China in Crisis? Climate Change, Water Contamination Looming Threats

Argentinian Soya Field.
Argentinian Soya Field. By User:Alfonso”Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

China’s environmental and food logistics problems may be far worse than they are letting on.

China’s hunger for soybeans is a window into an encroaching environmental crisis


How China’s desperate efforts to source soybeans from all over the world is explained by the country’s fear of running out of water.

China approached Peru and Brazil with an extraordinarily ambitious proposition several years ago. It would build a 3,000-mile railroad from the western coast of Peru to the eastern coast of Brazil to handle commerce and trade from the interior of South America to China.

If successful, the massive infrastructure project would expand Peru’s trade options and give Brazil’s soybean farmers a cheaper, more direct route to China than the increasingly expensive shipping through the Panama Canal.

The much bigger question is why China was willing to go to such extraordinary lengths. Yes, such a railroad through the heart of the Amazon would shorten times for soybean shipping between Brazil and mainland China, and bypassing the Panama Canal to ship across South America and then from a Peruvian port would likely save the Chinese money. But why the pressing need? Are soybeans a genuinely strategic resource, requiring China to secure their continued supply?

The answer, in a word, is yes. Soybeans have become quite important to China. They are the answer–for now–to a looming crisis building for 20 years that now threatens the fabric of the Chinese economy in the near future.

Sixty percent of all soybeans grown worldwide are now exported to China, with 5% to 8% growth per year and no signs of slowing down. Experts predict this insatiable appetite could outstrip the entire global production of soybeans–including in the U.S. and Brazil–within a decade. This partially explains why China is willing to build a railroad through the Amazon. It needs to buy almost every soybean grown in South America.

In northern China, where soybeans were once traditionally grown, water tables are dropping at a rate of up to 10 feet a year. Northern China (and parts of the west) is running out of water. The remaining water in rivers and streams is so polluted that the government has a daunting sanitization task. Add the effects of desertification–drifting sands covering cropland at the rate of 1,400 square miles (that’s like adding a new desert larger than Rhode Island) every year–and it’s nearly impossible to grow soybeans in northern China.

Read more:

The climate change in question isn’t necessarily caused by CO2, it might have been caused by excessive land clearing. A study in Australia in 2013 blamed excessive land clearing for a substantial drop in rainfall in arid regions (h/t JoNova).

The effect of land clearing on rainfall and fresh water resources in Western Australia: a multi-functional sustainability analysis

Mark A. Andrich & Jörg Imberger

It is widely recognised that southwest Western Australia has experienced a decline in rainfall over the last 40 years. It is generally thought that this decline is due to natural periodic variations and changes induced by global warming, but recently evidence has emerged suggesting that a substantial part of the decline may be due to extensive logging close to the coast to make way for housing developments and the clearing of native vegetation for wheat planting on the higher ground. We compare coastal and inland rainfall to show empirically that 55% to 62% of the observed rainfall decline is the result of land clearing alone. Using the index of sustainable functionality, we show that the economic consequences associated with this change of land use on fresh water resource availability have been underestimated to date and disproportionately affect the environment and poorest members of the population.

Read more (paywalled):

If the claims in the fast company article are true, obviously its a huge risk for China to have to import such a large portion of their food needs, it leaves them very vulnerable to any interruption of international trade. But the alleged contamination and water table problems in the North of the country may prove intractable. Lets hope China finds a solution to their problems before their situation becomes more desperate.

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September 26, 2018 3:51 pm

“claims in the fast company article” – first?
Helps to explain China’s interest in buying up rural land in Australia.

Reply to  Martin Clark
September 27, 2018 4:09 am

yeah it might do,
however if they reckon to plant soy?
theyre dreamin! to quote” the castle”.
12 inches rainfall is considered good in most places that crop grains,
more is a luxury.
we dont have topsoil worth a damn in most of aus and soy is shallow rooted.
they want it for pigfeed not people.
and i read theyre working on GMO-ing bacteria to enable poor feed to replace soy by some aminoacid stunt.
it was in one of the feed industry emails i get
see if i can refind n will post it.

