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More than once have I edited a paper that includes these two points:

  1. China has been developing at a pace unprecedented in human history, and has thrown environmental caution to the wind. As such, their air is unacceptably dirty, their water is unacceptably dead and poisoned, their likelihood of contracting certain kinds of cancers are unacceptably high, and so forth.
  2. It is unfair to require stricter CO2 emissions standards on China (and other developing nations) during their early stages of growth because such standards were not also in place throughout the First World’s industrial revolution.

When I read comments about the first, I often read laments about how they are soon to be “consuming” like their Western counterparts, and that they are some sort of sinners for trying to catch up to us in the West while allowing their local environment to be stressed. But can you argue both of these positions consistently? After all, when modern nations first developed, the technologies to avoid pollution did not exist, and much of the environmental damage they might have been doing was unknown to them. That is not the case for developing nations today. For the sake of consistency, ought not people argue that is is also unfair to condemn China for its lax local environmental policy because that was the situation which prevailed when First World nations were at similar stages of development?

I am making an effort to shorten up many of my posts, so more analysis of this paradox will have to wait until the future. I thought the question was interesting enough to stand alone without my 3 cents.

2 Responses to “China, Fairness, and International Environmental Standards”

  1. Harry says:

    If one assumes CO2 is the central problem, or a problem at all, then one can understand ire at the Chicoms for not going along with the idea of ending combustion worldwide.

    Now, you can criticize the Chicoms for burning all sorts of materials that emit sulfur, or all the particulates that fouled the air at the Olympics, but they should be praised for every kilowatt they generated from complete combustion, which yields water and carbon dioxide, the latter regarded as a pollutant by folks who want humans to go away, or at least live more humbly.

  2. Harry says:

    The other question is how China is developing.

    I have little to go by in this department, beyond what I read in the papers. I guess there a billion of them, and I guess the Chicoms have given some of them freedom, and the Chicoms will wisely disregard any arrangement that will have them pay into a United Nations pool.

    No doubt the Chinese make textiles, and many inexpensive
    goods we may buy, and I wish them well in the pursuit of happiness. Indeed, all people should be free and should not have to cower from the bully with the club at the waterhole. God bless anyone who wants to be free.

    One might have a point about the wisdom of whatever China as a state does, but they always manage to screw it up. This gets back to the fallacy Wintercow referred to by his reference to Hayek.

    In this case, the Chicoms have figured out that as usual we are led by the nose by United Nations diplomats who want about a trilion or more to be shipped overseas, and the Chinese, wisely, do not want to comply with a regime that requires they pay trllions to go to, say, Angola or any country south of the equator.

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