From Red to Green
July 29, 2007 2:24 AM   Subscribe

"The model of economic development that we are currently pursuing is unsustainable. Our energy consumption per unit of GDP is seven times that of Japan, six times that of America, and even 2.8 times that of India. China’s labour productivity is less than 10 per cent of the world total, and yet our emissions are over 10 times higher than the global average." ~ Pan Yue - deputy director of China's State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA). Part of a new generation of outspoken Chinese senior officials, Pan has given rise to a tide of environmental debate, attracting enormous attention and controversy. Read his articles here : - China: economic powerhouse, environmentally unsustainable - part one and part two
posted by infini (34 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
yeah, really. No shit Sherlock.
posted by parmanparman at 2:47 AM on July 29, 2007

Good to see.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 3:01 AM on July 29, 2007

Tomorrow's Sunday. A good day off. A great day to get stuff done. Who wants to run with me to Lowe's or Best Buy?
posted by sourwookie at 3:05 AM on July 29, 2007

I dunno. I was thinking about taking the ol' coal-fired autogyro out for a spin.

Seriously though, hooray that somebody in China of all places gets this.

(in ten minutes this article will be posted to FreeRepublic with the headline "Bloodthirsty commies worship Al Gore, love environmentalism, vow to destroy America". Some people you just can't reach, I guess.)
posted by Avenger at 3:32 AM on July 29, 2007

It's refreshing to read things like this from Pan, but you feel like he's pissing against a very strong wind of other vested interests and what regulation will come too little, too late and then be unenforceable in places like the coalfields of Shanxi he mentions. Of course, empowering communities through genuine democratic reforms would also add a weapon to the environmentalist arsenal (as seen, for example, by the recent protests over the chemical plant in Xiamen).
One piece I read by noted economist Wen Tiejun a while back gave me pause, though (can't find it in English). He made the case that China's environmental crisis and resource scarcity was already well set by the late Qing and argued that this was a major factor in determining the authoritarian nature of politics here. If that's so, a bit of civil society deckchair shuffling, the minimum I'd like to see, will be nowhere near adequate to address the structural problem.
posted by Abiezer at 3:33 AM on July 29, 2007

What they really need to do is to learn from the West and outsource all their low efficiency - high pollution production to another country.
posted by srboisvert at 3:36 AM on July 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

From Red to Green

Most Greens are already Red.
posted by three blind mice at 3:49 AM on July 29, 2007

There was an article in the New Statesman in December about Pan Yu, you can access it here
posted by knapah at 4:09 AM on July 29, 2007

thank you for the insight abeizer and the article knapah

here's an interesting story of the most recent report on "green GDP" being suppressed in China - its a project that takes a look at how much pollution costs China each year
posted by infini at 4:51 AM on July 29, 2007

I see that the BBC article linked from there also notes the suppression of the figures in a recent World Bank report for excess mortality due to environmental factors, infini. That's another aspect of the whole problem: getting an even half-way realistic picture of the extent of the mess. For all the trumpeting of "seeking truth from facts" there's few who seem keen to genuinely face them.
posted by Abiezer at 5:10 AM on July 29, 2007

leaving aside any one particular region or country, the conundrum of environmental impact vs status quo re: the global industrial ecosystem is not going to go away.

climate change is but one aspect of the story, wrt emissions but other factors such as the continued consumption of ever scarcer natural resources and a need for sustainable development across the board are issues that industry will need to come to terms with , on a global scale. And if not today then the day the last tree is felled.

changing consumption patterns in the eu along with their new rules and regulations on hazardous substances, chemicals, energy using products [from dishwashers to cellphones] are driving similar awareness and change in china, at least what one can make out from the press.

does this imply the beginnings of a real change in the way business will be conducted? I don't know, but neither, it seems can we wait until china's problems get worse or spread to other 'cheap' locations in asia and africa with less regulation as mentioned by some earlier in the comments.

we're at an inflexion point imho
posted by infini at 6:03 AM on July 29, 2007

Are there statistics for how much this represents a shift to decreased efficiency plants, and how much the centralization of the world's heavy dirty industry? I RTFA. I also see the argument that spreading out dirty industry gives a bigger area to absorb and regenerate the damage.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:09 AM on July 29, 2007

does this imply the beginnings of a real change in the way business will be conducted?

Blaming "business" for the demands of consumers is the typical left wing cop out.

