Development and economic growth-related woes seem to have no end. China and India are rapidly industrializing and large segments of their populations are adopting more Western lifestyle and consumer habits. The consequences are deadly.

Cities that used to be thronged with bicycles are now even more thronged – with cars. As China and India’s middle classes grow, the amount of cars in those countries is rising dramatically. And with this rise in combustion engines comes an increase in air pollution along with resultant illnesses and deaths.

From the Guardian:

In 2010 more than 2.1m people in Asia died prematurely from air pollution, mostly from the minute particles of diesel soot and gasses emitted from cars and lorries. Other causes of air pollution include construction and industry. Of these deaths, says the study published in The Lancet, 1.2 million were in east Asia and China, and 712,000 in south Asia, including India.

So the new top killers in Asia are basically coal and cars, joining indoor cooking fires as major health risks, especially in South Asia for the latter.

Traffic in Beijing, pic: Axel Drainville (Flickr CC)

An opinion piece in India’s Daily Pioneer puts the blame squarely on the shoulders of that old enemy of the people: capitalism – specifically the new, hyper-globalized model. You know, the one where manufacturing jobs get exported from rich countries to places that don’t regulate pollution or pay people a living wage.

The author, Sandhya Jain, quotes a controversial 21-year-old confidential memorandum in which the then chief economist and vice president of the World Bank, Lawrence Summers, effectively argues moving heavily-polluting industries from rich countries to poor ones. His reasoning is three-fold: 1) Low-earners dying from pollution makes more economic sense since their deaths are less of a financial loss. 2) “Under-populated countries” in Africa are “under-polluted”. He laments that pollution and solid waste cannot be simply exported there. 3) People in poor countries care less about how dirty and ugly their country looks. They are also worried less about diseases that kill old people because more people die before they manage to get old.

Summers lost his job as a result of the memo, but got another one in the Clinton administration eight years later. NAFTA was, after all, right along his line of thinking.

Jain’s argument is that if India, or China for that matter, were to enforce environmental regulations on par with developed countries, their export economy, funded by global banks and public shareholders, would cease. Read her entire piece, “Dirty industries are at the heart of capitalism”.

Of course, it would seem that dirty lifestyles are also part of capitalism, especially in countries with poor infrastructure and a dearth in public services. Delhi, for example, has twice the amount of cars per capita than Hong Kong or Singapore, while its per capita income is as little as 5% of those virtual city-states.

Furthermore, a study from Tel Aviv University found that Indian megacities like Delhi are increasing their pollution output faster than those in China. Read more about that in Time Magazine.

Pollution in Delhi, pic: Jim Fruchterman (Flickr CC)