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China's unique way to build ecological civilization (3)

By John Bellamy Foster (People's Daily Online)    09:30, June 11, 2015

Is China Moving in the Direction of Ecological Civilization?

There is no doubt that Chinese leadership has made significant steps toward a more sustainable development. Due to the large role of planning China has been able make rapid changes in a number of areas, going at times against the logic of economic growth. Examples of such efforts are: (1) targeted reductions in economic growth justified in terms of more environmentally balanced growth; (2) the massive promotion of solar and wind technology; (3) a growing share of non-fossil-fuel energy consumption; (4) creation of a red line to protect a minimum of 120 million hectares of farmland; (5) reduction of major air pollutants by 8-10 percent in the 12th Five Year Plan (2011-2015); (6) removal of six million high-pollution vehicles from the roads in 2014; (7) a 700 percent increase in the output of electric passenger cars (non-plug ins) in 2014; (8) initiation of a government campaign for frugal life styles and against extravagance (conspicuous consumption) by officials; (9) growing official criticism of GDP worship; and (10) a pledge to reduce the carbon intensity of GDP by 40-45 percent by 2020 from 2005 level, coupled with a pledge to reach peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, if not sooner; and (11) the imposition of a new resource tax on coal.

From the critical standpoint of ecological Marxism, however, such developments are still overwhelmed by China’s 7 percent economic growth rate, in which the GDP will double in size in a decade, massively increasing environmental demands. Going along with these growth projections is a plan to increase the number of permanent urban dwellers in the next five years to 60 percent from the present 54 percent. This is to be accompanied by larger, more mechanized family farms in rural areas, with the eventual disappearance of 60 percent of the countries villages, to be merged into small towns and large cities. Chinese environmental laws have hitherto been characterized by weak enforcement, suggesting the dominance of profits over environmental protection. Such an overall development path, is if it should indeed continue on this same basis, is clearly non-sustainable, threatening to replicate some of the worst aspects of Western capitalism. In the age of planetary climate change alternative models must be found. This cannot be accomplished simply by technology but requires new ways of living. If China is truly to succeed in creating a new ecological civilization it will have to go in an even more radical direction, further removed from the regime of capital that has characterized the West and that is responsible for today’s planetary ecological emergency.

John Bellamy Foster (born August 15, 1953) is a professor of sociology at the University of Oregon and also editor of Monthly Review. He authored numerous books and articles on political economy and the environment.


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