China: Is green growth possible?
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China: Is green growth possible?

In the overriding climate of today’s world, growth is pretty much always considered “good”. It generates money and raises living standards, though this doesn’t necessarily mean that quality of life goes up (but this is a different debate).

It is also generally accepted that there is a global environmental crisis with a variety of threats in the form of rising temperatures, increased extreme weather events, rising sea levels, air and water pollution, etc.

Yet when governments are faced with the choice they always (with a few exceptions) choose growth and development, albeit sometimes wrapped in the language of sustainability, i.e., low-impact, green, carbon friendly, etc.

Shanghai: developing or overdeveloped? pic: thewamphyri (Flickr CC)


Take China, easily the fastest growing and most extreme nation in terms of development. Even China’s headlong development policies are presented with environmental considerations, such as sustainability and ecological impact.

From China Dialogue:

[…] China is without question still the factory of the world and the bulk of the pollution and environmental damage still happens in China. It is still the base for textile dyeing, electronics, artificial fibres and steel, and that comes at a huge environmental cost. We need to be very clear about the environmental impact of global production and procurement and learn how to manage that better.

–Ma Jun, founder of NGO Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE)

Yet Ma Jun has a positive take on the results of the Rio+20 summit, in contrast to most activists, believing the “deep” involvement of the developing world in “sustainable development” is a significant progress from 20 years ago.

This is more about political power than environmental progress, however. And sustainable development, as the Guardian’s George Monbiot has commented, is a buzz word that began with “sustainability” and is has become simply “sustained growth” in the language of the Rio+20 document. Sustained growth, Monbiot argues, is pretty much the opposite of sustainability.

But no one, including some mainstream activists, seems to want to choose between sustainability and economic growth. They don’t even want to put limits on growth. So what the governments of the world do is choose growth and then dress it up with a few green trimmings by co-opting the language of environmentalism and packaging full-speed-ahead industrial and economic growth programs as somehow green.

Let’s make no mistake, China cannot simply be considered a “developing country”. China hold both mantles of world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter and the largest investor in renewable energy. It is an environmental leader in both positive and negative senses.

And though much of the country is still rural and very undeveloped, China has seemingly countless ultra developed mega cities. Some parts of China have even been termed “overdeveloped”.

Overdevelopment of China’s coastline has resulted in a serious deterioration of the country’s sea environment, according to government agency figures.

From China Daily:

The severely polluted sea area surged to 44,000 square kilometers in China in 2011 from 25,000 sq km in 2003, according to China’s 2011 marine environment report released on Monday by the State Oceanic Administration.

Offshore and onshore projects; factories and buildings; major oil spills, etc. are contributing to damaging China’s seas. The problem is that coastal areas contribute “to 70%” of China’s GDP and around 83% of China’s coasts have fragile ecosystems.

Again, it’s clear that growth conflicts with sustainability and it’s also clear that China is choosing growth.