The Only Way To End China's Pollution Disaster Is To Slow Down The Economy

Look at the numbers, both environmental and economic, and the solution is clear: slower growth.

Clearly something must change
Clearly something must change
Chen Yongjie

BEIJING - Recently the haze that lies over much of China's eastern region, including the capital, has been fodder for the newspapers, both here and abroad. And there is no doubt that the impact of the pollution on the economy, society, and public health is immense.

But it is worth asking whether the smog we live under is a necessity for China's development?

The first concern relates to resource depletion. China's massive development requires the support of enormous natural resources -- and not just its homeland resources but also those from around the world. According to recent figures compiled, the speed, scale and impact of China's mineral extraction over the past generation is unprecedented in human history.

In 1978, China's total energy consumption was 571 million tons of standard coal, whereas by 2012, this had increased 5.3 times to 3.62 billion tons. In 2010, China accounted for 10% of the world's total economic output and consumed about 20% of the world's energy: 60% of the cement, 47% of the iron ore, 49% of the steel, 44% of the lead, 40% of the aluminum and 38% of the copper.

Currently, China's unit GDP energy consumption is 2.5 times the world's average, 2.9 times of America's and 4.5 times of Japan's. China's unit GDP water consumption is three times the global average.

Another concern is sewage disposal. In 2011, China's volume of wastewater discharge was 65.92 billion tons, which means more than 48 tons per capita, again, the global leader. In 2010, China's total emissions of both sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides were over 22 million tons, ranking first in the world. Its industrial smoke and dust emissions were 14.46 million tons. This is far beyond the environment’s carrying capacity. About 64% of Chinese cities' groundwater is heavily polluted, and only 3% of urban groundwater is clean. From 2000 to 2010, the world's carbon dioxide emissions had an average annual growth rate of 2.63%. China's average annual growth rate was 8.58% and it accounted for 25% of the world's total emissions.

Over the past 30 years, China has maintained a 10% growth rate every year. Does it really want to maintain a growth rate of 8% -- as the government aims to do -- through 2020? What will be the consequences of maintaining this level of growth?

Put this in another perspective. If China's GDP does have an 8% average annual growth until 2020, China's per capita GDP will reach $11,000, which would be double its 2010 rate. Under the current energy production, consumption and efficiency, China will probably consume 5.57 billion tons of standard coal which is an increase of more than 70% compared with 32.5 million tons in 2010. This is likely to account for more than 30% of the world's energy consumption.

Does China itself, and the rest of the world, even hold such a huge supply of resources? Even if the answer is yes, what about the rising price of a shrinking supply of resources? Besides, based on China's current energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions ratio, by 2020, its carbon dioxide emissions are likely to go beyond 12 billion tons which will account for about 40% of the world's total. Will China, or the world, be capable of absorb such emissions?

In light of both these numbers and very basic questions, we know China has to change direction -- and start to slow down. It has been more than 20 years that China has advocated a transformation of its development mode, and more than ten years that it has talked of scientific development.

However, looking back, we know these ideas have remained as little more than slogans. Real policies to make them happen are viewed as a luxury the country's growth model cannot afford. Too often, the laws that are passed tend to cancel each other out.

There is a chance that China's new leaders may begin to take the environmental question seriously, having even set the construction of an ecological civilization as one of its five priorities of the nation. However in the face of the severe haze we see every day, China has to dig even deeper.

We must change the original path of development, not in slogans but in real action. The most fundamental method to achieve this is by slowing down the pace of China's development path so as to damp down the "high fever" of a fast-growing Chinese economy.

Indeed, it is the "economic fever" that is the main source of China's development syndrome.

China has to effectively reduce the pace of its development, aiming to keep its overall economic growth below 7% between now and 2014; and during its "13th Five-Year Plan" (2015-2020), growth should be kept under 6%.

It's only by reducing the speed of China's economic growth that we can reduce the excessive resource extraction and curb the high pollution emissions. Only by reducing the over-consumption of resources and the over-expansion of pollution can China protect and save itself, and the world as well.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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