason Li explains: “Cars are a symbol of having made it and being able to enjoy that freedom.”
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