China’s Environmental Problems

Is it Anti-China Day at the New York Times? The most recent salvo is this jeremiad on the environmental problems in China and the failure of the Chinese government’s attempts at slowing the catastrophe, let alone stopping it. To its credit the article does suggest market-based reforms:

The government rarely uses market-oriented incentives to reduce pollution. Officials have rejected proposals to introduce surcharges on electricity and coal to reflect the true cost to the environment. The state still controls the price of fuel oil, including gasoline, subsidizing the cost of driving.

Little mention is made of political reforms. Does the author believe that, given the choice, people would choose to live in a collapsing ecology? That wasn’t the case in the U. S., anyway. Enormous progress has been made here over the last 40 years in cleaing our air, water, and soil. Nor has it been the case in Europe.

BTW, don’t think that we or the Europeans are off the hook on China’s environmental problems. We have improved our own environments at least in part by exporting our polluting manufacturing industries to China. This has been an error for several reasons. First, China does not have the political, legal, or social infrastructure to cope with its own environmental problems. This is clearly revealed in this telling quote from the article:

“The main reason behind the continued deterioration of the environment is a mistaken view of what counts as political achievement,” said Pan Yue, the deputy minister of the State Environmental Protection Administration. “The crazy expansion of high-polluting, high-energy industries has spawned special interests. Protected by local governments, some businesses treat the natural resources that belong to all the people as their own private property.”

Chinese companies can’t survive without the participation of Chinese officials. That’s just the reality there.

The second reason that our indifference to Chinese pollution has been an error is that the wind blows, the ocean currents move. Chinese (and Indian) pollution contribute to pollution and climate change everywhere.

To return to my key point: China needs our help and encouragement to get a handle on its environmental problems. Giving them a free pass won’t do that. But neither will antagonizing them and demonizing them.

2 comments… add one
  • Ian Jarvis Link

    The Chinese goverment will always tell the world exactly what it thinks the world wants to hear. Additionally, all the promises made in Beijing are meaningless anywhere else because all the economies are local and ruled by the mayor, the police chief, the local party leader and a few regional industrialists – again, the disitinction between law and reality.

    China will only react to internal pressure when the middle class gets large enough to rise up and when second and third generational offspring take over the businesses thier fathers started. Those generations won’t be as panicked as their parents about making money; they will take a macro view and that will bring change.

    Until then – and we can’t afford to wait that long – China will only respond to outside pressure. Encouragement is important but by itself, meaningless. Clearly, the world has shifted its own pollution offshore to China but that is even more the reason we need to push, prod and yes bully China to clean up their house becasue in the end, we don’t have time to wait for the owners to get around to it.

  • Veritas Link

    When is the Global Warming people going to wake up? What will happen to the Oceans, due to all the increase traffic on the oceans due to increased trade from China, and other Asian countries? Wouldn’t it take less energy to manufacture more on each continent with wise use of natural resources and minimal shipping on the World’s oceans for resources not common to each continent.?

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