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|Written by Adam J. Smith|
|Wednesday, 20 January 2010 00:00|
Anyone still in denial that the biosphere is sick really needs to visit China. Nothing can prepare you for the startling mass ecological devastation here from the air, poisoned and cloudy with smog, to river water that ranges from bright pink to a sort of rancid purple-black colour, to the overall lack of parks, 'green-spaces' or even trees in most cities. The environmental damage in China is visible and very real. I'd like to send an open invitation to anyone in a position of power who still denies that unchecked free-wheeling big business practices have little effect on the health of the planet.
It is baffling that there are people who disregard the obvious physical effects of globalized capitalism on the environment. Damage to eco-systems due to mass extraction and use of raw materials is a simple cause and effect scenario. Though in some ways it is understandable that people live in denial about what is happening to our planet; most people living in countries in which the average lifestyle requires a large amount of resources to maintain, and therefore has a large ecological footprint (primarily in North America and parts of Western Europe), do not live in the places from which resources are extracted and manufacturing takes place. The world's largest consumers rarely see the effects of their consumption on the planet, and, if they do, it is most likely depicted on the television or Internet in some distant land.
It appears to be not only developed nations that pose problems in the fight to create a sustainable future for society but also some developing ones, particularly China. It's no secret that China trashed the talks over climate change last month in Copenhagen, when world leaders met to discuss commitments towards cutting carbon emissions. In one of the most significant meetings during the talks in which all of the world leaders were present, China's chairman Wen Jiabao refused to turn up and instead sent a 'representative' who reportedly left the conference room every five minutes to talk on the phone. Jiabao also refused to sign any commitments that were legally binding and therefore actually worthwhile.
Chairman Jiabao has been hailed as the hero of the talks here in China. It is one thing that the media is censored here and another to bend the truth to the point of fraud: in an article published in the China Daily last month, it was stated that Wen Jiabao saved the talks, while the newspapers of every other nation stated quite the opposite. Even so, it is clear why China is interested in saving face despite having no interest in reducing its carbon emissions. Most Chinese people that I've spoken to really want to do something about the environment, but, at the same time, their standard of living is also improving, and they want it to continue this way. Who can blame them!
The Chinese were correct in stating that China's carbon emissions per capita are far below those of the United States. This fact made it difficult for President Obama to argue for an agreement that would place China and the United States under the same carbon-cutting laws and even more so when one takes into account that the US relies heavily upon China for its regular supply of cheap consumer goods that keep the shelves of Target and Home Depot stocked year in and year out.
A large part of China's carbon emissions arise from its manufacturing sector designed for export to North America, Western Europe, and elsewhere. As a result, a portion of China's effect on the environment can be attributed to Western consumption of products made in China. Until we address this, surely a genuine plan of action on climate change will be difficult to achieve. What the Copenhagen climate talks essentially did was call into question the so-called "American dream:" the dream of owning a large house with a white picket fence, two cars, and so on. Did it place the dream of marketplace liberty under question as well? Is an end to such liberty needed? That kind of 'liberty' has come to signal something perverse and cheap anyway. When I hear people talk about 'freedom,' I think of corporate fat cats, kinky sex, gambling, NASCAR, George Bush, alcoholism, and dubious banking practices.
Despite the disappointing agreement reached at Copenhagen, the event marked a turning point for humanity. It signalled the end of a period of history defined by unlimited boundaries, financial and consumer liberty, and the notion that if you wish upon a star all of your dreams will come true. It anchored the start of a new approach of human limitations, which include the dampening of the dreams of just about everyone in the world. We appear to have this dream about ourselves, a dream that includes everything seen in advertising to by-gone era cultural nostalgia to the image-making edifice that is Hollywood. All of our collective fantasies about fame, fortune, leisure, mobility, expansion, and 'happy-ever-after' will begin to implode when reality disallows us to continue living like there is no future beyond our own. This change in human activity will be difficult for people to accept, especially for those who believe they are entitled to the sort of suburban lifestyle that has become the norm in many developed nations during the past 50 years.
As I write this from my friend's pseudo-Venetian apartment in Guangzhou, from the living room window for as far as I can see there is nothing natural. There are no trees or grass, blue sky or birds, just grey buildings and a grey sky. It is difficult to describe how sad and gloomy this scene looks. All I wonder is, "Is this what the future will look like if we don't wake up?"
Previously in China Dérive:
Good article, seen manier photos of this in papers recently, there is also alot on a poluted city in china which is completely littered with computers and electronics, people dont realise that some times our carbon footprint in uk is having more effect on the people of other countries like china, dont see how china will change its ways though, seem quite set on a growing economy rather than the people of its nation.