In his own speech, NPC Chairman Zhang Dejiang followed suit by promising tighter regulations and stiffer penalties for businesses that pollute the environment. Although Zhang said legal reforms are in the works, neither leader gave specifics as to how the government plans to tackle pollution. As with past NPC meetings, China's leaders were quick to acknowledge the seriousness of China's environmental degradation but unable to articulate a coherent plan to deal with it.
Following a recent visit to the region, ChinaSource board chairman Dr. Scott Rodin, who also chairs the board of the Evangelical Environmental Network, commented on the ecological disaster that is slowly but inevitably unfolding in China:
We have all heard about the smog in Beijing, but when you have walked through the haze and fought to breathe, realizing that even your surgical mask cannot filter out the smoke, dust and pollutants, you realize just how critical the situation has become. The tragedy is that it is not limited to Beijing, but almost every major city in China is experiencing significant problems with smog. (For a stark visual illustration, look at this map.)
At the speed at which China is adding new cars on the road (China added more cars last year than the total number plying its roads in 1999 .) and building new coal-fired power plants the future looks bleak. Even worse is the situation with the water. So much of it is polluted that there is speculation the next great war will not be over oil but the availability of clean water. Into this disaster the church needs to speak with a clear, prophetic voice calling the society to care for creation and stop the decline before it is too late.
As Rodin points out, with China set to increase its coal-fired power generating capacity by nearly 75%, things seem to be moving very rapidly in the wrong direction.
If China's leaders are to get real about the war on pollution it will require a radical change of direction. Taking this war seriously will mean embracing energy alternatives, taking tough conservation measures, enacting regulations with real teeth and giving local leaders real incentives to balance economic growth with environmental sustainability. None of these measures are easy, but, as Mao said, "Revolution is not a dinner party." China's environmental revolution is long overdue, and this is one war it cannot afford to lose.
Brent Fulton is the president of ChinaSource and the editor of the ChinaSource Quarterly. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of... View Full Bio