Speed Reads

China Rising

China used more cement in the last 3 years than the U.S. did in the 20th century

We've all seen the headlines about rampant Chinese economic growth. Many have presented evidence — from ghost cities, to excessive financial debt — that China's growth is an unsustainable bubble. And maybe the boom there will soon give way to a bust.

But what I think is under-appreciated is just how huge China's growth has been.

Here's a figure that sticks out: Bill Gates points out that between 2011 and 2013, China used more cement than the U.S. did in the entire 20th century:

(Gates Notes)

Now, China is a huge country with over four times the number of people that the U.S. has. But still. The 20th century was America's century, where it built out its huge continent-spanning highway system, its airports, its sanitation systems, and cities where skyscrapers dominate the skyline like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Miami. Cement — the key ingredient in concrete — is very literally the foundation for modern life and urban living. We drive on it, we walk on it, we live in it. And China is using it at a rate that has never been seen before on this planet.