The more important question, infini, is - if we're an an inflextion point - what sort of change have you personally made? Do you own a car, use electricity, buy products made from natural resources? Do you buy stuff made in China?

Until you personally stop doing those things, blaming "business" rings a bit hollow.
posted by three blind mice at 6:50 AM on July 29, 2007

America is also unsustainable, but you don't see much about that, it's all about China, "the other".
posted by stbalbach at 7:08 AM on July 29, 2007

tbm, at some point, crying "hypocrisy" against your average consumer who uses wasteful goods/resources but wants better environmental policy, as though you had proved some sort of point, is absurd. Consumers do not have perfect control over what's available for them to buy. If everything is cheap crap from China, or partially made of cheap crap from China, then how is a consumer supposed to be the driving force of change? Are you suggesting people who want change should just go off the grid and start self-sustaining communes? Some will, but most don't have that as a realistic option. And even if they tried...well, everything from your garden hoe to the bag your organic mulch came in might be partially or wholly made in China, using methods that hurt the environment, human health, and in ways that exploit Chinese workers.

I mean, I think our healthcare system is all fucked up, but I use it, because what choice do I have excepting emigrating?

Good government is supposed to include leadership, and only the levers of government are strong enough to change the way business is practiced, provided those in power are committed to doing so (big if). Forcing policy change by boycott is a strategy with no use whatsoever when what you're trying to boycott permeates the whole marketplace.
Slamming those trapped with no good choices for daring to complain about their lack of choices is just blaming the victim.

In other words, while consumers love cheap things, they don't therefore deserve to have their pets killed by poisoned food, or have their children exposed to lead painted toys.
posted by emjaybee at 7:49 AM on July 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

tbm, at some point, crying "hypocrisy" against your average consumer who uses wasteful goods/resources but wants better environmental policy, as though you had proved some sort of point, is absurd.

There was an interesting point made somewhere, I can't recall the source, about hockey helmets. Most players wanted mandatory helmet rules but individually were unwilling to wear them and suffer the competitive disadvantage until there were rules mandating them.

There are plenty of instances where regulation makes more sense than personal responsibility. Environmental and safety regulation are huge ones. People are overwhelmingly in favour of this yet unable to make proper individual choices.
posted by srboisvert at 8:11 AM on July 29, 2007

(in ten minutes this article will be posted to FreeRepublic with the headline "Bloodthirsty commies worship Al Gore, love environmentalism, vow to destroy America". Some people you just can't reach, I guess.)

So you get what we have here with global warming, which is the way Bush wants it... well, he gets it. I don't like it any more than you men.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:19 AM on July 29, 2007

The more important question, infini, is - if we're an an inflextion point - what sort of change have you personally made? Do you own a car, use electricity, buy products made from natural resources? Do you buy stuff made in China?

I call bullshit. What you're putting forward here is the classic libertarian fallacy that boycotts make a difference.

First off, I would say there is a paucity of examples in history where boycotts have made a difference, especially in combating massive entrenched corporate interests.

Secondly, you're assuming that the average Joe has the time and money for a boycott. Beleaguered dual-income working class families often don't have the option of making sure that everything they buy is environmentally- or fair-trade-conscious. Hell, try living in the American midwest and not shopping at Wal-Mart. Hell, try living ANYWHERE in the US and not buying products that were made in China.

This is why we have laws and regulations. There are some problems that your precious market economics just can't fix.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:25 AM on July 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

srboisvert, I believe this is what you are thinking of.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:39 AM on July 29, 2007

tbm, emjaybee, srboisvert and afroblanco: [/begin screed ;p]

As a guest of this business I spent three weeks in the north of england in the spring observing their daily life - composting everything that can be compostable, making purchasing decisions such as locally produced milk sold in a recyclable plastic jug vs. cheaper supermarket milk which isn't local [carbon footprint, sustainable development etc considerations] sold in a plastic jug where the plastic is of the sort that not recyclable, choosing organic fair trade carrots packaged in compostable plastic, using cloth diapers and air drying them - even when it *is* more convenient for a working mum to use disposables - all on a matter of principle. And they are not unique or unusual in making these choices.