Reply to  ozspeaksup
September 27, 2018 7:52 am

I suspect this article is over dramatising the issue. One of the first responses China had to Trumps trade war, was to ban US soybean imports. No a sign of a country on the edge for “every last soya bean”.

As usual dramatic claims boost readership: click bait.

Reply to  Martin Clark
September 30, 2018 3:15 pm

I live part of the year in SW Australia. It’s all either forest, wheat fields or wine grapes. There are issues inland with salt due to high water tables caused by trees being removed for crops. Less rain? Doubt it.
As to speedier transport of soybeans or rail transport cheaper than ships? Really? Sounds like BS.

Sandra Neary
September 26, 2018 3:53 pm

I did a quick search and could not find a chart that shows the amount of water required by soybeans versus other crops. It would be helpful to see that sort of information in this discussion.

September 26, 2018 4:03 pm

Environmental arbitrage for green solutions somewhere else.

September 26, 2018 4:03 pm

Soybeans in US dollars peaked at 1789 in 2012.
This week the price is at 814 (no typo).
The last low was 849 set in 2015.
If there is a shortage of soybeans it is not showing in the price, despite China’s huge increase in consumption over the past two decades.

Reply to  Bob Hoye
September 26, 2018 4:06 pm

Should have added:
Maybe the Chinese are like Democrats in California.
They just have to have a railroad.

Ben of Houston
Reply to  Bob Hoye
September 26, 2018 5:44 pm

Part of that is due to the trade war nonsense. It was well over $1,000 earlier this year

Robert Acuff
Reply to  Bob Hoye
September 26, 2018 7:14 pm

It is now at 846 for November delivery and 897 for January 2019 delivery. It would seem that the price is rising.

Robert Acuff
Reply to  Bob Hoye
September 26, 2018 7:14 pm

It is now at 846 for November delivery and 897 for January 2019 delivery. It would seem that the price is rising.

Alan Tomalty
Reply to  Robert Acuff
September 27, 2018 12:15 am

If the Chinese really did put an import tariff on American soybeans in response to Trump’s new tariffs on Chinese products; that would have put the price down in the US if the Chinese were big consumers of US soybeans. However if the Chinese are really desperate in having to eat soybeans, then those tariffs on American soybeans wont last long and the American price should go back up. I think Trump has a big edge in his trade war with China. China only imports products from the US that it absolutely needs, mostly commodities.

Reply to  Robert Acuff
September 27, 2018 7:50 am

The decline from 1789 in 2012 to 814 this week is the main trend.
This week’s quote for the January contract does not mean that it will be 897 in January.
If the mentioned shortages were real, the trend would be up.

September 26, 2018 4:07 pm

No doubt the UN and the climate industrial complex will remain silent right up to the point the Amazon basin is all fields and no trees.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  ResourceGuy
September 27, 2018 4:30 am

If you want a lot of humans poking around in the Amazon forest, then build a railroad through it.

September 26, 2018 4:14 pm

well….China just slapped tariffs on our imported soy

China is also investing big time in growing soy in Africa too

John Bell
September 26, 2018 4:17 pm

I heard talk some years ago that China wants to build a mega underground water pipe to take water north to grow food. It would be a ma$$ive project.

John Bell
September 26, 2018 4:32 pm

I believe China is buying land in Africa to grow food. Time to go back to the one child policy, I say.

Ernest Bush
Reply to  John Bell
September 26, 2018 10:36 pm

China bought land in Africa and has added a railway infrastructure to get crops to market. They purchased land cheaply in semi-arid regions. It has been suggested that they have noticed that during periods like the Maunder Minimum present Chinese crop lands will turn into semi-arid land and that the areas where they built infrastructure in Africa are going to get increased rainfall and green up.

