Blue skies smiling at me

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Op/Ed Commentary: Andy Scott

HARRISBURG, Penn., Oct 3 – The talk of China here in the United States tends to instantly go towards that of lead paint when people find out that you live in Shanghai. Lead paint, tainted toothpaste and – for the most hard core of China watchers – tires and Africa also come up. What all these conversations have in common is that they tend to take place under azure blue skies.

Along with democracy (more on that later) and debt, one of the things the United States exports to the world is pollution. Every plastic deck set, knock-off designer jean skirt and yes, toy trains coated with paint of questionable composition that the America is buying up on credit at 12 percent APR from Target and Wal-Mart all come from China. Let me tell you something you don’t know.

All of this comes at a price of course. And for all those every day low prices and clear skies that the American consumer enjoys; the skies over China get darker. So the question becomes, what will done about it?

China’s booming economy – one that has created the sweatshop of the world if you like catchy titles – is in danger of collapsing because the environment simply won’t continue to sustain it. As Pan Yue, the vice minister for China’s State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) warned in 2005, “The miracle will end soon because the environment cannot keep pace.”

China’s problem is the world’s problem. Few these days are ignorant of effects of global warming, the situation is getting so critical that fund managers are divesting all the waterfront property in their portfolios. A library could be filled with what has been written about China’s pollution problems. But very rarely do those articles and in-depth Sunday magazine features place the blame, or answer, squarely in the U.S. of A. – out of sight, out of mind.

The sooner the Americans realize the destruction their excess consumerism is causing, the sooner the sun will appear in the skies over Shijiazhuang. While China moves forward at rocket pace, developed countries in the West need to step up and act as the international stakeholders they call themselves, putting significant and material pressure on multinational corporations to act responsibly, not just in the hyper-regulated Western powers, but also in the maquiladoras of Juárez and the factory towns of the Pearl River Delta. Corporate social resposability needs to become an important part of any company’s operating policies.

Governments also need to realize that Beijing is not the all powerful force many see it as and need to step up with assistance programs to help out, both nationally and provincially. Clean coal technology, methane recycling, wind, solar and even nuclear alternatives need to be jointly explored – post haste.

That more to come about exported democracy will have to wait till the bombs stop exploding…