The New York Times reported yesterday that air pollution in China contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010 alone. The situation is so bad there that even a neocon like former Secretary of Treasury Henry Paulson has issued an urgent plea for help.
Communist China may have greater government intervention and planning in their economy overall, but throughout its fantastic period of growth China has done almost nothing to regulate the impact of its growth on the environment. The United States is far more environmentally regulated than anywhere in the remaining communist world.
That is a good thing. When it comes to environmental matters I am an unabashed big government liberal. My libertarian leanings are secondary to the best way to ensure clean air and water and sustainable use of natural resources. If you can’t breathe or drink water your liberty means absolutely nothing.
The history of the West and the present experience in Asia confirms beyond all doubt what happens when human liberty is allowed to economically expand while leaving our environment to some theoretical free-market “checks and balances” that will magically emerge when human beings go too far with polluting the air and water. The simple fact is that there are, in practice, no economic models enacted on the planet today that factor in the cost of manufacturing and economic development upon our natural world.
The result is the death of Lake Erie, toxic waste dumps all over the world, unparalleled pollution first in industrialized Britain and America and now in China, India, and elsewhere across Asia. You can even throw Brazil into the mix. If a country is growing economically its environment (and consequently its population) is suffering. We do not learn anything.
Human beings will destroy the environment to a harmful degree if left to do so in complete freedom. That is both a historical fact and a present reality. Period.
A closer look at unregulated Asia today reveals the unhealthy and unsustainable reality. China has been more in the spotlight due to its extraordinary economic growth. Conditions there have recently been labeled as "airpocalypse". Currently, there is a tremendous amount of infighting among the communist bureaucrats as to how to address what is apparently a runaway problem. This means nothing is being done quickly, if at all. The water situation there is, if anything, worse than the air quality. Nearby, the harbor of Hong Kong is affected. Air quality there is now considered "dangerous".
The situation in India is also bad, where it is reported that coal pollution is killing tens of thousands every year. In the large cities such as Hydeabad air quality is harmful to human health. Pollution in all its forms (air, water, waste, noise) has diminished the health of India's population as the country attempts to grow economically.
I know a bit of what this is like. When I visited India back in 1985-86 I traveled one day with a Hindu acquaintance on his small motor-bike all over Bombay (now Mumbai). After several hours of driving around without a helmet on we returned to his flat for a meal prepared by his sister. She laughed when she saw me. My face was covered in soot from exposure to the city air. That night I experienced a minor asthma attack. It wasn't even hazy that day, as I recall. I can only imagine what it must be like in Mumbai today without any pollution regulation to the economic growth there over the past 30 years.
In Europe's and America's more environmentally regulated societies air and water quality is generally considered among the best in the world. This is a constant battle, however, between those who understand that regulation works and those who would minimize regulation in the the face of history and present evidence (as given in the post) that deregulated economic growth is unquestionably harmful to human beings and the environment.
Idiots who advocate radical measures like abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency are obviously blind to what is occurring in every industrializing nation on this planet, to what occurred in 19th century industrialization, and to the fact that there is no singular significant historical moment when human beings accounted for the environment as they modernized their economies. Every person of such shallow ilk should be banished to swim and jog in China and India today.
Let them bask in the absolute freedom of development without pollution controls. It is like going back in time, a devolution of knowledge in favor of either a philosophy that disproportionately favors deregulation over human health or a simpleton neurosis of mistaken belief that government always makes things worse. Very clearly, the record shows only government can bring improvement where pollution is concerned and then only if it acts.