While reading Bryan Walsh’s thoughtful review of a new book The Conundrum by David Owen, I noticed that the review was posted under TIME.com’s “health” section. The book is about energy efficiency. What does energy efficiency have to do with health? The seeming disconnect between the two, plus a number of other things I’ve seen in the past week, prompted me to revisit an idea that I’ve been meaning to address for a while: Is is possible that humanity’s selfish concern for its own health will be the ultimate road block to inevitable ecological destruction?
I’m not sure. But I’m pretty sure that the answer will likely come from China (or India).
My old friend Bill Bishop, a long-time Beijing resident, posted a recent photo of his air filter after a couple of months removing coal dust and other harmful particulates. Scary. He is not alone, with a recent rush on indoor air filters reported by the Chinese media. But as those reports point out, most people cannot afford the costly systems.
A lot of China-watchers tend to discount the impact of environmental pollution on the country’s development, preferring instead to debate the possibility of a hard landing due to loose bank lending, housing bubbles or other economic causes.
Clearly, health concerns can help drive change. The oil company-backed Prop 23 campaign in California – which sought to overturn the state’s progressive climate policy – was in part successful because of the support of the American Lung Association, and its ad campaign.
In China, where three decades of double-digit economi growth has resulted in a water crisis, unprecedented air pollution, the toll on human health is just starting to be quantified. But it doesn’t take data for people to know that something in China is wrong, and there is growing social unrest because of pollution.
Social unrest is the boogey-man for China’s rulers. It will be interesting to watch as the dynamic between continued growth and continued deterioration of public health plays out.
Here’s hoping health wins.