Sunday, March 12, 2006

warning on china's environment from an unusual source

An interesting short article from China -- the head of its State Environmental Protection Administration said at a news conference that China's rapid economic growth has the country on verge of an environmental disaster.

Others have sounded the same warning -- but it is significant that this time it comes from a senior Communist Party official, at a news conference on the fringes of the Chinese assembly's annual session. He is worried about poisoned rivers, air, and soil. If you've ever been to Beijing at the wrong time, you know what he's talking about -- you can't even see the ground from the air when coming in for landing.

As the Chinese leaders are well aware, the first signs of cracks in the Soviet system happened when the Politburo allowed pro-environment NGOs to form. This modest beginning in permissable dissent, complaining about what everybody could see with their own eyes, helped create the conditions for glasnost and all that came after. The Communist Party of China won't want to repeat that mistake.

But the environmental problems there are too great to ignore. Again, Russia is a sobering example. It's population now is in free-fall, declining by over 700,000 people in 2005 alone, with environmental factors (along with depression, alcoholism, and emigration) playing a significant part in the dropping birth-rates and rising mortality rates. Environmental degradation at some former Soviet sites is terrible -- places that may be more unhealthy to live than Chernobyl are still occupied by people in Russia, Kazakhstan, and elsewhere.

China wants to forge its own path, but China and other countries would be wise to avoid the mistakes of the Soviet Union, not to mention the western industrialized nations. Environmental protection has up-front costs. Failing to take steps to protect the environment has much greater costs.