The environmental movement achieved its necessary mission in the last half of the 20th century in prospering western democracies that could afford comprehensive environmental controls. Pollution control technologies largely developed and applied in the U.S. were shared the world over. And, the significant costs of environmental regulations and pollution control mandates still weigh heavily upon the U.S. economy and other developed economies – as much as 5% of gross domestic product (GDP). Sadly, the 21st-century environmental movement has become just another perverse and partisan political special interest to grow gratuitous “green” central government bureaucracies.
Developing countries – China, India, Russia, Brazil – only in the last decade have been moved by often violent public protests to begin necessary and costly environmental controls. In the case of China with its massive economic growth (three times other developed countries’), air, water and land pollution have become life threatening. For the first time since its adoption in 1989, China’s “Environmental Protection Law” has been amended with new pollution control provisions due to take effect in 2015. The amendments call for bigger fines on polluting industry, imprisonment of offending industry executives, whistleblower protections and penalties for failed government enforcements. In addition, the Law’s revisions would require more extensive pollution monitoring, cumulative fines and allow public-interest lawsuits for violators and failed enforcements.
While most of the media coverage we see is of China’s smog-choked big cities, China’s countryside water and soils are badly polluted as well. Here are some of the reported problems:
• China surpassed the U.S. in greenhouse gas emissions several years ago to become the world’s biggest carbon pollution source, having twice U.S. carbon emissions by 2015;
• Dangerous levels of toxic heavy-metals contaminate rice crops grown around factory and industrial facilities;
• 20% of China’s farmlands are polluted;
• 85% of the length of China’s six largest rivers carry polluted undrinkable water;
• The portion of China’s polluted groundwater (well waters) grew from 37% in 2000 to 60% in 2013. (The Economist, May 17, 2014)
Neglected for decades, the negative environmental impacts of China’s remarkably- capitalistic growth can no longer be ignored. The challenge will be for China’s authoritarian government to take the necessary steps for comprehensive pollution controls while accepting the negative impacts (GDP costs) to its unprecedented economic prosperity.
Subscribe free to this Column by clicking the blue-highlighted "Subscribe" line next to author's photo.