China – Say Hello to the Green Cat

Thomas Friedman, one of my favorite New York Times columnists, has devoted several recent columns to China’s depressing environmental record and what can be done to make China go green.

Deng Xiaoping once famously said of China’s economy: ”Black cat, white cat, all that matters is that it catches mice” — i.e., forget about communist ideology, all that matters is that China grows. Not anymore, said Mr. Rosen. ”Now the cat better be green, otherwise it is going to die before it catches the mouse.” 15 Nov 2006

His thoughts echo my own:

A friend of mine here wakes up every morning and does his own air quality test — as many Beijing residents do: He looks out his 24th-story window and checks how far he can see. On a rare pristine day, when the wind has swept Beijing, he can see the Fragrant Mountain rising to the northwest. On a “good” pollution day, he can see the China World building four blocks away. On a bad day, he can’t see the building next door.

Shortly before I arrived in Beijing, China had been host of a summit meeting of 42 African leaders. Time magazine reported that Beijing officials had “ordered half a million official cars off the roads and said 400,000 more drivers had ‘volunteered’ to refrain from using their vehicles” in order to clean up the air for their African guests. No sooner were they gone, however, than all the cars returned and Beijing’s air went back to “unhealthy.” China’s Environmental Protection Administration, Time noted, recently estimated the annual number of premature deaths in China caused by air pollution at 358,000. 17 Nov 2006

Yep, that is what I did every morning in Shijiazhuang – open the curtain and see how far I could see. More often than not, that wouldn’t be too far. Here in Linyi, the doesn’t seem to be too much pollution. We are experiencing typical Winter weather – cold, overcast days with wind and occasional fog, but the visibility is still good.

In my opinion, China’s biggest problem is it’s environmental problems.  So how does China clean up? There really is no question that they must. In a country this populated, with a large peasant base, the change must be society-wide, from the bottom up. Local and national leaders must join forces to change habits & practices. They need access to greener energy. Everyone needs education. Businesses and manufacturers need to understand that going green increases profits. They need a green revolution!

In the third article on the topic, Friedman, writing as new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, addresses President Hu Jintao and discusses the idea of US – China cooperation on green energy initiatives. A “good for you, good for me” idea.

**Thomas Friedman’s opinion columns on require a subscription in Times Select service in order to read them online. They should be available free at your local library. If you would like to read the articles online, email me and I will help you find a way. 😉

Just before posting this, I found an article discussing the environmental problems of China that you can access for free. China’s Ecological Suicide on the China Worker Site.


4 Responses to “China – Say Hello to the Green Cat”

  1. fencer Says:

    We travelled to China most recently in October. My wife is Chinese and we travel to Shanghai from Vancouver about once a year or so. Over the years we have also travelled in the western interior of China, from Beijing to Xian and Guilin. Everywhere, without exception, the smog. Occasionally, it lifts in Shanghai with a stiff wind, but everywhere else, especially in places like Luoyang where we visited in October, the smog was always with us.

    But it was considered bad manners, I found, to bring up the subject, even though you might be out in the countryside where you could barely see the trees on the other side of the road. (I wrote more of our experiences at

    Reading up on the subject of China and pollution since I came back… I believe the seriously degrading environment is a major factor that may, with all of China’s other problems, lead to political instability in the not so distant future.

  2. dave Says:

    Fixing this problem might be very very difficult.

    The rise in pollution is coming from the fact China is consuming more and more natural resources to maintain the current rate of growth. This is something I blogged about here ( )

    The short version is, ‘Experts estimate that for every GDP point, the quantity of energy spent by China is three times that of the United States and nine times that of Japan.’

    Also, it isn’t only what is in the air but what is on the ground. Trash is becoming an issue in a country that is shifting more and more to consumerism. What will become of the landfills if 1.3 billion people start eating tv dinners?

    So, Beijing has passed environmental law after environmental law and set up NGOs. But local officials are so corrupt that they take back door deals to keep the factories running.

    Its an ugly problem and with no clean solution.

  3. fencer Says:

    Whoops… I should have said ‘eastern interior’ above…

  4. global gal Says:

    Thanks for all the comments. Every day I find a new website or article with information on the environmental problems in China. It is very, very disconcerting. I appreciate hearing other’s opinions and comments on this subject, especially since I am no expert.

    Dave, you are right, energy consumption is skyrocketing and unfortunately, coal burning continues to be one of the dirtiest means of producing energy. I often wonder what will happen when millions more Chinese people are able to purchase cars. The need for oil will be astounding.

    Trash is a growing problem. Back in Shijiazhuang we would pass lots of residential housing areas on our way into the city and behind every one was a growing mound of garbage, sometimes flowing directly out of someone’s window.

    The plastic bag is the scourge of earth!

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