What will happen when Mr. Wang and Mr. Singh, the average Chinese or Indian consumer, decides to buy a car? Better yet: when their savings from the recent economic boom will allow them to be motorized: will the world be able to sustain the environmental consequences of a few hundred million Mr. Wangs or Mr. Singhs purchasing gasoline on a regular daily or weekly basis?
The world’s ecosystems is threatened by the ever-growing number of Mr. Wangs and Mr. Singhs. Lack of alternatives — as defined by governments and oil companies — implies that the global oil supply runs the risk of ending much sooner than expected. This could potentially trigger a low-key drilling trend in areas less renowned, more remote and more difficult to extricate leading to more environmental damage and to an increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that would accentuate the greenhouse effect.
These apocalyptic approaches are tied to research for the development of innovative energy solutions. Within this problematic context, China plays a central role. Besides being the largest global producer of carbon dioxide, it has also reaffirmed its reliance on carbon as a primary resource. China is however very committed to augment its use of renewable energies. Still, China on a per-capita basis, consumes significantly less oil than its western counterparts. The USA has a much larger vehicle fleet and Chinese peasants do not consume nearly as much as North Americans.
The trouble is a progressively affluent China where mass consumption might determine much of the pollution. China keeps producing, as it feels exempt from the environmental blacklist, due to its late industrial growth. China’s rationale is based on the idea that today’s environmental hazards are due to excessive pollution from the industrial past: a past where China did not contribute to worldwide pollution.
For almost a century, other countries carelessly overused resources as if they were endless, so today, China argues is not to be blamed. Furthermore, the industrial world constantly asks China to produce goods for virtually everyone and everything, especially the most-polluting ones that can hardly be manufactured in the West any longer, but they also ask that China do so in an environmentally-friendly way and, of course, at much lower costs.
Even though it is legitimate for China to suggest that its activities in the last decade are not the decisive factors for the environmental degradation, it cannot excuse itself from taking drastic measures pertinent to such a pressing universal issue. China’s political importance, as well as its international responsibility, call for its greater participation in global governance.
Globalization, unfortunately, has left little space for unilateral decisions, and Beijing must play its part. China has benefited from being an industrial hotspot, but, in the long run, its environmental effects have damaged its harmonious relationship between man and nature. Its leaders face the hard task of having to legitimize economic growth with environmental sustainability. They will have to mediate between pleasing Mr. Wang while satisfying the lives of its people and also the people living on the other side of the globe, only to realize that both ends are actually two faces of the same coin in a world that has become way too small. China’s best chance and choice is to become rapidly the world leader in manufacturing and deploying environmental equipment for traditional fossil and alternative energy.