I've also seen the systems in place in the above mentioned village that support these lifestyle decisions - recycling facilities and bins and supporting laws, mainstream retailers carrying the entire range of sustainably sourced and developed products, fair trade sugar and coffee on a train, the widespread availability of products that make it easy to make the ethical choice.

similarly, even in the 'greenest' city of san francisco i was unable to make the changes to the degree that someone in the eu [or the uk described above] could - the system would not allow it. the systems - meaning the products available, the choices, even the flow of water in the pipes or the fact that central heating is prevalent etc etc are all designed to consume. you can go to whole foods or wherever and buy the 'greener' option but then you pay a premium for this 'luxury' unlike the few pennies difference that the average tesco or sainsburies offered in a random village above.

when I say inflexion point and when I say what does business need to do - I'm not talking about one consumer's boycott of a product or company, I'm talking about the kinds of changes that Marks & Spencers have made or Deutsche Post - Sharp is evaluating the entire environmental footprint of their products throughout the entire supply chain, not just during use, as is Philips, HP and any other firm that wishes to be competitive in the EU.

These are changes in supply chain, manufacturing, retail, finance, you know, business, that are increasingly being made by companies wishing to stay competitive. Developing nations like China and India are yet to wake up, but it certainly is something that they can not only learn from the steps being taken by the developed nations but also change their business models in order to comply with those requirements.

So, what have I done personally, three blind mice? I've emigrated.
posted by infini at 9:07 AM on July 29, 2007 [3 favorites]

China isn't a competitive market. It's an oligarchy that masquerades as "transitioning to competitive markets." Yet thre's always some conventional-wisdom spouting pundit that wants to tell you that "oh my God, China is just the worlds newest free wheeling capitalist power."

Bullshit. It's very difficult to even form a company with limited liability-- you need all kinds of ministry signatures and approvals that ARE NOT pro forma. In contrast, California, which is supposed to be some kind of "communist/socialist" state allows you to form an LLC by just mailing in a form and a filing fee.

Oh and good luck getting your contracts enforced or a lawsuit judgment from overseas enforced. And yes, contracts and lawsuits are how PRIVATE LAW works. You can read more about getting judgments enforced here.
posted by wuwei at 9:09 AM on July 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

afroblanco, great link, thankee kindly!
posted by infini at 9:13 AM on July 29, 2007

recycling facilities and bins and supporting laws,

Guess where that recycled material ends up ...
posted by grahamwell at 9:21 AM on July 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

I call bullshit. What you're putting forward here is the classic libertarian fallacy that boycotts make a difference.

If that makes it easier for you to sleep at night with the choices you as an individual make, then please continue.

More laws and government regulation is the classic left wing fallacy that only empowers an already corrupt government - which is already in the control of business.

I know full well that riding my bicycle past the Shell station won't put Shell out of business, because too many lazy people think it can't make a difference so why bother, but SHELL AIN'T GETTING MY MONEY. I don't buy stuff made in China, if there is no choice, I do without. It's easy if you try.

It's not a boycott, it's my free choice and I feel no need to use government to force my choices on others. If you are not willing to change your own lifestyle, then you are in no position to impose change on others.

But I guess you call bullshit on that too.
posted by three blind mice at 12:28 PM on July 29, 2007

I know full well that riding my bicycle past the Shell station won't put Shell out of business, because too many lazy people think it can't make a difference so why bother, but SHELL AIN'T GETTING MY MONEY.

"Look at me, I'm *doing something*! Sure, it isn't doing any good, and it isn't changing anything, but at least I can look down my nose at other people!"

But I guess you call bullshit on that too.

I believe I just did.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:32 PM on July 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

I bought a spool mower eight weeks ago. I no longer directly burn hydrocarbon fuels just to cut grass. I'm going to find a manual trimmer... as I've just been using a machete as of late.

The thermostat is set to 80 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer and 55 degrees in the winter. This if FL... it's not really meant for permanent human habitation... but we did it any way.

My wife works out of the home by running an in home daycare. We sold her car as her new commute is from the bedroom to the front room, not twenty miles twice a day.

I am a computer geek...being an 8-bit Boy from the 80's. I just recently bought two LCD panels to replace my aging CRT's. The maximum power draw for each display is 50 watts. Far better than my 17" Viewsonics, which were deposited at the municipal hazardous waste facility to be recycled. I also use old systems until that absolutely fail... my lab is composed of Dell GX150's. They only pull 150 watts, and it is rare that all three are on. I'm also looking at some really interesting embedded systems mentioned in this thread. All I can say is that going green in the computing world, means saying goodbye to Microsofts current software portfolio. To be honest, they may never go green... DRM is too important to them.

