Our fascination with China around these parts is well-known. However, we’re not so fascinated that we want to read long, number-filled reports about it. I mean, it’s Friday fer chrissake.

So, we let Joel Makower do that work for us. He waded through WorldWatch’s just-released "Vital Signs 2," a compendium of info on worldwide environmental trends, and found lots of tasty (and, okay, some terrifying) tidbits on the world’s fastest growing big economy. Read his summary and be enlightened.

Here’s a taste, from WW:

  • China is rapidly increasing its dependency on automobiles, with sales of cars and light commercial vehicles expected to reach 5 million units in 2005 and 7.3 million by 2007. (p. 56)
  • China’s fleet of airplanes is due to skyrocket from 777 planes in 2003 to over 2,800 planes in 2023. (p. 60)
  • China now ranks second (after the U.S.) in global carbon emissions, with a 14-percent share. Emissions in China are up more than 47 percent since 1990, and it accounted for half the global increase in 2003. (p. 40)
  • Between 2001 and 2020, some 590 thousand people a year in China are projected to suffer premature deaths due to urban air pollution — nearly one third of the projected world total. (p. 95)

China’s on everybody’s mind lately. Newsweek put it on the cover recently (a nice break from smiling white families), featuring a great story by Fareed Zakaria. I wish Zakaria had focused more on the environment and resources and less on potential military conflict … but compared to Robert D. Kaplan’s cover story in the Atlantic Monthly, Zakaria’s practically a hippie.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Kaplan’s a bit of a loon, in my humble opinion, and this story is a great illustration: Everything is a zero sum game, and if China gains power and influence, we lose it. Conflict is inevitable! The whole notion that we might work together with China for mutual benefit is ruled out at the outset. I found Benjamin Schwarz’s piece in the same issue much more sensible, though he too focuses overmuch on sheer geopolitical power politics and too little on the issue that is really driving both China’s expansion and whatever future threat it may pose: energy.

But, I’m rambling now. In summary: China, China, China, China.