There was a time, not long ago, when a disempowered,fatalistic populace thought they could do little to press their leaders to implement the laws and force polluters to stop their toxic ways. In 2001, in Shenyang in China’s Northeastern rust belt, a worker told me that the city’s chronic “fog” was something the local people were used to – but not you foreigners. Since then, the rising middle class, armed with social media that provide them with information transparency and the ability to upload their own images and facts about pollution, has come into its own. Independent journalist Chai Jing’s March 2015 “Under the Dome” documentary, viewed within a matter of days by hundreds of millions, called on the Chinese people to download pollution transparency apps and demand clean air and water, for the sake of their children who had never seen stars and whose very health was in jeopardy.
“Pull quote style. Nemo enim ipsam voluptatem quia volupatas sit aspernatur aut odit aut fugit, sed quia consequuntur magni dolores.”
This encouraging restlessness does not solve China’s problems, as the underlying dynamics of displacement of environmental harm simply postpone and shift them: during the “APEC Blue” meetings of late 2014, for example, when factories were shutdown and automobiles kept off the road to provide clear skies for the global leaders’ summit, a provincial governor boasted that soon all Hebei’s polluting factories would be relocated to Africa. Bad news for Africa, worse news for the planet. As I chronicle in the new edition, as long as “dirty migration” shifts environmental harm from politically strong regions to weaker regions, from cities to countryside, from East China to West China (where, not coincidentally, so many ethnic minority nationalities live), from China to neighboring countries and to the reaches of the globe, then the people of China and the world are postponing our reckoning with the limits of our planet’s ability to provide resources and absorb them after use. Indeed, as China goes, so goes the world.