8 Responses to Chinese Premier: Rich nations should ditch ‘unsustainable’ lifestyles … and stop buying all the crap we make
OK, maybe Premier Wen didn’t say that last part:
BEIJING (AFP) — Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Friday that rich nations should alter their lifestyles to help tackle global warming, at the start of a two-day meeting on climate change, state media reported.
Snap! And yet … and yet … I confess the first thing that popped into my head when I read that admonition was this Onion story:
Chinese Factory Worker Can’t Believe The Shit He Makes For Americans
FENGHUA, CHINA–Chen Hsien, an employee of Fenghua Ningbo Plastic Works Ltd., a plastics factory that manufactures lightweight household items for Western markets, expressed his disbelief Monday over the “sheer amount of shit Americans will buy.”
“Often, when we’re assigned a new order for, say, ‘salad shooters,’ I will say to myself, ‘There’s no way that anyone will ever buy these,’ …. One month later, we will receive an order for the same product, but three times the quantity. How can anyone have a need for such useless shit?”
… “I hear that Americans can buy anything they want, and I believe it, judging from the things I’ve made for them,” Chen said. “And I also hear that, when they no longer want an item, they simply throw it away. So wasteful and contemptible.”
I titled Chapter 9 of my book “The U.S.-China Suicide Pact on Climate,” noting:
The climate problem cannot be solved if China and other rapidly developing countries do not take steps to restrain their emissions growth. But if the United States maintains its position that we will not take strong action until China does, neither country is likely to act in time.
Even setting aside the morality of the issue, the United States does have an obligation to act — and to act first — under the much-ignored UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was signed by President Bush’s father in 1992 and ratified that year by the Senate unanimously.
The signatories to the treaty recognized “that the largest share of historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gases has originated in developed countries, that per capita emissions in developing countries are still relatively low and that the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social and development needs.” The Rio Treaty recognized the “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” of each nation, and established a core principle:
Accordingly, the developed country Parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof.
Needless to say, that particular position is now very unpopular in this country, as I discuss in the chapter. Nonetheless, developing countries certainly have every right to lecture us about our failure to act to reduce emissions — especially since, unlike every other developed country, the United States has not merely refused to agree to binding emission reduction targets, we have actually spent the last eight years trying to convince other countries to abandon the international negotiation process.
That said, China isn’t Haiti or even Mexico. While the United States is still by far the world leader in cumulative emissions of greenhouse gases, China has surpassed us in total emissions. Its strategy of growth at any cost, which it learned from the West, is now utterly unsustainable, see “The immorality of China’s coal policy is breathtaking (literally).” In 2006 and 2007 alone, China built a staggering 200,000 MW of fossil fuel based electric generating capacity, almost all coal-fired. In those two years, they built the equivalent of more than half of the US coal generation capacity, which took us decades to build.
Like our country, China’s leaders operate under the misguided belief that they can pollute all they want during this time of rapid growth, and then use their future wealth to solve their environmental problems. While that paradigm has worked in America for polluted rivers and smoggy cities, it is fatally flawed for dealing with the threat posed by irreversible climate impacts, such as the disintegration of the Greenland ice sheet or the release of the carbon and methane locked in the frozen tundra or peatlands (see “Tundra, Part 2: The point of no return” and “For peat’s sake: A point of no return as alarming as the tundra feedback“). What is doubly tragic about this is that until the late 1990s, China in fact had a far more sustainable energy policy (see “China’s immoral energy policy — Part II: The efficient alternative“).
Yes, much of China is still living under terrible poverty. But it also remains the case that catastrophic climate change — which is unavoidable if the Chinese will not reverse their unsustainable path by, say, 2020 at the latest — will hit developing countries, including China, much more painfully than it will hit the rich countries.
Every other developed country can unhesitatingly criticize America’s unsustainable lifestyle. Even China has every right to attack us for not fulfilling our obligation to start reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, every right to propose as it did last week “that rich nations devote one percent of their economic output toward helping poor countries fight global warming.” But I am not so certain the Chinese premier has any moral standing to attack our unsustainable lifestyle, a lifestyle China encreasingly feeds off in our mutual suicide pact.
Let me end with The Onion:
Among the items that Chen has helped create are plastic-bag dispensers, microwave omelet cookers, glow-in-the-dark page magnifiers, Christmas-themed file baskets, animal-shaped contact-lens cases, and adhesive-backed wall hooks.
“Sometimes, an item the factory produces resembles nothing I’ve ever seen,” Chen said. “One time, we made something that looked like a ladle, but it had holes in its cup and a handle that bent down 90 degrees. The foreman told us that it was a soda-can holder for an automobile. If you are lucky enough to own a car, sit back and enjoy the journey. Save the soda beverage for later.”
Chen added: “A cup holder is not a necessary thing to own.”
Chen expressed similar confusion over the tens of thousands of pineapple corers, plastic eyeshades, toothpick dispensers, and dog pull-toys that he has helped manufacture.
“Why the demand for so many kitchen gadgets?” Chen said. “I can understand having a good wok, a rice cooker, a tea kettle, a hot plate, some utensils, good china, a teapot with a strainer, and maybe a thermos. But all these extra things–where do the Americans put them? How many times will you use a taco-shell holder? ‘Oh, I really need this silverware-drawer sorter or I will have fits.’ Shut up, stupid American.”
Chen added that many of the items break after only a few uses.
“None are built to last very long,” Chen said. “That is probably so the Americans can return to buy more. Not even the badly translated assembly instructions deter them. If I bought a kitchen item that came with such poor Mandarin instructions, I would return the item immediately.”
May Gao of the Hong Kong-based labor-advocacy group China Labour Bulletin said complaints like Chen’s are common among workers in China’s bustling industrial cities.
“Last week, I took testimony from several young female workers from Shenzhen who said they were locked in a work room for 18 straight hours making inflatable Frisbees,” Gao said. “Finally, the girls joined hands on the factory floor and began to chant, ‘No more insane flying toys for Western pigs!’ They quickly lost their jobs and were ostracized by their families, but the incident was a testament to China’s growing disillusionment with producing needless crap for fat-ass foreigners.”
Continued Gao: “As Chinese manufacturing and foreign investment continue to grow, and more silly novelty products are invented, we can expect to see more of these protests.”