Future hazy as we count the cost of warp-speed growth

By Pauline D. Loh ( China Daily ) Updated: 2014-03-07 08:21:24

If the Four Horsemen had ridden out of the gloom that surrounded Beijing recently, few people would have been surprised. It did seem the End of Days for many, as the PM2.5 index broke past the 500 mark and the capital city was shrouded in the worst smog it had experienced in so many years.

Amidst the cacophony of calls for control and legislation, some of which came out muffled by industrial-strength face masks, it is time to examine how we arrived at such a sorry state.

Not so long ago, at the last US-China Forum, American food activist and author Michael Pollan made this remark: The US has much to learn from China, which has been coaxing food out of the same piece of land for thousands of years.

Pollan could have spoken too soon.

The land we call China is protesting and nature is getting its own back.

The country has experienced phenomenal growth in the past few decades, and our younger generations have experienced nothing of the hunger that has plagued us in the past.

Instead, physical hunger has been replaced by an appetite for being the fastest, the biggest, the quickest, and the most abundant, a greed fed by astronomical figures and vertical inclines in industry, agriculture, energy, manufacturing and trade.

China's cities and towns are bursting their boundaries and overflowing into the rural hinterland. While the communes in the past merely worried about producing enough to feed the village, now village chiefs are worrying about their GDP output.

There was just one thing someone forgot to put into the instruction manuals: Growth needs to be sustainable, and overexploitation of natural resources will take its toll, sooner or later.

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