Mak­ing head and tail of eco-prob­lems

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

Pur­ple haze. For those who grewup in the 1960s and 1970s, the words bring back mem­o­ries of the elec­tri­fy­ing Jim­iHedrix and his more elec­tri­fy­ing ways with the gui­tar. For many liv­ing in North China to­day, they­may sound more like one of the stan­zas in the song: Pur­ple haze all in my eyes/ Don’t know if it’s day or night/ You got me blowin’, blowin’my mind/ Is it to­mor­row, or just the end of time?

We are talk­ing about smog. The smog that prompted the world me­dia to pounce on China, blam­ing it for all that was wrong with emis­sion con­trol.

When Bei­jing is­sued two red alerts for smog in suc­ces­sion in De­cem­ber, for­eign me­dia out­lets made it out as it was the end of the world. Im­ages of peo­ple in dif­fer­ent types of masks were splashed across the for­eign me­dia, some even high­light­ing peo­ple wear­ing gas masks. Some Chi­nese me­dia out­lets too joined the fray, ei­ther en­am­ored by their over­seas coun­ter­parts or to gen­uinely por­tray the se­ri­ous state of affairs.

Se­ri­ous the con­di­tion was dur­ing those few­days. There is no deny­ing of it. Or else, the au­thor­i­ties wouldn’t have or­dered schools closed, con­struc­tion halted, traf­fic re­stricted and pro­duc­tion in se­ri­ously pol­lut­ing in­dus­tries sus­pended. But in­stead of ap­pre­ci­at­ing the prompt ac­tion of the Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties, many me­dia out­lets fo­cused on the in­con­ve­nience caused to the par­ents of school-go­ing chil­dren and res­i­dents in gen­eral.

Iron­i­cally, had the au­thor­i­ties not im­posed the emer­gency mea­sures, the me­dia would have de­cried its lack­adaisi­cal ap­proach to the se­ri­ous health haz­ard. A per­fect sit­u­a­tion of damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

This is not to sug­gest China doesn’t face a smog (and car­bon emis­sion) prob­lem, or for that mat­ter en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenge. It does. And it ad­mits it. We could dif­fer with the way it in­tends to solve the prob­lem or over­come the chal­lenge. For ex­am­ple, the con­tin­ued stress on the ur­ban­iza­tion could, to some ex­tent, off­set the gains of the en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion mea­sures. We could even say the pace of im­ple­ment­ing the eco-pro­tec­tion mea­sures is not con­ducive to meet­ing the chal­lenge.

But the his­tory of en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion is long. And con­trary to pop­u­lar be­lief, it did not start with the re­form and open­ing-up. Of course, the fast eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of the past three decades or more ag­gra­vated it. That, how­ever, is the price all coun­tries have paid, con­tinue to pay, and will pay in the fu­ture for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and pros­per­ity. More­over, it wouldn’t be out of place to re­mind for­eign crit­ics ea­ger to tar­get China for all the wrong rea­sons that many of the coun­try’s pol­lut­ing in­dus­tries were pro­duc­ing goods (and still do) to sat­isfy the rest of the world’s (es­pe­cially theWest’s) con­sump­tion de­mand.

China is a coun­try of more than 1.3 bil­lion peo­ple. Its prob­lems are dif­fer­ent in na­ture and di­men­sion than those of most other coun­tries. It has to strike the right bal­ance be­tween en­vi­ron­ment pro­tec­tion and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, lest it leaves a large per­cent­age of its pop­u­la­tion to the rig­ors of poverty and des­per­a­tion.

This is ex­actly what the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20) aims to do. Pre­sent­ing the Govern­men­tWork Re­port on the open­ing day of theN­ational Peo­ple’s Congress an­nual ses­sion on Satur­day, Premier Li Ke­qiang said China faces a tough bat­tle to keep its econ­omy grow­ing by at least 6.5 per­cent ev­ery year over the next five years while cre­at­ing more jobs and re­struc­tur­ing in­ef­fi­cient in­dus­tries— which would in­clude highly pol­lut­ing in­dus­tries.

Among the chal­lenges China faces are tricky fi­nan­cial mar­kets, slow­ing global trade and en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion. And to im­prove the en­vi­ron­ment, the five-year plan aims to re­strict to­tal en­ergy con­sump­tion to 5 bil­lion tons of stan­dard coal by 2020 and make wa­ter con­sump­tion more ef­fi­cient.

China knows its en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems. It knows how to solve them too. Else, it wouldn’t have been the largest in­vestor in green en­ergy.

Many con­sider Pur­ple haze to be a psy­che­delic ex­pe­ri­ence. Hen­drix said it was a love song. Per­spec­tives mat­ter.

They do, es­pe­cially when it comes to an­a­lyz­ing China’s en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems.

The au­thor is a writer with China Daily.

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