China used more cement in the last three years than the US used in the entire 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:
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.