The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
China Embraces NIMBYism

It is becoming increasingly evident that public opinion in China is affecting the ability of officials to launch big projects by decree—a quality of the government’s autocratic system that Communist Party officials have long compared favorably against the inertia of India’s messy democracy.

Over the past few years, ordinary citizens have stepped up pressure on local governments to cancel major industrial projects that could worsen already astronomical pollution levels on China’s eastern seaboard. That trend has accelerated recently, as the Wall Street Journal notes:

The cancellation over the weekend of a second Chinese industrial project in a month following fierce environmental protests demonstrates the government’s growing sensitivity to China’s pollution problems.

Officials in the coastal community of Qidong in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu said Saturday that they would stop construction of a pipeline intended to dump wastewater from a Japanese-owned paper mill into the sea. Worries about pollution sparked protests early Saturday that the state-run Xinhua news agency said drew thousands.

Earlier this month in Shifang, a small city in China’s southwestern Sichuan province, officials similarly decided to cancel construction of a metals plant after protesters violently clashed with local police.

In light of these and related concerns over the contamination of China’s food, water, and air, the government is taking real steps to reduce pollution, the most significant of which is an effort to run all power plants—and a lot more vehicles—on natural gas rather than dirtier energy sources like coal.

Economic development enables environmental conservation; people only accept pollution when they don’t think they have a choice. A richer China will be a cleaner China.

Published on August 1, 2012 7:00 pm
  • Lea Luke

    It’s good to see the Chinese doing things in the public interest. However they still have a way to go as this rather disturbing story illustrates.

    Let’s hope it is China’s bio/cultural traditions that are responsible for this state of affairs, not something more impossible to change.

    Who knows, there may be a silver lining in the current enclosure movement that is destroying the village clans?

  • Mick The Reactionary

    @Mead:

    “In light … concerns over the contamination of China’s food, water, and air, the government is taking real steps to reduce pollution, the most significant of which is an effort to run all power plants—and a lot more vehicles—on natural gas rather than dirtier energy sources like coal.”

    Please provide some facts based prove of this assertion.

  • Jim.

    Ironic that Shaw’s Alfie Doolittle was in the recycling business, eh? The prestige of the common dustman has come a long way in the Liberal mind, in a hundred years.

  • http://knownofold.blogspot.com J R Yankovic

    As far as it goes – which of course one can never safely predict where mainland China is concerned – all good news. It’s encouraging that more and more mainlanders are coming seriously to regard themselves as human beings with rights and needs like the rest of us (and yes, I can believe that does presuppose a certain level of wealth and general prosperity – but maybe also an incipient sense of nationhood?). As opposed to the way the majority have seen both themselves and each other through much, if not most, of their history: as so much infinitely malleable and disposable raw material for the World’s One True Civilization.

  • Mick The Reactionary

    @Yankovic:

    “As far as it goes – which of course one can never safely predict where mainland China is concerned – all good news.”

    Need I remind that Mead provided zero supporting data for his assertions?

    It is entirely possible that the whole phenomena exists entirely in Dr Mead brain?

  • http://knownofold.blogspot.com J R Yankovic

    @ Mick The Reactionary:

    I don’t know your opinion as to the reputability of the source. But maybe this is something of what Prof Mead was trying to put in a nutshell:

    http://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/5031-Beijing-seeks-to-kill-coal-with-gas.

    Mind you, I’m as prepared as anyone to believe bad news from Beijing. But if you put even so much as a straw of good news in front of me re China, most of the time I’m at least semi-willing to grasp it.

  • Lowell

    There is a considerable amount of data about how societies clean up pollution as they become more wealthy. In fact, economists have noticed almost an algebraic function where societies will clean up one area (like water) when their wealth reaches one level and another when their wealth reaches a higher level.