Most people would agree that the future of the environment, and the way we treat it, are some of the most important issues we face today. How we handle today’s environmental issues will affect how tomorrow’s world will operate.
Many Americans are (thankfully) pretty conscious about environmental risks and the consequences of a failure to care for the Earth. But part of this awareness arises from the mistakes that our nation has made in the past. During the Industrial Revolution, America and other Western nations were blazing new trails of industry and commerce, coming up with incredible new technologies like the steam engine, or the use of electricity for energy. This came at a high cost to the environment though, dealing a blow to American soil, water, and air.
Now, China’s obviously made it past Industrial Revolution standards – at least technologically and industrially. But at the same time, their impact on the environment is colossal, not just for their own country, but for the world in general. As a rising nation in the world, China has an obligation not to burden the environment as they ascend in global power. And they’re doing a pretty bad job at holding to that obligation.
I won’t absolve America from guilt for this either. The average American contributes vastly more to global warming than the average Chinese. Really, this is part of the problem! America isn’t in much of a position to insist that China be more environmentally conscious, especially in light of the somewhat tense relationship between the two countries. As was put in another article (a review of a book on this subject, and my inspiration for this post), “A seventy-a-day smoker riddled with lung cancer isn’t really in a position to lecture a younger man to stop smoking, especially if he’s trying to steal his nicotine patches.” America really has little authority to tell China to clean up.
On the other side though, American pollution doesn’t claim the lives of 700,000 people every year, at least not directly. China can’t say the same. And while America still has a lot to learn, China has the benefits of experience from other nations making mistakes during their periods of industrialization. Now that countries like Germany, France, the US, and Britain have all had their screw-ups during industrial development, China has a lot more to look back on and avoid.
The real problem here is that China is unlikely to cut back on pollution, out of a deeply rooted philosophy of pragmatism. As China has risen to power in the world, keeping up with other nations like the US economically has been of primary importance. When weighted against things like water pollution or the difficulties of the peasantry, economic strength and vitality has always come out on top. That’s the side of China that most of the West sees: a rising power that has seemingly conjured economic and military might out of nowhere. What many people don’t see is the heavy toll this mindset has taken on the Chinese people.
I’m planning to write more on this later, so stay tuned! If you didn’t before, you should definitely check out that article I mentioned earlier. For now, 再见!