Monday, July 23, 2007

Sustaining the Environment in China

“China’s environment is unsustainable.”

This controversial assessment was put forward on July 17 by Pan Yue, deputy director of China’s State Environmental Protection Administration on the bilingual China Dialogue website (

“One-third of China’s land mass is affected by acid rain. Over 300 million rural residents have no access to clean drinking water. One-third of urban residents breathe heavily polluted air,” he said.

Even more controversially, he went on to say that “Our current society is unsustainable.” He quoted the World Bank as saying that “no other country has seen such a large income disparity emerge in just 15 years.”

Pan Yue called for a fair and sustainable model of growth, but despaired of this ever being achieved. He said the problems were easily seen - the addiction to development at all cost, and corruption and failure to administer environmental law.

His despair arose from what he saw as a lack of idealism in modern Chinese youth.

“The problem of the environment may not be your fault, but it is your responsibility to solve it. If you fail, you will pay the price. If you succeed, the credit will be all yours.

“In doing this, you will need a measure of idealism. What do I mean by idealism? I mean the spirit of trying to do things that seem impossible.”

Pan Yue recounted how he faced great difficulty communicating with his own son, a fact that made him sad.

The current generation of Chinese youth, he said, “have an excessive passion for the future, yet almost no interest in history. You have hardly any of the constraints of tradition, and you lack any real beliefs. To put it simply, idealism is rare in your generation. Pragmatism and individualism have won out.”

But Pan Yue was not despondent for long.

“Although we are older than you, age is a state of mind, not a number. Our hearts are still young and we will fight with you….The answers to these questions are in your hands. Only your generation can complete the task of building a sustainable, fair, democratic, harmonious and socialist green China.”

Didn't some wise man once say to the youth of China "The world is yours, as well as it is ours, but in the final analysis it is yours...our hopes are placed on you"? Pan Yue is right to encourage the young to act in accordance with ideals against selfish and greedy developers if development itself is to be saved. Do we want growth? Then we – Australians and Chinese - must restrict it and make it environmentally and socially sustainable, in both our countries. Otherwise unrestricted growth will become its own gravedigger, with the earth as the grave.

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