I drive a fuel efficient car of Japanese manufacture. It's rated at 29 highway, but I drive the speed limit and I surf light sequences. I get an average that approaches 31 mpg. My next car will be even more efficient. Maybe a hybrid... but i might just get a Smart car as I have concern about the "costs" of manufacturing the battery cores.

We condense multiple errands into a single trip, and I keep the tires inflated at the proper pressure.

My wife and I are active in an environmental group called JCNI and we are involved with the local PUC, JEA, and various other groups such as the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society came together to fight the Taylor Energy Center. The chances of this 800Mw facility being built are now very low as...

Governor Crist signed a trio of state level executive orders making FL the most environmentally progressive state East of the Mississippi and South of the Mason-Dixon. Mayor John Peyton even signed the USMCPA in secret eight weeks ago, meaning that JAX will now have to do all it can to meet the standards defined by the Kyoto Protocol.

To assist the city and the state with curbing carbon emissions, we have brought our monthly consumption of electricity down from 1286Kw/Hrs to 954Kw/Hrs. The average JEA customer uses 1500Kw/Hrs per month.

Some of us have been very busy... and the work has just begun.

Some days it does seem that all is hopelessly lost and beyond the point of making amends...

...but I am going down swinging.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 1:18 PM on July 29, 2007 [2 favorites]

I am consistently blown away by the efforts I see people making, such as yours PROD_TPSL, and so many others irl, but ultimately it just breaks my heart to see the effort and forethought people go to go unrewarded or squandered. Without proper government regulation and incentive/compensation, every individual effort is just one drop less in an ocean being fed by a thousand toxic Mississippis. Taxation needs to be reoriented to penalize waste and reward efficiency. Governments get hysterical over Kyoto, but when so much of our emissions are from needless waste, it'd be easy if there was an actual attempt at trimming waste (catalytic converters on lawnmowers, etc).

So, go ahead and encourage responsible individual action, without condescension if possible, but until the system reinforces such behavior and penalizes negligent waste which will, eventually, have to be paid for anyways, every commendable lifestyle is to me the thrashings of an animal sinking in tar sands.
posted by kaspen at 2:34 PM on July 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Three blind mice:

I respect your dedication (I certainly couldn't match it) quite a bit, but I think ultimately your means of pursuing a noble goal is misguided.

I think that if you really want to create change for the better, your best bet is to put yourself into a position where you can effect institutional changes that will ripple outwards and transform the entire economic situation which creates such an environmentally (and socio-economically) toxic industrial culture.

This will generally mean swallowing your pride in some fashion - integrating yourself into the oil industry, or into federal (or international) politics, or into the financial markets and creating subtle pressures once you are in a position to change things.

The alternate route, if you have the intelligence and/or education for it, is to review all the avenues through which people are attempting to supplant oil dependency with an eye towards serious rigor (ie which of these efforts is making a serious, realistic attempt at a beneficial alternative that the market will accept to a sufficient degree to render the current dominant players obsolete) and pitch in on that effort.

Either of those alternatives, executed competently, is going to actually solve the problem. You, yourself, as an individual, will not achieve anything in your protest other than inconveniencing yourself and actually reducing your effectiveness in changing your world. Yes, this essentially means giving up your life and doing/being things you are not proud of for some time, and yes there is a chance that once you go down that road as a sleeper agent for the ethical you will never 'wake up'. But it's your only chance to actually accomplish something of significance.

To far too high a degree an overlap exists between people who have any sense of ethics and people who think that individual or collaborative 'protest' are in any way shape or form going to change basic economic forces. 99.9% of the time, and particularly in massive entrenched economic lynchpins, they are dead fucking wrong. Protesting through an individual boycott will achieve nothing. Protesting through posting about that boycott to Metafilter will achieve nothing. Getting an MBA, getting into Shell's management structure and after achieving several stunning successes in raping consumers/the environment getting senior within that management structure will land you in a position where you can invest real, change-enabling money from Shell itself into R&D of environment-friendly forms of energy production.

You can either whine with voice and wallet about your operating constraints and accomplish nothing, or you can work within those constraints to deliver the best result anybody could. That's your choice.
posted by Ryvar at 2:43 PM on July 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Conservationists in some senses just improve the unit cost for "wasters" by reducing demand fractionally. I'm not sure why enviro-conscious libertarians aren't bigger on supporting pigovian taxes to bring environmental externalities into the free market cost for products.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:25 PM on July 29, 2007

Personal responsibility is needed -- even if you feel as if the world is full of assholes, don't be another asshole -- but the government also has to be on your side.

