Tag Archives: environmentalism

Environmentalism and Authoritarianism in China’s Cities

British Firm Designs Chinese Manhattan,” by Dominic O’Connell, The Sunday Times, 28 August 2005 http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2095-1753339_1,00.html.

Dongtan and Greening China,” by Alex Steffen, WorldChanging, 1 My 2006, http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/004378.html.

A lifetime and a half ago (not quite, but far too long definitely) commentator J.R. emailed me some articles and asked my thoughts.

China has accomplished a miracle of economic development, raising hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and forging itself into an industrial powerhouse in just a few decades. But that development has extracted a terrible environmental cost, with China rapidly becoming the most polluted nation on the planet. Indeed, pollution, environmental degradation and resource depletion are so severe in China that a leading government official there warned that unless China can find a more sustainable path, “the miracle will end soon.”

This is true. The need for environmentalism in China is not the sort of pseudo-deep-ecology that is fashionable in schools. The need is not for an aesthetic environmentalism — we want it because it is beautiful — that is behind conversation land and nearly all American environmental pushes. Environmentalism is needed because China is a hellish nightmare of smog and poison.

Are planned cities the solution?

Shanghai, the powerhouse hub of China’s economic miracle, is planning a big expansion with the construction of a new city the size of Manhattan on its doorstep — and it has chosen a British firm to mastermind the design.

Shanghai also claims Dongtan will be the world’s first genuinely eco-friendly city, powered by renewable energy sources and as close to carbon-neutral as possible.

Probably not. If you want to see a planned city in action, check out Brasilia. Or don’t. The capital of Brazil and other Authoritarian High Modernist cites are based on the assumption that one can short circuit the complex adaptive system of human culture. Market-based reforms, such as pollution taxes and evolutionary change, are a surer fix.