China has also noticed what Japan and Russia has figured out. An aging population can’t work as hard while requiring more social services. State planners figured out that there will not be enough workers to replace that aging population if they discourage marriage and limit the number of children born to a couple. Russia is paying couples to get married and have children. I don’t know what Japan is doing.

They all miss the obvious. Import young workers from other countries. The problem is they are racist and don’t want other cultures and skin colors added to their populations.

Leo Smith
Reply to  Ernest Bush
September 26, 2018 11:09 pm

Yup. Those durned racist immigrants.

Reply to  Leo Smith
September 27, 2018 6:07 am

Actually, it’s clear to me that Ernest Bush is saying that Russians, Chinese, and Japanese are racists, not the immigrants.

Reply to  Ernest Bush
September 27, 2018 8:50 am

I don’t know what Japan is doing

They’re selling surrogate sex-robots for singles. I don’t think that’s going to help their situation, tho.

September 26, 2018 4:36 pm

Don’t forget that China is a communist dictatorship. Failure is inevitable.

September 26, 2018 4:44 pm

North America faced a similar problem in the 1930s.

… Men Against the Desert, which chronicled the Prairie farmer’s struggle to overcome wind and drought during the Depression. His book records the triumph of the farmers and scientists who painstakingly discovered how to farm the drylands successfully. link

It has been said that the PFRA saved Saskatchewan from becoming a desert.

The Chinese are not stupid. Even so, I’m sure the American and Canadian experience of the Dirty Thirties is surely worth studying.

September 26, 2018 4:47 pm

China Is Winning the Race for Water Security in Asia

“The future of Asia’s water—upon which about four billion people depend—lies in China’s hands. Through its presence in Tibet, China controls the headwaters of ten of the eleven major rivers of Asia.”

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Quaesiveris
September 27, 2018 4:42 am

That should be their “occupation” of Tibet. China stole Tibet and the world said nothing. Is it any wonder that China thinks it can steal more land in the future?

The world has a new leader now. We’ll see what happens.

September 26, 2018 5:08 pm

Didn’t Mr. Watts have a story about Asia buying wheat from Argentina? If no on this site I did see it somewhere as Australia wheat was damaged by a cold front a week or two ago. It’s becoming harder to keep up with all these crop losses. Can anybody just say Grand Solar Minimum much?

September 26, 2018 5:12 pm

China cannot continue their ability to feed the people without importing soybeans, 1/3 of which come from the US. It’s not a problem they can solve internally in a few years, if ever. My take is China will drop selective tariffs to mollify the US in a political move to keep their economy on a roll and the people happy. October/November are the peak shipping months for soybeans from the US so expect something to happen soon. No, I’m not claiming to be an expert in soybeans, or politics.

Reg Nelson
Reply to  markl
September 26, 2018 5:29 pm

Trump won’t accept selective tariffs and won’t back down. For many years the US allowed free access to our market, when you couldn’t do any business in China without JV with a Chinese company. Only until just recently has China abandoned this requirement. Piracy is also another huge problem, as is currency manipulation.

Bottom line is that given the current trade imbalance, China is far more dependent on exports to the US, than the US is on exports to China.

Reply to  Reg Nelson
September 26, 2018 7:47 pm

“Trump won’t accept selective tariffs and won’t back down”….You don’t understand how he negotiates. “China is far more dependent on exports to the US, than the US is on exports to China.” and China is way more dependent on imports from the US than the US is imports from China.

Ernest Bush
Reply to  markl
September 26, 2018 10:41 pm

Trump announced today that China was lowering more tariffs. It probably got lost in the feeding frenzy about the phony Kavanaugh scandal.

September 26, 2018 5:15 pm

Just as the Kurds in the mountains of Turkey are a threat to Turkeys water needs, so is the ownership of the previously indertendant country of Tibet.

The next war will be about water, look at the Middle East.