If your neighbor wants to cut down all the trees in the park, stop him, don't rush to cut them all down before him. But to stop him (remember, he's an asshole with a chainsaw), you need government support. Rather than joining or ignoring the assholes, you need to vote for a government that will force people (including you) not to cut all the public trees down.

Here's a recent Surowiecki essay in the New Yorker that touches on things like this.
Americans may want to buy the biggest and most environmentally damaging vehicles available, but polls show that, given an option, some three-quarters of them vote for dramatic increases in fuel-economy standards—increases that may well force automakers to sell fewer (or at least smaller) S.U.V.s. We buy gas guzzlers but vote for gas sipping. This isn’t because people are ignorant about how higher fuel-economy standards would affect them personally; polls that explicitly lay out the potential trade-offs involved still find support for tougher standards. And it isn’t as if voters and car buyers belong to two different groups; one recent survey of pickup owners found that seventy per cent strongly favored tougher requirements. The curious fact is that many people buying three-ton Suburbans for that arduous two-mile trip to the supermarket also want Congress to pass laws making it harder to buy Suburbans at all.

What’s happening here? Back in the nineteen-seventies, an economist named Thomas Schelling, who later won the Nobel Prize, noticed something peculiar about the N.H.L. At the time, players were allowed, but not required, to wear helmets, and most players chose to go helmet-less, despite the risk of severe head trauma. But when they were asked in secret ballots most players also said that the league should require them to wear helmets. The reason for this conflict, Schelling explained, was that not wearing a helmet conferred a slight advantage on the ice; crucially, it gave the player better peripheral vision, and it also made him look fearless. The players wanted to have their heads protected, but as individuals they couldn’t afford to jeopardize their effectiveness on the ice. Making helmets compulsory eliminated the dilemma: the players could protect their heads without suffering a competitive disadvantage. Without the rule, the players’ individually rational decisions added up to a collectively irrational result. With the rule, the outcome was closer to what players really wanted.
posted by pracowity at 12:10 AM on July 30, 2007

I'm not sure why enviro-conscious libertarians aren't bigger on supporting pigovian taxes to bring environmental externalities into the free market cost for products.

Because those taxes are rarely put forth with that as the stated goal. Instead they're billed as essentially punitive, snarky, "punish the people we don't like" taxes, which are almost never fed specifically into environmental remediation/mitigation, and instead just feed into the black hole of the General Fund, making them worse than useless to a Libertarian, or any other fan of small government.

There are probably a lot of enviro-libertarians / green-but-small-government / whatever types who would support tax schemes on environmentally-damaging products if those taxes were laid out in an appropriate way. Meaning that their rates are based on hard evidence of the actual cost of externalities, and that the revenue generated is used only for mitigating those externalities, and that they're used as a last resort or when it's clear that other market-based / decentralized approaches have either failed, or would be less efficient.

Taxes that actually pay for the externalities of certain goods are entirely compatible with (most reasonable forms of) Libertarianism, and I think many self-described Libertarians and other small-government conservatives (as opposed to big-business conservatives) would support them if they were done correctly. But they rarely are, and a fucked-up tax structure is quite possibly worse than none at all, since they tend to be hard to eliminate later.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:13 AM on July 30, 2007

Are there statistics for how much this represents a shift to decreased efficiency plants, and how much the centralization of the world's heavy dirty industry?

As far as I know, (and that isn't much), China is more a center of light industry not heavy, so I would guess that the emergence of China as an export system isn't the majority of the problem. I would guess that the problem is that the economic growth that has emerged from that is the problem. Chinese cities are built in very inefficient ways. Lots of coal power plants, no central air, very poor insulation and the materials used in building are collected without any regard for environmental impact. It's mostly a local problem.

I feel like all this talk about "buying local" is just a band aid. International trade and the transfer of wealth from rich nations to poor nations that it entails are good things. The average Chinese person is much better off than they were 30 years ago. Shutting down all trade with China would have much worse effects than the moderate environmetal gains that would happen.

What is frustrating is that environmental policy change in China will have to come internally and since the government is either too weak or unwilling to make those changes, I don't see it happening any time soon. A democratic China would be able to face these changes much more easily and the rape of their environment might be the one thing that actually pushes them to democracy.
posted by afu at 3:24 AM on July 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Wonderfully, the links are also blocked in China.
posted by afu at 3:29 AM on July 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

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