Big changes, happening quickly
To understand why Chinese officials are genuinely concerned about the country’s growing environmental problems, you must first remember that they live here.
The dynamic she describes is pretty fascinating. Environmental problems are getting so severe that they’re causing serious social unrest. But the central government in Beijing no longer has the ability to tightly enforce environmental rules in the provinces, which have — ironically due to the loosening of economic control — become all but autonomous.
So to bring pressure on regional polluters, the central government is loosening again: this time loosening restrictions on civic activism. That means a robust grassroots environmental movement is now growing in China.
Can the communist government thread this needle? Can they keep the economic expansion going, scale back on pollution, and keep the new civic activism from spilling over into more demands for social freedom? Sound pretty damn tricky.
Most Westerners are only dimly aware of them, but the sheer size and speed of the changes inside China are just boggling. Who knows what the country will look like in ten years.
Update [2007-7-17 13:2:23 by David Roberts]:
China has suspended the program whereby it calculates its so-called “green GDP” — i.e., its GDP minus the extraordinary costs of pollution. Turns out it was a bit too sensitive.