Pan Yue at China Dialogue writes a two part series on the need and possibilities of sustainable development in China.
From Part 1:
What do we mean by the phrase “green China”? We mean a China that is sustainable, democratic, fair, harmonious and socialist. This conclusion has been reached after many years of struggle. Each word is the distillation of the blood, sweat and tears of several generations. We want to build a green China because green is the colour of life, of sustainability. For something to be called “green” it has to be sustainable – and currently China has yet to achieve sustainability.
The model of economic development that we are currently pursuing is unsustainable. Our energy consumption per unit of GDP is seven times that of Japan, six times that of America, and even 2.8 times that of India. China’s labour productivity is less than 10% of the world total, and yet our emissions are over 10 times higher than the global average.
Development is a good thing in itself. But it must be integrated development across all areas, not just economic development. Only all-round, coordinated development is a good in itself. We have always taken “development” to mean economic development alone, and this to mean the simple accumulation of wealth. As a result, the pursuit of wealth has become the sole aim of society. In theory, the value of all resources is determined by the market price, but the latent value of scarce resources such as land, water, the environment, and biodiversity has been ignored. Many social resources have been absorbed by projects designed to help people “get rich quick”.
There are four different ways of approaching the issue of environmental protection: it can be seen as a specialised and isolated field in itself, as an economic issue, as a political and sociological issue, or – at the highest level – as a cultural and ethical issue. In China, we have always looked at the environment as an isolated subject, whereas abroad it is already being treated as a political and sociological issue. In the last few years, the conflict between the environment and the economy has become unprecedentedly intense – the environment has begun to place limits on economic growth, and economic growth has destroyed much of the environment; this has led to our conservation work being rapidly elevated to the economic level.
From Part 2:
Why is environmental protection considered a cultural issue? One of the core principles of traditional Chinese culture is that of harmony between man and nature. Different philosophies all emphasise the political wisdom of a balanced environment. Whether it is the Confucian idea of man and nature becoming one, the Daoist view of the Dao reflecting nature, or the Buddhist belief that all living things are equal, Chinese philosophy has helped our culture to survive for thousands of years. It can be a powerful weapon in preventing an environmental crisis and building a harmonious society.
A Chinese saying goes: “a sparrow may be small, but it has all five organs.” Similarly, the field of environmental protection is a microcosm of the issues facing China today. Attempts to solve these problems would be useful experiments for transforming China in a wider sense. For example, coming up with an answer to the problem of green production would also help to solve the problem of core competitiveness. Solving the problem of environmental compensation would provide experience for the solution of societal injustices. Establishing a system for democratic environmental decision-making would open paths for reform of the whole system of government. Solving problems of environmental culture could provide a vibrant new ideological system suited to the rise of a green China. It is for these reasons that I say that environmental protection is not a specialised, isolated issue, but an issue that concerns economy, society, politics and culture. It is, in short, a “global complex”. Only by placing the issue in an elevated position can we gain a wide enough visual field to truly understand the importance of environmental protection in today’s China. Only in this way can we understand the need to build a green China and how to go about its construction. One must learn how to participate in public life through a wide variety of channels.