The New York Times led this Sunday with a three-page spread on China's environment, part of a multimedia series called (lest their be any doubt about its contents) "Choking on Growth."
China's environmental crisis has graced the pages of a number of magazines in recent months, including Fortune, Der Spiegel and Seed (full disclosure: I wrote this last article). The Times piece adds little new information to previous reporting (even the title seems to have been filched from Time Asia, which ran a feature by the same name in 2004). But it does give a good overview of China's environmental crisis, demystifying such key concepts as green GDP and driving home the gravity of the problem with startling statistics: check out the interactive map, which explains that Beijing has three times the levels of air particles as Los Angeles.
[To put that in perspective, the American Lung Association rates Los Angeles as the most polluted city in the United States for both smog and particle pollution. -- Ed.]
The lead article might have pointed out that while China's environmental problems are caused by its boom, this boom is fueled in part by Western consumption. Urban Chinese may be buying cars, consuming electricity, and investing ever faster in inefficient housing as their incomes rise, but they are hardly responsible for the factories that turn out the world's mp3 players, clothes dryers and SUVs.
And while China has to clean up its backyard, it can't do that alone. Technology transfer will be critical to its success: many of the tools China needs to fight pollution are in the West. Similarly, I've heard Chinese environmental experts say they expect China to sign on to emissions caps under the Kyoto Protocol if the U.S. takes the lead. Hopefully future articles in the series will look at what the West -- which, in addition to bearing some responsibility for China's current industrial output, is also to blame for historical greenhouse gas emissions -- might do to help.
The good news is that Times provides an audio synopsis of the package in Mandarin. While people in China are well aware of the country's environmental problems -- the pollution is palpable, after all -- and solutions are debated to an extent in the domestic media, the Chinese environmental crisis won't be solved without international communication. Ventures like China Dialogue, an environmental site partially funded by the British environment ministry that publishes news and columns by key environmental figures in English and Chinese, already do an excellent job of bridging East and West. It would be great to now see more mainstream media outlets follow the Times' lead.
How can China go Green?
China cannot go green, in other words, without political change. - This is the critical sentence.
We have to look at our role in turning China into an Environmental sacrifice zone for the global economy.
Read our response to this issue:
In China, Global Environmental Injustice Kills Millions.
Also, our vision of how to get there!
The New Development
Check out dispatches from the youth climate movement: http://www.itsgettinghotinhere.org/
The greed of big buisness here in America is leading to the downfall of the Chinese enviroment.
Companies here know that if their products were to be produced stateside, production would cost more and a more stringent policy to protect the enviroment would have to be followed.
Yet corporate executives see that outsourcing production to other countries with very few or even no enviromental or employee rights saves their buisness money. Yet their financial portfolio grows.