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Jonathan Watts on China's Environmental Reform

What is China’s government doing to reverse the effects of climate change?

October 23, 2010

What is China's government doing to reverse the effects of climate change?

1. What is one truth about China?

"Plagued by algae and dust, China has felt at times like the end of the world."

2. Have you also seen other aspects of China?

"Yes. I have been stunned by scenes of astonishing beauty, acts of remarkable courage and leadership that often seemed more enlightened than in the world's more industrially advanced nations."

3. How has the West's interest in China changed recently?

“For the first time, the West seems more concerned with Beijing’s environmental performance than its governance or human rights record."

4. What does this change mean?

"This is a recognition that Beijing holds the key to the world’s future."

5. How much of an impact do China's emissions have on the world?

"Even if every other country in the world acts radically to reduce greenhouse gases, we are all still doomed if China fails to deal with its emissions from coal in the next 20 years."

6. Is the country taking the appropriate steps?

"China is doing much more than is widely appreciated in the outside world — but not nearly enough to pull mankind back from the brink.”

7. Any reason for optimism?

"Even in the notorious Huai River basin, there are indications that pollution might have peaked. This period could yet be seen as another of those great turning points in Chinese history."

8. What cycles mark the first 60 years of China's independence?

"The first 30 years of the People’s Republic were marked by deadly political dogma — and the second 30 years by an environmentally devastating obsession with economic growth."

9. And what will be the grand theme for the next cycle?

"The next era will be one in which China either invents a new sustainable model of growth — or is torn apart by conflicts over diminishing resources."

10. How is the government planning to succeed?

"If the most ambitious plans are realized, Gansu's deserts will one day be filled with solar panels, the Silk Road will be lined with wind farms and bodies of water throughout the country will be divided up into fields of harvestable algae."

11. What's the paradox of China's future?

“China is on course to become a green superpower and a black superpower at the same time."

12. And finally, why these contradictions?

"It may lead the world in generating energy from wind, but the environmental benefits are dwarfed by the negative impacts of the growth of coal.”

Editor's Note: All the quotes in this Read My Lips have been drawn from Jonathan Watts' book, "When a Billion Chinese Jump: How China Will Save Mankind — Or Destroy It," published by Scribner on October 26, 2010.

Each edition of “Read My Lips” presents quotes made by the featured individual at the time specified in the answers. However, it is a “virtual” interview only — insofar as we have added questions in order to provide a better context to the thoughts expressed.