Walter Sobchak
Reply to  Michael
September 26, 2018 8:04 pm

The wars in the Middle East are not about water. They are about politics and religion.

Israel has no natural water supply to speak of. Yet they have become 100% self sufficient in water. Technology and capital can solve these problems.

September 26, 2018 5:27 pm

Whose words are these.

“The climate change in question isn’t necessarily caused by CO2, it might have been caused by excessive land clearing. A study in Australia in 2013 blamed excessive land clearing for a substantial drop in rainfall in arid regions (h/t JoNova).”

Sometimes it is hard to tell who is saying what in these reports.

China has had this water problem for many years. It is the primary reason why they take long term lease, or purchase large tracts of land in various countries. The residual aquifer levels are very low.

michael hart
September 26, 2018 6:13 pm

“Experts predict this insatiable appetite could outstrip the entire global production of soybeans–including in the U.S. and Brazil–within a decade.”

I predict that these experts will find production of soybeans rises to meet demand. That is just what the Chinese government is trying to do and private farmers in other nations will help them out, for a suitable price.

Brett Keane
September 26, 2018 6:32 pm

It is part of my trade to understand these things, and the change to a cooling regime from about 2006 or earlier leads to shrinking of the ITCZ and adjacent rainy bands to north and south. E.g., our Kiwi navy taking water-making plants to desperate South Pacific etc. islands. Similar drying of northern Sahel now, a la the 60’s amd 70’s.
Polar ice turnaround is just another sign of it, and the ‘Quiet Sun’ may exacerbate things, time will tell. But AMOC cyclic shift along with preceding Pacific is enough. CO2 seems to be failing to heat the oceans, strangely enough.

Joel O'Bryan
September 26, 2018 6:33 pm

The Chinese love their pork. Pigs farms are everywhere. The co-exist side-by-side with their chicken and water fowl farms, like duck, in many many areas. It is the big reason the Chinese have such a problem containing novel influenza outbreaks that cross and exchange genetic material from infections in chickens to pigs to humans.

And what do they feed their hogs?

They have mostly been feeding them US grown soybeans. Which now have a tariff imposed on them by the Chinese government as a retaliation for Trump’s tariff’s on manufactured goods.

The Chinese are not threatened by climate change. That is a hoax. What threatens China is water and food scarcity. Not becasue of a trace gas in the atmosphere, but because they have 1.4 Billion hungry mouths to feed. Mouths that like pork and chicken and duck in their noodles and rice.

So the soybean supply that feeds their hogs is threatened.

Patrick MJD
September 26, 2018 6:35 pm

China is building (Has built by now?) the worlds largest “viaduct” to bring water from where it is to where it is better used. I can’t recall the actual full details now but I do know they are using massive amounts of concrete to build it.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  John Bills
September 26, 2018 8:00 pm

That’s the one. Thanks for taking the time to look for it.

Robert Acuff
September 26, 2018 7:53 pm

I believe that China foresee a day when they will need to be able to just take what they feel that they need. Why else would they be stealing as much technology as they possibly can and at the same time building their military at such an alarming rate. China plans for the long term.

Ken Tarpley
Reply to  Robert Acuff
September 26, 2018 8:19 pm

A military conflict with China in the future is a very real possibility. Everyone is so concerned about the trade war but a hot military confrontation with China is something the West better be keeping on the radar.

Reply to  Ken Tarpley
September 26, 2018 11:29 pm

The sooner that Trump clamps down on China, the better off the world will be. China responds to the trade dispute by putting a tariff on US soybeans. Talk about shotgun yourself in the foot. Now their Soybeans import bill just went up 25% from USA and raised the global price. I guess good for everyone else growing soybeans.

