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Greg McInerney's comments on FB about this article:

More piffle from The Guardian on China and its supposed environmental leadership.

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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