Yes, we’ve reached the end at last !
While picking up from where I left off yesterday, am I going to paint a picture of doom and gloom or do I see hope on the horizon for China and the environment ? Well….
Due to its previously “closed doors” in terms of economics and exterior influences China’s version of the “Industrial Revolution” only occurred a few tens of years ago. The Western version has spanned over two hundred years. (And let’s be honest about it, we shouldn’t take too high a moral stance when it comes to the damage we do to the environment. How many western nations have a “one child” policy ?)
The West is really only just coming to terms with environmental issues itself, and certainly doesn’t have the answer to many of them. The British Government is putting out public information adverts suggesting that we drive our cars 5 less miles a week, and no mention is made of what commercial traffic or aircraft should do ! So to expect, nay demand, that China “clean itself up” at the drop of a hat is unrealistic.
Quoting Wikipedia again:
- Analysts estimated that investment accounted for about 25 percent of GNP in 1979, a rate surpassed by few other countries. Because of the comparatively low level of GNP, however, even this high rate of investment secured only a small amount of resources relative to the size of the country and the population. In 1978, for instance, only 16 percent of the GNP of the United States went into gross investment, but this amounted to US$345.6 billion, whereas the approximately 25 percent of China’s GNP that was invested came to about the equivalent of US$111 billion and had to serve a population 4.5 times the size of that in the United States. The limited resources available for investment prevented China from rapidly producing or importing advanced equipment. Technological development proceeded gradually, and outdated equipment continued to be used as long as possible. Consequently, many different levels of technology were in use simultaneously (see Science and technology in the People’s Republic of China). Most industries included some plants that were comparable to modern Western facilities, often based on imported equipment and designs. Equipment produced by Chinese factories was generally some years behind standard Western designs.
If one wishes to hang a label on that and, for arguments sake, to call it “the mistakes of the past” then remember that mistakes take time to put right. “Mistakes” are still being made today, all across the world.
Look in detail at how much rain forest is being destroyed on a daily basis across the globe and then tell me that China is the only nation that appears not to care for the environment.
Look at “Food Miles” and then check your weekly shopping again when you get it home. See where the fruit comes from. (Yes, I know fruit is good for you, but if you live anywhere in the world that is truly suited to human habitation there will be locally grown fruit which will adequately provide you with the beneficial input your body requires.)
Look at how much money and scientific effort is put into researching cures for, and ways around, infertility in humans when there are already 6.8 BILLION of us walking around, and some UN projections see that figure doubling over the next 100 years ! I say again, at least China has its “one child” policy.
Leaving aside the emotional issues that surround people who, for whatever reason, are unable to conceive naturally that money would be far better spent researching ways to reduce the rate at which the human population is procreating. But then that wouldn’t be good economics, would it ? (and it would also upset the Catholics and the Mormons, among others. 😉 )
In these modern, fast-paced times in which we live the outside world cannot expect China to worship two Gods at once. The most powerful God will win, and that God is the demand for cheap products and one sixth of the earth’s population as a market and as a way of generating profit. That God is money. Because of our own selfish greed the environment will always be the “Lesser God”.
The “developed world” cared nowt for the environment while it was developing and, in real terms, in ways that really would make a difference, it still doesn’t.
I remember seeing an interesting documentary a few years back which outlined the way the various stages of the growth of a global economy. Obviously I can’t remember all the details, but it charted the progression of the “old world” as it went from agriculture based, through the Industrial Revolution and the technological advances of the 20th Century to the basically “service industry” culture that we now see in Europe.
Step by step (and extremely simplistically) it worked like this :
- You are an agricultural nation therefore you are self-sufficient and have the ability to export your surplus product. Your exports give you a little extra wealth. A little extra wealth gives you a slow growth in population.
- You make advances in industry so you can then export more product, using the raw materials of your country. More net exports = more wealth. More wealth = more population growth.
- You make technological advances which enable you to communicate with each other more easily, speeding up the whole process, and enable you to extract every last iota of raw material from within your borders. The dwindling raw material stocks cannot keep pace with the demands of your wealthy and ever-growing population, so you have to become a net importer.
- You run out of raw materials so you turn into a “service industry” for other nations, charging high prices for your expertise in order to try to balance the economic books because you now import everything else for your massive population.
That model spreads around the world, from nation to nation, because at all times it requires other countries to get off their butts, get out of the fields, and fill the manufacturing void… thereby progressing along the stages of their own model.
Like the “arcs” of development spreading out from the Guangxi Qinzhou Free Trade Port Area each country/region of the world turns from Mother Nature into a concrete wilderness for the “benefit” of mankind.
Europe spread to America, spread to Asia (excluding China).
The programme predicted, well over ten years ago I think, that China would be the next large slice of the world that would travel that path, and also predicted that major, and I mean major, irrigation systems would soon be required to be considered for the greater part of the African continent because that was going to have to become the world’s “garden” in the very foreseeable future.
Europe spread to America, spread to Asia (excluding China) – and now spreading to China… rapidly !
How China copes with the myriad of pressures put upon it by a world that has such a voracious appetite remains to be seen.
What I do know is that China will cope, in a Chinese way.
The Chinese people are basically a happy people. Yes there are those in some areas who still only earn about 1500RMB per year (at today’s prices that’s about US$220, £135 Sterling, or €157), but wealth within each nation is relative to the cost of living in that nation, and every nation has its poorer elements in varying degrees. Like I said, China is a “developing” nation.
The Chinese people love their country in a way I have not found on any of my other travels over the years.
I certainly would not want the responsibilities facing Hu Jintao, Jiang Zemin, Wen Jiabao and the rest of the Chinese leadership at the moment, or that of any of their successors over the next century. The challenges are enormous. The one good thing is they will not have to contend with mistrust based on religious ideology, and that will mean they can keep their minds on the matters in hand.
One day the new flat roads and the developments that surround them will extend deep into the Chinese hinterland where the poorest of the Chinese live and where the outdated skeletons of the Communist revolution have been disgorging their toxicity into the streams and rivers for so long, and we all hope that happens sooner rather than later. But everything takes time, and time is relative. Chinese time more so.
One day the “Wal-Mart” ethos of quality control and factory inspection might filter its way into the industries that need the chemicals produced by those disgusting plants. Maybe the West might even be willing to send in some “experts” in how to clear up the mess. ( Service Industry… remember ? )
Until that happens China will keep flattening the limestone karst countryside so that flat concrete roads can be laid in order for people to continue to be able to ride their bicycles, mopeds and scooters where nature once reigned supreme.
In any case bicycles create less pollution than the motor car, so in global terms the environment is safer in Chinese hands.
Just my opinion.
(Completed using the following ingredients: