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Greg McInerney's comments on FB about this article:
More piffle from The Guardian on China and its supposed environmental
Let's pick it apart shall we.
First of all the article is profiling an environmental lawyer, James
Thornton, from an NGO hired by the Chinese government as a consultant.
It's perhaps unsurprising then that he credulously repeats Party talking
points and propaganda. Just echoing government talk of an 'ecological
civilization' while ignoring the ecological catastrophe that is China,
the world's largest polluter, for financial renumeration is not a good
start for an article in a liberal newspaper...
Thornton cites a 2015 revision of environmental laws his organisation
helped to consult on that would allow NGOs to sue polluting companies.
These NGOs however must be Chinese NGOs that have been licensed in
effect by the government, they must have been in operation for 5 years,
and cannot have broken the law in the past. What this effectively means
is that only NGOs deemed in good standing by the Communist Party may
enter litigation. This should be placed against the backdrop of the
Communist Party of China severely hampering the NGO sector over the past
decade, running many foreign NGOs out of the country, while harassing
non compliant domestic NGOs with endless financial scrutiny and
detention of activists and members.
The next important point concerns the judiciary. Even ignoring the NGO
control and clampdown, China constitutionally has no independent
judiciary. The courts and legal system operate under the control of the
CPC. So while cases have been brought under this new law, verdicts and
who can and cannot be sued will be to a large extent at the discretion
of the government.
Then there is the obvious point that retrospective litigation is exactly
that; after the fact. A few companies might lose out but there is no
possible way because of legal costs, bureaucracy, the sheer scale of the
problem that this will even make a dent, compared to say properly
written and enforced environmental regulation which China does not have.
Thornton is in awe of the CPC's long-termist, pragmatic leadership on
the environment. He marvels that the unelected Party elite (uniformly
corrupt millionaires/billionaires who tend to buy homes in other
countries so as to escape the environmental disaster they created), is
made up of real go-getter engineers 'rather than political scientists,
lawyers or economists as in the west'. They used to say the same about
the Nazi and Bolshevik elites, men* of action and science, not bogged
down with silly ideological disputes and debate. *(Empahsis on men,
there are no women in the Chinese politburo)
Party officials told Mr. Thornton that environmental sustainability has
been 'central policy' for years now which he is clearly delighted by.
Yet somehow, despite this sincere statement from corrupt, unelected
officials, it appears that China has actually suffered an ecological
collapse during these years of keen environmental stewardship. 85% of
the country's water sources are severely polluted for example. The World
Health Organisaton says that safe levels of harmful PM 2.5 air
pollutants are between 20-50 micrograms per cubic metre. The nation's
capital Beijing regularly hits 400-500.
Globally, China is the largest polluter in the world, pumping out more
CO2 emissions per year than the US, the EU and Japan combined. China's
industries consume 7.9 times as much energy per US dollar of GDP as
Japan, 5.8 times as much as the UK and 3.9 times as much as the US. It
is increasing its coal (now through proxy countries) and other fossil
fuel consumption, meat consumption, deforestation, dirty mining etc.
etc. Despite the hype around its renewable energy investments, wind
produces just 4 percent and solar, barely 1 percent of China's
electricity. It will likely not meet its Paris Climate Accords
obligations, which as we know are not legally binding anyway.
The author says that in drafting these new legal revisions, the great
minds atop of the CPC gathered together the country's 'best
intellectuals.' If he had taken a few minutes to speak to ordinary
Chinese people rather than these Party luminaries, he might have
understood another obvious problem, obvious to Chinese people at least:
That China has many laws, tons in fact, but the real problem endemic in
China is rather enforcement of the law. Aside from obvious points I have
already mentioned regarding the lack of any sort of independent
judiciary and political monopoly over the legal system, the sheer scale
of the country, the population, and the bureaucracy and lack of
accountability of the one party system, fractured as it is between the
centralized power of the Politburo and local branches, all leads to
minimal enforcement of *any law* let alone environmental ones.
Which brings us to Thornton's most dangerous notion. He ascribes China's
environmental success (which is of course a fiction) to top-down
authortarianism. Whereas in his view 'the West' is bogged down by
bothersome things like consulting an electorate, in China 'suddenly you
have this direction from the top on down asking all of these top people
over the course of the next few decades: How does everything have to
change to deliver this?”
Never mind that 'the West' encompasses countries as different as the
U.S. and Sweden, but either way, despite Thornton's apparent logic,
liberal democracies amazingly all have a much better environmental
record than China, despite all of those geniuses atop the CPC. Never
mind that democratic accountability and democratic institutions are
fundamental to protecting our environment, drafting actually enforced
legislation etc. No in the mind of Mr. Thornton, there is some sort of
link between political authoritarianism and protecting the environment
because, after all, 'western democracies that we prize so much aren’t
doing very well with respect to the environment.'
Lenin had a phrase for deluded 'intellectuals' that were rushing to
visit him, pay homage, and to hold up his authoritarian state as a
progressive vision of the future. He called them 'useful idiots'. In
Chinese : 有用的傻瓜
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