Saturday, January 28, 2012

Jonathan Watts

Jonathan Watts is Asia Environment Correspondent for The Guardian and a former president of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China.

His 2010 book When a Billion Chinese Jump tells the story of an unfolding ecological crisis as seen from the ground.

From Watts's Q & A with Sam Geall:

SG: So, could China become the world's first green superpower?

I wanted to ask that question in [When a Billion Chinese Jump]. We are heading into a difficult 30 or 40 years for our species. We are over the limit already by just about every ecological measure. And yet our population is probably going to rise by another two billion in the next 40 years. We need to get through this rough period and over that 40-year hump: after that, populations should start to fall and there should be better technology and economic models too. But now, the country that is in the best position – and the worst position – is China.

China is in the best position because its economy is growing so quickly that it does have a lot of resources. It's in the worst position because it's reached this supercharged phase of growth at a very unfortunate time in terms of the history of global development. China can't outsource its problems like other countries have been able to do. This is a country that has to reinvent itself.

The big contrast between China and the United States, particularly in renewable energy for instance, is that China is trapped by momentum, it has to keep moving forward. By contrast, the US is trapped by inertia – it's trying to protect what it already has. This is also why China is in a better position to become a green superpower.

SG: One intention of your book seems to be to introduce a note of scepticism amid much western optimism about China's ability to save the world economy.

JW: There is still a widespread assumption that one model has proven itself again and again over the past 200 years: the get-rich-first, clean-up-later model. But what worked for Britain in the nineteenth century, for the US in the twentieth century and for Japan and South Korea in the late twentieth century, may not work for China, because of scale and because of timing.

In a sense...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue