The German magazine Spiegel has an astounding interview with Pan Yue, Deputy Director of China's State Environmental Protection Administration. Pan is remarkably candid about China's environmental situation, and about the damage caused by China's rapid development. I can't recall ever seeing a Chinese government official talk this bluntly about the country's problems -- heck, it would be hard to find a government official from any country being this clear and stark.
It's tempting to excerpt the whole thing, but here are some choice bits:
We are using too many raw materials to sustain this growth. To produce goods worth $10,000, for example, we need seven times more resources than Japan, nearly six times more than the United States and, perhaps most embarrassing, nearly three times more than India. Things can't, nor should they be allowed to go on like that.
...This miracle [China's economic growth] will end soon because the environment can no longer keep pace.
...Because air and water are polluted, we are losing between 8 and 15 percent of our gross domestic product. And that doesn't include the costs for health. Then there's the human suffering: In Bejing alone, 70 to 80 percent of all deadly cancer cases are related to the environment.
SPIEGEL: You have advocated the introduction of the so-called "green gross domestic product." What does that entail?
Pan: It is a model that also takes into account the costs of growth, like environmental pollution for example, and is a topic we are discussing with German experts. We want the performance of functionaries to not only be measured in terms of economic growth but also in terms of how they solve environmental problems and social issues.
China Newsweek interviewed Pan in January; an English translation of that conversation is here, and he's just as candid with the Chinese press as he is with Spiegel. Pan Yue looks to be someone to watch in China. If he is removed from his position or is otherwise shut up, China's in deep trouble; if he's promoted or takes on a higher office, China might have a chance. Pan Yue may be the key to a Chinese environmental "win scenario."
If only we had an elected official who would speak with such clarity and passion.
Here's hoping Pan is embraced, rather than cast aside; and that his being allowed to speak out on these issues portends real change at the highest levels, and not just a form a greenwashing.
Much depends on the emergence of a Bright Green China. Pan seems like the guy to deliver it.
I have long suspected that India is "underperforming" China in development because of something like this. Your point at the end is most key: will the debate stay open, or will they shut him up? India's debate, like in the US and Europe, is open. They're GDP growth is probably underperforming China's because they're paying environmental costs "on the books" that China has "under the table."
The "miracle" that will come to an end though is "9% growth", not growth itself. I expect that once China gets on the Green bandwagon there will be a one or two year retrenchment as they rearrange their economy, and then they'll grow at the more moderate "Indian" pace of 6-7% annual. 7% is nothing to be ashamed of though, and will still allow them to catch to the West's level of wealth within a few decades.
Remember, a rich China is a China that can afford solar power and fuel cells. They only burn coal because they're poor. Rich is good.
The big unknown is whether the PRC can stand a 1-2 year retrenchment. Nobody knows how much of the banking sector will collapse at the first recession and the PRC's central banking authorities don't really want to find out. It's quite likely that an awful lot of those chinese that have to relocate will end up causing migration out of the PRC. The rich, the well educated, those best able to make it in other countries will tend to leave, providing some escape valves for the population that will want to get away from the pollution.
Unfortunately, for an awful lot of people, they're going to exceed the local carrying capacity and just die because they can't get away. It'll be an incredible tragedy, incredibly destabilizing for the PRC, and dangerous for world stability. That's when things get really scary.
Quote from the interview:
"Political co-determination should be part of any socialist democracy. I want more discussions with the people affected. However, I am not one to put on a show just to look democratic to the outside. We need a law that enables and guarantees public participation, especially when it comes to environmental projects."
This reinforces a thought I've been having lately; will China leapfrog democracy as we know it today in favour of some emerging participatory system?