Lester Brown Goes to China

This comes just a tad late for "Lester Brown Week", but the godfather of sustainable development took his message of cleaner, greener growth to China this weekend:

Lester Brown, 72, president of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington DC, said: "What China clearly demonstrates to the world now is that the Western economic mode, the fossil fuel-based, automobile-centred, throw-away economy, is not going to work with China."

Speaking at the Beijing launch of the Chinese version of his 2003 book "Plan B: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble" at the National Library of China, Brown added: "China has to replace it with a renewable-energy based system, and comprehensive recycling economy."

In the book Brown discusses a series of problems China along with the rest of the world is facing, such as emerging water shortages and the spectre of global grain shortages.

Brown said that if China keeps an 8 per cent annual rate of growth by 2031 the average annual income will be the same as in the US.

By then, the nation's vast population will consume two thirds of the world's resources, he said.

Brown suggested China should help restructure the global economy, eradicate poverty, stabilize population growth and restore the earth's natural systems.

"The key to restructuring the global economy is to let the market tell the environmental truth," he said.

If you haven't yet read Plan B, it's worth your time even if you only read Brown's grim prognosis of world ecosystems should China continue on a rapid path of Western-style development. Given the relatively early stages of the country's economic modernization, there's still time for the Chinese to adopt a more sustainable path, and the world's largest country has made significant steps towards tapping renewable energy resources. Of course, until the developed world, particularly the United States, starts "letting the market tell the environmental truth," we're in a rather awkward position concerning China, as well as other rapidly-growing countries like India. Let's hope the Chinese take Brown's message seriously; let's also hope that it carries back across the Pacific Ocean and resonates more with the US business community (which is taking concrete steps) and political leaders (who are still about thirty years behind in their understanding of sustainable development). :: Xinhua