“We can no longer act on nature with impunity.” The “classic” model of economic development “poses a threat to humanity’s very existence”. China needs a new development model, based on renewable resources used effectively and sustainably, that will be built on the old model’s ruins.
Deng Yingtao, a high-profile Chinese economist, made this call to action thirty years ago in his book A New Development Model and China’s Future. Its message was ignored by the political leaders it was addressed to. In this review article, I will consider why.
In the 1990s, the Chinese Communist party leadership prioritised expansion of export-focused manufacturing industry. The industrial boom really took off in the 2000s, fuelled by mountains of coal – the classic unsustainable resource.
In every year since 2011, China has consumed more coal than the rest of the world put together;
more coal than the entire world used annually in the early 1980s; and more than twice what all the rich countries together used annually in the mid 1960s, during their own coal-fired boom.
The primary beneficiaries of this economic model are not China’s 1.3 billion people. The big fuel users are in China’s giant east-coast manufacturing belt – which produces, in the first place, energy-intensive goods for export to rich countries: steel bars, cement, chemical products, agricultural fertilisers and electronics products. Household fuel consumption remains extremely low.
This level of fossil fuel use can not go on, not in China and not anywhere else, without courting the most horrendous dangers brought about by global warming.
Deng Yingtao made a compelling argument against going down this road, BEFORE the decisions were made.
In the Introduction to his book, he pointed to the yawning gap between rich and poor countries; the multinational companies’ rising power; and the damage done to the global south by capitalist boom-and-bust.
The “classic” development model had led to “a world economy dominated by the developed West Read the rest of this entry »