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The Environmental Costs of the Emerging Chinese Middle Class September 11, 2006

Posted by earthlingconcerned in Uncategorized.

Since the late 1970s, China has been allowing an increasing number of market reforms within their communist style of governing. These include an increasing amount of privatization (nearly 70% of their economy in last the last 30 years), the allowance of large scale foreign investment, and subsequently unheard of monetary gains in exported goods. As a country with both the world’s fastest growing economy and the largest population, these reforms have raised the standard of living for a growing percentage of its population. Raising the standard of living of its population should be the goal for any government, so these reforms are merely a way of achieving this, regardless of if they differ from the traditional communist ideals. Deng Xiaoping, the leader of the Communist Party of China during the period of initial reform, often said, “It doesn’t matter if the cat is white or black, so long as it catches mice.” By this, he hoped to suggest that as long as the job gets done, and China becomes prosperous, it matters little by which ideology it was achieved with. As a result of these reforms, the standard of living in China began to raise at a speedy and relatively healthy rate (as opposed to Mao’s disastrous Great Leap Forward). In contrast, the economy of the Soviet Union, which never adopted reforms of this nature, stagnated and eventually fell apart due to an incomplete economic strategy. Mikhail Gorbachev, gave some praise to the Chinese reforms in 1993 by pointing out that, ”China today is capable of feeding its people who number more than one billion.” This was indeed a great accomplishment considering a large percentage of the governments of the world today can hardly claim the same. But as the western world has yet again demonstrated in the last few centuries, the human animal is indeed a greedy one.

China, whose people have long been seen as a nation moving on two wheels, are shifting gears and moving towards a nation on four. In 2002, China produced and sold over a million new automobiles (up 50% from the year before) and is predicted to produce and sell nearly a fifth of all new car sales between then and 2012. As a bi-product of this transition to bigger, better, and newer, oil is needed and the recent economic success has allowed for some major contracts to be signed between China and the largest oil producing countries out there. It looks as if a first world lifestyle is slowly becoming a reality to the Chinese population. Below I will list a few signs (taken primarily from Jared Diamonds Collapse) that China is indeed growing at a rate that would make any 19th century industrialist glimmer with joy:

  • The population growth rate in China (2001) is at 1.3% yet the number of China’s households has been growing at 3.5% per year over the last 15 years. A per household size decrease from 4.5 people in 1985 to 3.5 in 2000. This means there are 80 million more households thanks to the recent boom. This is an increase which exceeds the total households in Russia!
  • From 1953 to 2001, China’s population doubled, yet its urban population increased seven-fold.
  • China is the world’s largest consumer of coal, the world’s largest consumer of fertilizer, the second largest producer and consumer of pesticides, the largest producer of steel, the second largest producer of electricity, chemical textiles and oil.

A lot of the statistics may well be deemed necessary for the fastest growing economy out there. But hold on for a minute, all of these numbers are sure signs of an environmental catastrophe aren’t they? Indeed they are sir-asks-a-lot! China’s achievement of first world standards will approximately double the entire world’s human resource use and environmental impact. Consider the current environmental dilemma that are being dealt with by the richest countries of the world today, namely Global Warming. There are other signs which suggest that the giant in the making has a mountain to climb if it should ever catch up cleanly. More bullets

  • The an increase in the demand for beef, lamb, and chicken approaching the needs of the first world means there is much more agricultural waste being produced (considering it takes 10 to 20 pounds of plants to produce one pound of meat).
  • The methods currently relied upon to achieve their successes are extremely outdated and inefficient compared with first world standards (this comes with the understanding that the standards that are used in the first world should be considered outdated and inefficient as well!)
  • Their energy efficiency in industrial production is only half that of the First World, three quarters of their energy consumption depends on coal.

So what becomes of the environment? If a fifth of the world is attempting to gain access to the comforts of the first world using similar methods that were used by the wealthiest today, does anybody have the right to complain? Any pollution caused in this rapid development will not be contained within the borders of any nation, but will spread across the globe. Global Warming is truly a problem everyone has to deal with, thus the name “global”. Yet the greater good has no legitimate voice in the argument regarding the true costs that come with the speedy emergence of the Chinese middleclass. China has every right to catch up, to achieve the comforts that are typical in the first world. If equality in human comforts should ever exist, this is absolutely necessary. When Deng Xiaoping made his cat and mouse comparison regarding political ideals, he may very well have spoken about the environment as well. Jeepers.



1. positivenergyoutput - September 11, 2006

China and the US are the two countries that have the largest potential positive influence on the environment if they were to change direction with energy policy and forge ahead toward a sustainable, decentralized energy production plan.

2. fluidspirit - October 7, 2006

As a side note, my fellow earthling & Torontonian 🙂
… my buddy has a friend in Germany who drives a hydrogen powered Mercedes! He says that contrary to common conviction, the technology is available now, and production even on a commercial scale, isn’t as expensive as people have been led to believe. But until the last drop of oil is sold, he can’t trumpet about this …. unless he wants to be on the front pages of a newspaper the next day with a caption: Oh, poor guy, so young and committed suicide. The very rich are buying patents to new technologies so that they can’t be introduced to the market “prematurely” – thus sustaining the very system that maintains their disproportionately large wealth. That’s globalization in a nutshell. Large companies getting together with other large companies to form monstrous conglomerates, thus squeezing small businesses.

The Mayan calendar I think has the year 2012 marked as the “end of the world”. Looks like the approaching econo-ecological crisis.

Humanity will probably create a totally different economic/political system. Sometimes absolute critical situations, environmental or otherwise are necessary to bonk us from our peg-holse of living & thinking into a new consciousness. More whole and more all encompasing. Look how one tsunami or even the death of one “crocodile hunter” can unite a whole group of people… and rearrange their priorities to what’s really important in life. (Yikes, I think I tried to jam too many ideas into one comment)

3. Cy - October 7, 2006

It is good that someone has what it takes to tackle serious issue. I am very optimistic about China, and how China will have a stabilising influence on the world. I am glad they kept Communist Party control as the privatisation of the ecomomy went ahead.

The people of China will be ready for multi-party democracy, perhaps, in 20 years, or whenever the corruption has been tackled, and/or the greener cars are being sold in mass numbers.

Until a certain point, China needs a strong dictatorial, committee government by the Party. When they decide to allow multi-parties, they should split the Communist Party into 2:

Chinese Centre Left Party (1st article of constitution: all means of production should be publically controlled except where it is better they be private) and

Chinese Centre Right party (1st article of constitution: all means of production should be privately controlled except where it is better they be public).


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