Sunday, August 3, 2008

Who’s to Blame for China’s Environmental Conditions?

One of the most polluted countries in the world is China. Generally speaking, their lack of interest in the well-being of the environment is fueled by the idea that the Chinese think that economic growth is more important than preserving the environment. This activity has introduced new environmental challenges, not only for China, but also for countries worldwide.

On February 16, 2005, 35 industrialized countries signed the Kyoto Protocol. Today, approximately 178 countries have signed and ratified the Protocol. However, China’s responsibilities are unclear. “China, India, and other developing countries were not included in any numerical limitation of the Kyoto Protocol because they were not the main contributors to the greenhouse gas emissions during the pre-treaty industrialization period.” (To be fair, the U.S. originally did not sign the Protocol, but one major reason we did not sign is because China and India - two competing countries in terms of economic growth - did not sign either).

My Roommate studied abroad in China this summer and from the stories and pictures he has shown me, China is a very dirty place. The water that he drank was in a Dasani bottle and looked just like a bottle of water that you would get at the grocery store in the States. Unfortunately the Chinese are apparently great at making “knock offs” and they happened to use regular polluted water, put it into a Dasani bottle, sealed it, and sold it. Instead of drinking spring water, my roommate actually drank water from one of the rivers in China, which are notorious for absurd amounts of sewage. As a result, he learned to pack his own water. [By the way, China is the site of the 2008 Olympic games. I’m no Olympic trainer or anything, but if I had advice to the participants and/or traveling fans, it would be to bring your own water – my roommate can attest to that.]

Is it any wonder that a significant percent of our trade occurs with China, a country with lax environmental policies, allowing polluting firms to produce at lower costs? Are we, as Americans, to blame for demanding these relatively inexpensive goods from China, adding to the poor environmental conditions? How can the rest of the world provide China with a disincentive to continue damaging the environment at such an evil pace?

The United States is actually fueling the Chinese economy. We expect China to continue to supply goods and services at low costs, but we also expect them to maintain reasonable environmental standards. Perhaps the United States can use trade leverage to (i.e., limit our imports) with China until they start to clean up their environmental act. If we are disciplined enough to make such a contribution to the global state of the environment, we can point the finger solely at China knowing full well that we aren’t to blame for their destructive pollution activities.

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