GlobeandMail published a good piece on the environmental disaster which is China. This stood out for me:
Of course, the West has been guilty of many of China’s bad environmental habits, too. The average Canadian, for example, consumes far more energy than the average Chinese and is responsible for releasing far more carbon dioxide. But with China’s massive population, and its reluctance to enforce the use of modern anti-pollution equipment, China is quickly catching up to the industrialized world as a cause of global warming.
Obviously the West is not a bastion of environmental stewardship or energy conservation and I think it is a important point of embarrassment for nations which should be on the forefront of environmental protection, development and leadership. But there is a substantial, and growing chunk of society that is showing initiative and taking it upon themselves personally to make a difference by changing their lifestyles. There is a realization that the way we do things requires some serious tweaking.
I taught a lesson on Climate Change a day ago, and I left my school extremely depressed and pessimistic about the prospects of the world. The majority, if not everyone in the class, while aware of Climate Change and the causes showed little if any interest in the ramifications and impacts, nor any interest in actually doing anything about it. I had the feeling that the concept came across as somewhat of a joke to them. Answers to the question “What can be done to mitigate this problem” revolved around standard China Daily pablum of planting more trees and creating more laws blah, blah, blah. Not one mentioned anything closely resembling changing personal habits, encouraging green energy, green transportation or absolutely anything to do with energy efficiency. When I informed them that raising the temperature of an air conditioning unit in the summer a few degrees can save up to 500kg of Carbon a year, I was met with confusion, followed by “Bryan, air conditioners don’t pollute, they don’t create C02″. I wasn’t pleased with this answer, although it didn’t surprise me. I routinely observe people dumping all sorts of liquids and solids into street sewers, giving little or no thought to exactly where these items are heading. In Sichuan, I saw a pathetic SUV driving hag toss a whole trash bag out of her window into a river. Why would thinking ahead about electricity be any different?
This attitude is not exactly surprising, given that China remains a developing nation, where economic survival and development of your family will take precedence over environmental protection. What is scary is that the students I teach are far from economically deprived, and represent the middle and upper/elite classes (a few drive Land Rovers). Traditionally, environmental awareness and desire to improve existing conditions begins with those who are financially secure and are concerned regarding the future. However, the middle class/upper class don’t seem to be the least bit concerned regarding the environment, and continue to purchase gas guzzling vehicles, (among other habits), despite the fact that live within the city, that public transportation in China kicks ass, that the cost of a parking space can exceed the cost of their own freakin’ vehicle.
I understand it is a cultural necessity to own a car in China, not a practical one. But in order to keep that face, people are willing to sacrifice their own environment. And it is not like in Canada, for instance, where the effects of pollution are minimal and one has too look pretty far to find some environmental nastiness. Every where I’ve traveled in China bears evidence of extreme pollution. If you drive a car in this country, for instance, you see the effects immediately in the sky. Lateral thinking doesn’t seem to exist. Where is the fear? That grey stuff in the sky, it isn’t going to go away. People tell me 10 years ago Nanjing was as blue as Mongolia. Just 10 years ago!
The apparent failure to think long term doesn’t just preside in my observations of the environmental situation in China, but it also prevalent in the business world as well. I spend a few hours each week tutoring a French manager at a one of Nanjing’s foreign companies. He says that the largest challenge facing is company (and one of the reasons LuminArc maintains a large expat component in China) is failure of the Chinese in regards to name branding and the concept of thinking long term. Essentially he told me that few if any local employees are concerned with the well being of the company or it’s future, and therefor not apt to take over higher management positions. This discussion developed from a question I had regarding the burden of supporting expats in China and LuminArc’s plans for training local management. While LuminArc obviously wants to reduce the massive costs associated with expat living, the bottom line is they don’t trust anyone to adequately support their name and brand.
So I find myself asking the question…”Why do few people here appear to be concerned regarding the future?”
I discussed this with a few of my close friends, and I developed the notion that it is simply because no one has any confidence in the future, and feel absolutely powerless to affect anything. Anything, with the exception of how much money can be earned in the shortest period of time. This seems to be the paramount goal of everyone in China at the moment. Earn as much, no matter what the cost. The concept of sustainability doesn’t exist because no one thinks it’s possible, and believe instead that the only viable option purchasing their way out of China. That’s how it looks to me, with those already processing the financial means high tailing it to Western countries in bids to obtain passports, if not for themselves, than at least for their children.
There are people concerned about the environment in China and are quite vocal about the plight. Lobbying the government, getting the word out, even staging 74000 protests in 2004 Unfortunately they are farmers and the lowest classes of Chinese society.
What surprises me most is that the government doesn’t seem to concerned about sustainability. I find the Chinese to be impeccable students of history, often quoting past events in support or justification of policies, yet ignore Western history and how its energy gluttony has gotten it bogged down in the Middle East and other wonderful locals and has created somewhat of a security crisis that threatens the very basis of our democracy and political systems. Even if they don’t give a shit about their landscapes and the health of the people, I would have expected them to be at least concerned regarding energy dependency and it’s relation to national security. Did I mention the eighty thousand some domestic protests in 2004? Fifty thousand of which were driven by the conditions of local environments (according to my saviour, China Daily).
However, there doesn’t seem to be much concern, instead, energy is directed towards blaming foreigners as usual.
A popular argument against outside criticism of environmental policies is the claim that outsiders (ie. The West) is in no position to criticize because China should be allocated the same 100 years of industrialization that was awarded to Western nations during their industrialization period. Another popular term is ‘environmental colonialism’, a tasty word for the idea that China’s enviro-situation is a result of foreign powers exporting their polluting businesses to the mainland, bearing little responsibility for the environmental burden and paying workers low wages. A tactic that works wonderfully well in a uber-nationalist/self-esteem less nation connected by the internet.
Pretty weak argument. Everyone wants to work for foreign companies, so out with the crappy wage point. LuminArc has posted, right in their entrance, substantial information regarding their environmental policies and social responsibility philosophy. It is taken seriously…after all, LuminArc is a brand, a name…with a long term outlook and concern for their reputation.
There was possibly a time in the past where you could ship your dirty operations abroad and no one would notice, but information flows…flows faster than every. The watchdogs are everywhere. If a multi-national company creates a mess, the the world will know about it.
It’s not all car, but I hope you get the idea. Fresh from the banks of the Changjiang.