IN OTHER WORDS
China makes more than a third of the world’s steel, half of its cement, about a third of its aluminum. It also consumes more coal than the US, Europe and Japan combined. Its environmental degradation is a match for Dickens at his bleakest: airborne pollution causes more than 650,000 premature deaths a year.
The problem doesn’t stay there. China is about to surpass, or has already surpassed, the US as the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. China’s government bears primary responsibility for failing to address the devastating environmental consequences of its breakneck growth. Industrialised countries, whose companies and consumers have benefited from China’s cheap labor and polluting industries, also bear responsibility and must work to fix this mess.
Beijing could start investing some of the hundreds of billions of dollars China earns on exports in social and environmental programmes at home. Western governments can also
help by explaining how pollution could threaten both China’s growth and social stability.
Perhaps the most important thing the US could do is to set a strong international example, by dealing with its own environmental deficit. Instead, the Bush administration has been hiding behind China’s recalcitrance — allowing China to do the same.