Choking on Growth? – Another Side of Stories

The New York Times ran a series of articles “Choking on Growth,” citing many severe environmental damages that accompanied China’s unparalleled growth.

One of the more startling problems is a shortage of water in northern China. Almost five-sixths of the wetlands in the North China Plain have dried up, and the area, where more than 200 million people reside, may be drained within 30 years.

The issues discussed in the article are true, but the tone is arrogant. Usually, there is another side of stories that is not told:

Five thousand years ago, one of the first emperors, Yu, fought to control the flood from Yellow River in the North China Plain. “????” (Honorable Yu Overhauls Water) is a story that can be cited by every child in China. Thousands of years later, Chinese are still fighting the same problem.

In 2002, China started a gigantic project called “????” (South-to-North Water Transfer Project). Chinese compare this project to the Hoover Dam in the United States, but on a much bigger scale. It’s a network of canals that brings water from flood zone of southern China to the North.

Another proposed solution is rapid urbanization, which is already under way. As radical as it may sound, scientists say “converting farmland into urban area would save enough water” because “wide spreading farming still uses more water than urban areas.”

As the article also points out, “Britain, the United States and Japan polluted their way to prosperity and worried about environmental damage only after their economies matured and their urban middle classes demanded blue skies and safe drinking waters.”

Indeed, Chinese look at Americans as their role models. They want to own homes, drive SUVs, and travel around the world. “Typically, industrial countries deal with green problems when they are rich,” said Ren Yong, a climate expert in Beijing. “We have to deal with them while we are still poor. There is no model for us to follow.” – With this attitude, there is hope for resolution.