China is beating us in everything. Growth in China over the past decade has been nothing short of astonishing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean China is going to become a gas-guzzling, resource-consuming monster that will bring the rest of the world down with it. In addition to the recent news claiming some parts of China are now beating the United States in standardized test scores, they have also surpassed us as the largest car market. The unprecedented growth of China and, as importantly, the growth of its middle class has left the environmental world wondering if the globe’s feeble little legs can support such monumental consumption. If you measure your eco-footprint on the web you’ll find that simply because you are American it would take more than one (even up to three or four) earths to support the global population living at your level. Though our planet is still enduring out consumption demands, the fear is with China’s advancement as a consumer nation, the boat will begin to fill with water a little faster. It’s true. The impact of another 1.3 billion people living at the level of an average US citizen will increase environmental degradation dramatically, but I don’t think this will happen. China has always been a conservative nation striving, not for progress for the sake of progress, but for longevity. It is this fundamental conservatism that leaves me with little fear for China’s negative impact on the world.
This past weekend I attended the Clean Tech Symposium, where several panels and speakers discussed the development of clean technology in China and the United States. What I came away with was that China was not only able to, but was willing to begin making fundamental changes to the way it operates in order to reduce its environmental impact. Easier said than done for a country that is producing at least one coal power plant a week, but this is China. Ryan Dick, a Co-Founder of GIGA (Green Ideas Green Actions) which seeks to “green” construction in China said it well. He made the point that China combines a top down approach to development and an unyielding dedication to the health and wellness of the people. The government’s overarching control in the communist structure of China makes it able to effectively implement programs on a large scale. It has also always been a nation of people in which the health and wellness of the populous takes precedent over everything else because that is what is necessary to maintain control of the country. The combination of these two factors creates a nation that is ready to take a viable model for environmental sustainability and combine it with a culture of longevity in order to maintain a sustainable nation.
Current trends won’t reverse overnight, but I believe China will not be an environmental burden on the world; a leader in the implementation of environmental and sustainable actions in the not-so-distant future.
(Photo by sxc.hu)