Globalization is making it a small world, after all, and the costs of this newfound neighborliness are high.
Two internationally acclaimed scientists present sweeping evidence that China ’s challenges – from polluted air and water to making and consuming goods to family life – already are making a big impact on the environment and human well-being in China and other parts of the world, including America and Europe .
The developed nations must take a more active role – with policy, with aid and through business – to assist and support developing countries and recognize that the only real borders are drawn on paper.
“China’s environmental problems also spill over to other countries, which are increasingly affected through sharing the same planet, atmosphere, and oceans with China,” Liu and Diamond note. “In turn, other countries affect China’s environment through globalization as well as through their own environmental pollution and resource exploitation.”
Liu and Diamond itemize a litany of push and pull between China and the rest of the world. The hallmark is environmental damage which places economic, social and health burdens with which China is ill-equipped to cope.
The developed nations, Liu and Diamond argue, carry a strong moral obligation to lead in helping the developing nations protect the environment and achieve economic sustainability. In the developed nations, the big picture is easier to see on a full stomach. Protections – such as laws, zoning rules and regulations – are possible thanks to the luxury of economic power. The developing nations’ first priority on the most basic needs makes bigger-picture concerns harder to address.
“When China produces something for export, they use natural resources and release pollutants to the environment,” Liu said. “You leave the pollution behind. Thus, importing countries contribute to China ’s environmental problems.”
The developing nations offer lucrative markets, but markets that come with an environmental price. Diamond noted that Westerners must realize China ’s benefits come at a price.
“China increasingly affects the rest of the world, because China ’s huge population, combined with its high rate of economic growth, translates into large and growing resource consumption and impact on the world’s shared pool of finite resources,” Diamond said. “It’s impossible for the West to tell China that we in the West will maintain our high consumption rates but that China mustn’t try to catch up. Something will have to change.” Among the authors’ recommendations:
It’s time, Liu says, to realize the other side of the world really is the back yard and good neighbors don’t just borrow, but also return favors.
“This is not just a recommendation for China but for the whole world,” Liu said. “We focus on China, but that doesn’t mean only China needs to do this.“
The research has been funded by a National Science Foundation Biocomplexity and the Environment grant, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation of China and the MSU Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station.
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