The two sides of change for a sustainable future

A recent article in the New York Times puts the cost of environmental degradation in China at about $230 billion in 2010.

This is 3.5 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, three times the level in 2004.

“This cuts to the heart of China’s economic challenge: how to transform from the explosive growth of the past 30 years to the sustainable growth of the next 30 years,” said Alistair Thornton, a China economist at the research firm IHS Global Insight.

The article talks about “at least 16,000 dead pigs [found] in rivers that supply drinking water to Shanghai”, and farmers who “would not dare to eat” the wheat they grow.

The problem is that these ‘environmental’ costs, under-estimates though they are, are not actually paid by anyone. They are borne by the health and well-being of the general population, and will continue to be so, so long as those people allow it.

One sign of possible change is that “public fury forced propaganda officials to allow official Chinese news organizations to report more candidly on the pollution.”

But it is noticeable that steps to reduce pollution and environmental impact are still described (by the New York Times) as a “cost [of] at least $16 billion” rather than “an opportunity to grow sustainable GDP by at least $16 billion.”

So, these are the two sides of change for a sustainable future, ‘hard’ and ‘soft’.

A change in what we measure (“Digging a hole and filling it back in again gives you G.D.P. growth. It doesn’t give you economic value.”)

And a change in how people perceive and stand up for their own self-worth.

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