Tuesday, January 03, 2006

It's not easy being green

Environmentalists can be so whiny, so I don't spend a lot of time reading on the subject. I dislike cri de coeurs of all types, and the green side is loaded with them. So I am happy to have the River Runs Black, which is a policy study of China's environmental catastrophe. You get the statistics of how bad the environment is, like that China has most of the world's most polluted rivers and the polluted cities. The author says that the life expectancy of a Beijing traffic cop is 40 years. This could be due to hair raising driving, but it appears to be from the heavy smog of less environmentally friendly cars. What I like about the book is the tone. Instead of angrily pointing fingers and making wild demands, the author identifies a number of factors in the failure of Chinese environmental policy, many of which will be familiar to those who follow China. One of them is the reliance on strong leaders. This helps when the leader focuses on the environment, but economic growth usually wins out. Unlike the US, China does not yet have a strong civil sector which can push the government to act. The regulatory enviroment is also not quite strong enough to enforce the regulations. All in all an interesting read, although I was less interested in the Confucian, Buddhist, Taoist and Legalist perspectives on man's relation to nature. It was necessary to support her argument, but it was a bit dry. Ideologues will be sad to hear that both capitalist and communist forces contribute to the degradation so no chances for "I Told you sos" for either side.

If you want dispassionate, but more global in viewpoint and analysis, take a look at Something New Under the Sun. It is a study of how man has changed the environment over the 20th century. Again, no angry finger pointing, but plenty of evidence that the environment has changed thanks to man.

No comments: