The global gung-ho embrace of capitalism is resulting in significant economic growth in some parts of the world, but also widespread inequality, social problems and hazardous environmental consequences. Nowhere is this truer than in Asia.

The findings of a new report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) show that economic growth policies in Asia, led by China and India, are ultimately self-destructive. China and India are the largest and third largest emitters of greenhouse gasses and countries with overall poor environmental records, including air quality, ground water pollution and the displacement and mistreatment of people for industrial/corporate interests. But China and India are far from alone in this.

From the report (via Eco-Business.com):

Asian economies typically kept social expenditures low and focused investments on economic infrastructure.
The income distribution is worsening, and possibly undermining demand, in countries that are home to 80 per cent of the region’s population. The trends suggest that inequality in Asia is still rising and neither national nor international trends… promise early improvements.

The conclusion of the Asian Development Bank is that development, economic or otherwise, which doesn’t take human and environmental welfare into account is not only unsustainable, but destructive. The report finds that current “negative social and environmental trends” will actually prevent future economic growth in the region and cause social and political instability.

Recent events highlight this point. Take the palm oil industry in Indonesia, which besides wiping out orangutans, forcing out local tribal communities and heating up the planet, really broke the camel’s back with Singapore’s recent “hazepocalypse”. Or did it?

Palm oil plantations in place of rainforests, West Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia. Pic: Rainforest Action Network

Palm oil is a $44 billion US industry and growing. In this ultra capitalist global system, that means it calls the shots in the world’s largest palm oil producer, Indonesia. And the biggest consumers of palm oil? China and India, which actually makes sense since they are the two most populated countries in the world. Per-capita, neither comes close to number 1 in pollution, greenhouse gas emissions or environmental footprint.

Read more about the environmental, social and political impacts of palm oil here.

Another example is the garment industry in Bangladesh which, as the engine of the country’s economy, is apparently above the law. Never mind that they built their shiny towering headquarters illegally, flouting regulations and endangering Dhaka’s drainage system. It took an immense tragedy like the deaths of over 1,100 people in a factory collapse and resulting international pressure to get any kind moves towards garment workers’ rights in the country. And the moves that did come are small. But what do you expect when the owners of industry not only pull the strings of government, but are the government?

From the New York Times:

Business interests dominate Bangladesh’s Parliament. Of its 300 members, an estimated 60 percent are involved in industry or business. Analysts say 31 members, or 10 percent of the country’s national legislators, directly own garment factories, while others have indirect financial interests in the industry.

It’s like the US and oil… or the US and weapons… or the US and pharmaceuticals. Those that blame the US for all the world’s ills need only look to the power industry wields over government – a system that is being replicated throughout the world.

Bangladeshi garment workers protest worker deaths before recent disaster. Pic: NGWF