China’s soaring economy, fueled by an unyielding appetite for coal, is threatened by the country's steadily diminishing freshwater reserves. Next to agriculture, China's coal mining, processing, combustion, and coal-to-chemicals industries consume more water than any other industrial, municipal, or commercial sector. This massive coal boom is forcing China into a choke point; one where limited and polluted water supplies could constrain energy development, endanger food production, and stymie economic growth. The United States faces similar water-energy confrontations—over millions of gallons of water are taken from ranchers to develop the deep oil and gas shale reserves of the west and there are battles between Georgia and Florida over diminishing drinking water reserves. These confrontations between energy and water are occurring in the places where growth is highest and water resources are under the most stress—California, the Southwest, the Rocky Mountain West, and the Southeast.
Over the past two years, Wilson Center’s China Environment Forum in partnership with Circle of Blue have explored the extensive water circulatory system and vast energy production musculature that makes China and the United States go, and what could also contribute to making both nations falter. The new findings, presented in rich narratives, data, imagery and graphics, provide compelling evidence of a potentially ruinous confrontation between growth, water, food, and fuel that is readily visible in both countries and virtually certain to grow more dire over the next decade.
Global Choke Point, though, is not necessarily a narrative of doom and gloom. The presentations at this special Jackson/Ho China Forum (a regular forum within the Center for China-United State Cooperation) on April 11th highlights the oft-overlooked energy-water-food choke points that the United States and China are facing and stimulates discussion on opportunities for collaboration to address them.