Trump broke his first election promise by not declaring China a currency manipulator on Day 1. He has sort of engaged China with the latest trade war rounds, but has sort of pussyfooted around a little to polite for my liking. China will be able to devalue its currency and get around some of that, while trying to engage with other countries. But now other countries like Malaysia just told China to take a hike on some of its debt financing for infrastructure projects. Who wants to fall into a debt trap with China, and many countries are starting to question China’s motives in their debt trap financing arrangements for their One Belt and Road. China just basically took over the port in Sri Lanka on a 99 year absolute lease because Sri Lanka defaulted on the onerous loans supplied by China. Greece will be next, with their foot firmly entrenched into Europe.

The only thing China understands is a Boot on their neck. Look how they bullied the Philippines in seizing their Spratley Islands and Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. And effectively seized their fishing grounds and the majority of their 200 Mile EEZ zone in the western sea. China must be confronted over the militarization in the South China Sea, or they take over SE Asia and beyond. That is Round 7-8 of the 9 round trade war. We only presently at Round 2 or 3. Stay tuned for the fireworks. Better sooner than later. It is a good thing that we have someone like Trump to make sure that China is check-mated or they will be sending 100 million settlers to Australia and beyond.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Earthling2
September 27, 2018 5:05 am

China tried to steal some of Vietnam’s land back around 1982, but the Vietnamese bloodied the Chinese army and the Chinese decided to stop their attempted theft.

The arrogant leaders of China are the next big test of freedom. But remember: They are not ten feet tall. They can be defeated and have been defeated. The only people the Chinese military has defeated in modern times are the poor, defenseless, pacifist people of Tibet. The Chinese military is real tough on those who won’t or can’t fight back, but when they face sufficient opposition they don’t fare very well.

The U.S. is just going to have to stay ahead of China from now until the end of time. Leftwing appeasers don’t meet this test. If they get in power, we can hang it up. That’s why we are in the situation we are in now, because Leftwing politicians have no clue when it comes to national defense. They have proven it over and over again. If you value your freedom, don’t elect them.

Reply to  Tom Abbott
September 27, 2018 9:50 am

In terms of fighting a war, China is facing a serious demographic problem.
A lack of young men. And the young men that are there many who have been spoiled after having being raised as the only son of their parents, and the only grandchild for 4 grandparents.

Not to mention the anger of those parents and grandparents should their only heir get killed in a war.

Reply to  Earthling2
September 27, 2018 9:52 am

China “manipulates” it’s currency the same way we and every other country does. By buying the bonds of target countries.
When China “manipulates” it’s currency by buying US Treasuries.

M__ S__
September 26, 2018 8:52 pm

Lots of changes happening in Asia, including changes in the way the resources are used and even significant tectonic activity. Ultimately everything is connected.

Reply to  M__ S__
September 27, 2018 9:32 am

… thanks to them not yet having the Western infection of Green Slime. Just wait until they do, and maximizing yield becomes evil, and GM verboten.

Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy
September 26, 2018 9:17 pm

China and India cover major share of the world population.
1. The geographical area of China and India respectively are 9,596, 960 km2 and 3,287, 263 km2.
2. Area under agriculture of China and India respectively are 54.7% and 60.5%.
3. Area under irrigation in 2012 of China and India respectively are 690,070 km2 and 667,000 km2.
4. The population changed from 1950 to 2014 of China and India respectively are 543 million to 1.39 billion and 376 million to 1.27 billion.
5. Urban population in 2017 of China and India respectively are 57.9% and 33.5%

Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

Charles Nelson
September 26, 2018 10:46 pm

Yet China is a net EXPORTER of food.

September 27, 2018 3:49 am

Terms such as “crisis” and “food security” makes it sound as though this were about avoiding starvation. Chinese diets have become considerably richer in recent decades, with a huge increase in meat consumption.
India’s per capita meat consumption is roughly one tenth of china’s ( India and much of Africa would love to have China’s “food security” problems.

September 27, 2018 4:12 am

i posted a tip re an ad BY china into a usa (idaho?) paper this week
pertinent to this it seems

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