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china’s transition to sustainability

By: James Miller

The following is reproduced from today’s Kingston Whig-Standard.


Change in offing in China, prof says


Behind today’s show of military might celebrating its 60th anniversary, the People’s Republic of China is undergoing significant environmental policy change, according to a Queen’s University professor.

“Economic expansion has been successful in terms of lifting people out of poverty and bringing economic wealth to China,” said James Miller, a professor of religious studies at Queen’s.

“They can’t keep on doing this for the next 50 or 60 years because the environmental and social costs are very high.”

Miller is part of a movement that believes religious traditions can be used to effect environmental change.

This summer, he and a group of academics from the U. S. met with China’s vice-minister of environmental protection. Miller was encouraged by China’s announcement at last week’s G20 meetings in Pittsburgh that it was putting a five-year economic development plan in place that would include an emissions trading system.

In the past, Miller said, China would have waited for the United States to take the lead.

“The attitude has been, we’re a developing country, we’re not going to make the first move,” he said.

In typical Chinese style, however, the country’s officials would not say whether carbon dioxide would be covered under the plan and many critics noted that monitoring China’s progress on environmental matters will be difficult because the government doesn’t usually make such information public and there are no benchmarks to accurately measure progress.

Miller said that economic progress has created a burgeoning middle class who are more aware than most Chinese citizens of important social matters such as pollution.

“What I’ve noticed in the past five years is an enormous awareness at the grassroots level. The development of non-governmental organizations, both Chineseinspired and with the help of the West, are trying to raise awareness of environmental issues,” he said.

“I think there is a consciousness among ordinary people that this is an important issue.”

The massive military parade today in Beijing marking the republic’s 60th anniversary, said Miller, will only reinforce the western world’s stereotype of China as an “evil superpower.”

“I’m not saying negative things don’t happen but it is a one-sided picture,” he said.

“The middle class is changing Chinese society. There’s a lot of internal tension among leaders we’re not privy to. We tend not to see all of this internal debate.”

Miller predicts that, at the current rate, green technologies will develop faster in China than in Canada and that that country will move more rapidly to a sustainable future.

“China has become the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels. China is poised to leapfrog over America as a source of green manufacturing,” he said.

“It’s in everybody’s interest to ensure China manages its environmental development. It won’t be in anybody’s interests to be beating up on China all the time. For practical reasons we have to engage with China.”

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