Yet although it’s easy to be pessimistic, the scale and relative suddenness of China’s environmental problems linked to that country’s changing consumer habits may also make it easy to imagine how the world’s consciousness—reflected in consumer behavior—needs to change.
A large part of any hope for environmental progress will depend on the Chinese managing, against the odds, to excel as stewards of the environment with as much enthusiasm as they have learned to become first-rate consumers. Certainly, there is evidence that China understands the odds and the consequences. We read in the newspapers nearly daily how China is leading the world in renewable energy, as it must if it is to continue its economic growth. The latest: It’s building six gigantic wind farms that will generate the equivalent of 100 coal-fired power plants worth of electricity.
China is to be commended for its green efforts. But whether this commitment to renewable energy will be able to catch up with the speed and size of its emerging consumer demand is still an open question. No other nation in the developed world has yet found a way to reverse the ecologically destructive effects of its way of life faster than any off-setting commitment to correcting, let alone reversing them. So this is yet another way in which we can only hope that China will lead the way with consumers who save the world economically without destroying its environment.