Who is responsible for the environmental costs of China’s economic development model?
By Jieyu Chen
I hate banana peels. When I was ten, every time I went to the park with my parents, I saw people throwing banana peels on the ground. I wondered if everyone in China threw a banana peel a day, what would China look like? Though the costs and benefits were not clear for me at that time, I grew to understand that things like banana peels have an enormous impact on our lives—–it’s all about consumption. In order to taste the banana, the peel is an inevitable waste.
As professor Hou Dongmin stated in the Beijing Review, the west is polluting China, which I partially agree with. China is accumulating more and more trash because of economic growth and development. According to Jonathan Watts in his book When a Billion Chinese Jump, Guangdong province in China receives growing amount of wastes from foreign countries. E-waste, the most toxic chemical products from electronic devices, is the most popular. Western countries have a good reputation for green consumption and for reducing domestic wastes. However they do so at the cost of China and other developing countries. Since China’s FDI-oriented model welcomes foreign capital regardless of its negative impact, even detrimental trash has been welcomed into China. As western consumption rises, more trash is generated and shipped to China. The “western green consumption” is not green at all because the high-speed production growth, high consumption and high pollution model result in large amounts of waste. As a result, western consumption is polluting China.
Despite these flows of wastes, I insist that the environmental issues in China are caused by more than just western consumption. Many people adopt the notion that the west is polluting China because they don’t want to admit their own fault of throwing that banana peel. The Beijing Review states that the consumption style of China is influenced by the West. It is. People began buying for brands, which encourages unnecessary consumption. But what really makes consumption increase in China is the economic growth and domestic consumption. Since the launch of the Reform and Opening in 1978, China’s become one of the major economics powers in the world. China’s GDP has increased from 364.52 billion in 1978 to 47156.4 billion in 2011. With more capital, consumer purchasing power is increasing in every aspect of life, from daily necessities to luxuries. In Shanghai, white collar workers go shopping every weekend, ready to spend their salaries along the Bund, where many luxurious brands are located. When people consume more, they simultaneously create more waste. However, few people realize that their consumption is not only a boom for national wealth, but also a disastrous cause for the environmental pollution. Each car people buy releases carbon dioxide, each computer and iPod people use pollutes the river systems and aggravates soil conditions. And each banana peel people consume contributes to a landscape of trash in China.
There’s a conflict. Reducing consumption will impact all industries and employment greatly. However, if people continue to pursue rampant consumerism for the next 10 years, the environment in China will be unimaginable. I would suggest that we gradually enhance technology in waste-processing and implement domestic education on excess consumption, so that we may reduce the cost to a minimum. I believe that if we stop consuming one banana every day, the environment will improve by an equal measure.
Jieyu Chen is a first-year student majoring in economics in Cornell University . She is from Shanghai, China and is interested in marketing, environmental science and art.