Thanks a lot for following me all this time. Well, at a cerebral level, I worry that China is getting a free pass. The argument in favor of China’s growth while getting away with horrible environmental harms is basically that the country first has to grow and stabilize. This is hard to argue against. Once incomes and education and health indicators are at a certain level, so says the Chinese government, only then will they remediate their environmental destructions. (Go here for a list of China’s Environmental Issues). Only consumer-based economies have proven track records following this rapid growth/aggressive resource extraction and then stabilization/clean up model.
Most western countries followed this approach, too - rapid economic growth paired with extreme resource extraction, then efficiencies through technology, and then clean up. I’d argue that major countries, the UN, and the World Bank encourage this model.
Severe though China’s problems with water, soil and air are, they are not different in kind from those of other nations in the past. As Pan Jiahua of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) puts it, “We’re following the US, Japan and UK and because of inertia we don’t have the capacity to stop quickly.” Via
But I think China is different than the West. It’s compressing what Europe and the U.S. did in 400 years down to 25. China’s ravaging ecosystems at such great speeds and big scales that there’s no built-in recovery time.
During that 400 year growth period, New England, for example, was deforested four times. How four times? Because the forests had time to bounce back and recover. I’m not saying America is righteous. I’m saying that China seems to be ignoring the capabilities of ecosystems to recover at such rapid paces and large scales - it cannot deforest four times in 25 years.
In August, the Economist explored how China’s rapid growth comes at the expense of tremendous environmental pollution. Check it out if you can.
In real life I worry about sea level rise along coasts in western countries. Yes, poor countries will be hit hard. Distasteful as it sounds, coastal communities in poor countries can be moved (sometimes by force) much more easily than, say, Manhattan or Miami. And the world needs the economies of western countries in order to recover. If the west suffers, so will the rest of the world with respect to environmental recovery and disaster response efforts.
You can read about displaced people, called Climate Refugees, here.