China and How Not to be Sustainable

Fareed Zakaria on his show, GPS dated April 7, pointed out that China has literally lost thousands of rivers to pollution and physical destruction. Lost as in they no longer exist. The country has also lost more than 230 million dollars in growth due to the health effects of air pollution. In other words, the resource of water and the health of the people are under direct assault by economic growth at all costs.

The reasons are directly related to China’s goal of unbridled growth with no regard to the environmental effects of that growth. Or to put it another way, China has been engaged in a long -standing policy that results in environmental destruction in spite of laws that are supposed to protect the environment. Laws that are simply not enforced.

The country has had 10% GDP growth for more than three decades. But as pointed out on Mr. Zakaria’s show, the economy has begun to slow.

Now I am not implying that the show or the facts imply a direct correlation between pollution and the slowing economy, but there is a strong argument to be made that such a relationship does exist. In other words, it is not possible for any economy to continue to grow in a sustainable manner while disregarding environmental degradation.

China appears to have forgotten, or never learned, that old but still relevant definition of conservation; wise use. This is still the basic tenant of sustainability.

There is nothing wrong with using natural resources, but we must use them in such a manner so as to allow for future generations to have access to those same resources. Further, it is our responsibility to insure that using these resources does the least amount of harm to the environment possible.

Why you ask? Because, we are a part of that environment as China’s citizens are showing us through their own misfortune. Among the resources being waste by China’s government policies are clean air, clean water and land that is able to support life in a healthy manner.
River Pollution in China
Growth for the sake of growth is not sustainable, nor is it desirable. The model followed by the U.S. in the 19th and a large part of the 20th century is simply an unsustainable one. We have slowly learned this lesson. China seems not to have learned from our mistakes and this is to their population’s detriment.

There are numerous examples in the world of sustainable economic growth taking place while respecting our, and I stress our, environment. That is the example that wise leaders will follow.

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