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Waging War Against Pollution
Chinese Stagnation Begets Green Progress

China’s smoggy skies are a little less toxic these days, thanks to…sluggish economic growth. Beijing has been actively trimming overcapacity in industrial sectors, a part of the economy that has helped inflate China’s phenomenal growth rate but now is up for culling as Xi Jinping pursues his “war on pollution.” The WSJ reports:

Official air-pollution data released by China’s government and monitoring by the U.S. embassy show levels of fine-particulate matter damaging to human health—known as PM2.5—fell more than 15% in the capital in the first half of 2015, compared with a year earlier. The city’s 21 million residents have been greeted with unusual stretches of blue skies.

While measures taken by Beijing are partly behind the change, just as important is what’s happening in the sprawling industrial areas that encircle it…The bleak industrial city of Shahe, 200 miles south of the capital, boomed for much of this century. These days, small glass producers there that haven’t already closed for lack of business have been targeted by local authorities to upgrade equipment or shut operations. Dozens are already gone. […]

Under pressure from Beijing, local officials last year forced [Shahe-based] Jindong Glass to close a 10-year-old factory, cutting about 200 jobs, said Mr. Li, the other Jindong executive.

It’s hard to declare marginally clearer skies a triumph for China when it comes at the cost of development. Green policies frequently find themselves in conflict with economic growth, but there are also ways to grow green—pursuing growth and going green aren’t by nature mutually exclusive. Telework, for example, comes to mind as a way to both improve quality of life and productivity while pulling cars off the street.

Let’s hope greens don’t alight on what’s happening in China as a prototype for their next harebrained policy prescription. It’s not hard to imagine the modern environmental movement in effect cheering mass unemployment and negative GDP growth as a triumph for the planet.

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  • Boritz

    The truth is that this outcome is not tangential to Green desires but central to them.

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