New Scientist: Development giants China and India “hold the world in balance”, says a new report by a US environmental think tank.
“The choices these two countries make in the next few years will lead the world either towards growing ecological and political instability — or down a development path based on efficiency and better stewardship of resources,” says a report from the Worldwatch Institute in Washington DC, US.
One in every two tonnes of cement poured today will be in China â€” such is the country’s breakneck pace of economic development. The country also uses one-quarter of all the world’s steel, eats one-third of the world’s rice, and is the world’s largest importer of tropical timber and second largest importer of oil.
Veteran US ecologist and China-watcher Lester Brown last week warned that if China’s economy continues to grow at the present rate, average Chinese incomes will reach current US levels by 2031. At that point “China would consume two-thirds of the world’s current grain harvest and twice the world’s current paper production”.
However, the think tank warns against assuming that economic growth is an environmental problem only in poor countries. “Record-shattering consumption levels in the US and Europe” are equally to blame, stresses Christopher Flavin, president of Worldwatch. In the past decade alone, the ecological footprint of the average American has grown by the same amount as the total footprint of a Chinese person today.
But Flavin says countries like China and India have the chance to develop in a more benign way than already industrialised nations. “[By] leapfrogging today’s industrial powers, they can become world leaders in sustainable energy and agriculture within a decade,” he says.
This is not unrealistic. China recently announced plans for the world’s first “eco-city” on marshes outside Shanghai. India has the world’s fourth largest wind-power industry and plans to generate one-quarter of its energy from renewables.