Nature Blog Network Future Earth: Chinese Whispers

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Chinese Whispers

The question is not whether the future is Chinese, but how much the rest of the world wants to engage with China in shaping it – and how (on earth) they can go about it?

With an economist’s hat on, it is impossible not to admire how the nation is taking over the planet. What thoughtful advanced planning to tie up the United States in a financial stranglehold, and what clever opportunism to make offers that could not be refused to cash-strapped African economies in exchange for absolute rights over increasingly scarce and essential mineral resources. Oh yes, and let’s become the aid agency of choice to our increasingly powerful colleagues in the Americas.

With an environmental hat on, however bright green and jauntily tilted, that grudging admiration turns to abject horror. Recognising the complete decimation of natural resources nationally, the country has turned to its own back yard and beyond. Yes there are uncomfortable parallels with other historical colonists but can we risk a repetition of past mistakes at devastating scope and scale for the planet? Meanwhile, almost under the radar, forest resources from Asia Pacific are draining into China and all living things, plant and animal, across Kazakhstan are being hoovered up progressively by their neighbour. And while increased wheat and soya prices globally are attributed to a changing climate, we are almost not noticing the impact of these feedstuffs being converted into meat for a burgeoning and aspirational Chinese middle class. Of course the price will rise, and it will continue to rise until the market kicks back.

And what price for biological diversity? With China in control of the planet, the answer is “not much”. Where the culture dictates, as in some rangeland communities, biodiversity is part of sustainability. But otherwise “if it moves eat it or laugh at it” and “we don’t need nature, just technology” seem to predominate. A glimmer of hope lies in Chinese pragmatism. Firstly, if we can demonstrate the value of biological diversity in providing ecosystem services (which we can – check out http://www.millenniumassessment.org) it will become valued economically (just in time or too late?). Secondly, we can hold China to account on the international stage over natural resource conventions and the like (surprisingly perhaps this international recognition is still craved). Perhaps most importantly we can use every opportunity to support young environmental champions and glimmers of an environmental movement within China. It’s their future too – and we do have access to (most of ) the internet..... Whisper, whisper, pass it on...

2 comments:

Ross said...

I found this very interesting, and although it does look bleak for the environment on the face of things, I choose to remain optimistic about China's potential.
With the rise of China's power, the country has shown herself to be adept at powering through problems that have arisen. The resources available and slightly heavy handed form of government may be just what a development on environmental matters and methods really needs. If they can get right their own problems, they may just show the rest of the world the way forward.
However i feel that most important is for the rest of the world to learn from China. Broad concepts such as equity and lifestyle are at the heart of the Chinese, and world's environmental woes. For everyone to deal with these in a meaningful way would go a long way to helping find a balance. There is a saying that it is wise to do all things in moderation. The environmental problems are symptoms of excess and imbalance around the world that need to be checked. China may provide the spotlight on these issues that is so drastically needed.

Arjay said...

Thanks Ross, for a delightfully balancing comment! Equity and lifestyle...hmmmm, yes, in general there is much that those driven by excessive consumption and competition can learn from traditions and cultures that value moderation and consideration. But I wonder which predominates, even in China. Modern expressions of consumerism and competition have certainly found productive soil for growth across ancient cultures. Balance? I am trying to find comfort in two snippets of information around the Beijing Olympics. While industry is being shut down for 3 months beforehand so the athletes will be able to breathe...at least the planners are exploring the potential for green roof gardens as a longer-term solution to providing oxygen to their (fair?) city.