Instead of attacking China's environmental negligence, Britain and America should realise their own hypocrisy

Instead of attacking China's environmental negligence, Britain and America should realise their own hypocrisy

China is only just industrialising, while Britain and the US have a 200-year head start


Could the smog in China be comparable to London 100 years ago?
Photo: EPA

China’s environmental problems are causing significant health and economic issues for the country. Coal burning is having a serious impact on people’s health. But China’s pollution is also affecting the economy; between 2000 and 2010 an annual loss of 6.5 per cent of GDP was attributed to pollution and this figure is increasing with industrialisation.

It’s no secret that China is facing serious environmental problems. We’ve seen this “economic prosperity first, environmental protection later” pattern before. Ever since the country opened up and started taking reforms seriously, developed countries have been patting China on the back for their substantial economic growth, while simultaneously shaking their heads at the massive environmental destruction.

But while developed countries point fingers at China and are disappointed with the environmental degradation, they don’t realise they are being hypocritical. They seem to have conveniently forgotten that they did the exact same thing years ago.

Today the US and Britain appear to be highly developed countries, with far less pollution than China. However, we’ve forgotten that they are like this because they were fortunate to have gone through their industrial revolutions more than 200 years ago. Both countries began industrialising around the 1800s, but it wasn’t until the late 1900s that the American and British governments took any environmental action.

First ever lawsuit against a environmental protection department in China

When the US and Britain finally took their first real steps to protect the environment, their GDP was similar to what China’s was in 2013: 6,626.

At the same time as these changes were taking place in the US and Britain, China was still in the middle of the Cultural Revolution, with a GDP of 112 in 1970. That means that in just 30 years, they have made serious progress, both economically and environmentally.

The US and Britain went through 100 years of industrial revolution before they stopped to think about the environment. China on the other hand, brought in environmental laws at the same time as industrial changes. Instead of talking down to China, the US and UK should encourage her to continue to make better decisions than they did.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
A 200-year head start for the West


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