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Don't Kill Hens for Eggs
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It is more than appropriate to compare economic growth at the expense of the environment to the act of killing hens to get eggs.


Vice-Mayor Ma Jianguo of Wuxi, the envied boomtown in southern Jiangsu Province, used the saying when he admitted over the weekend that their oft-lauded model for economic development had come with a heavy environmental cost over the past two decades.


The rapid urbanization and economic boom in southern Jiangsu Province during the final two decades of the last century have earned it credit as the "southern Jiangsu model," which has been a byword for economic prosperity.


The vice-mayor confessed the lack of environmental awareness in decision makers at almost all levels over the past several decades, when the entire nation was preoccupied with growth instead of sustainable development.


Never has anyone questioned this model in public before, and many parts of the country have launched thousands of township enterprises to follow it. Even now that it has become explicit that township enterprises have become the biggest dischargers of pollutants in rural areas, the Southern Jiangsu development model still prevails.


It seems to have become a tradition in this country that the negative side is not supposed to overshadow the positive side whenever something has earned a name as a model.


Those preoccupied with economic growth are content to copy this model, including its lack of consideration for the environment. This indiscriminate copying could spare their investment in the treatment of discharged waste and renovation of technology for the reduction of pollutant emissions.


In the most recent arsenic poisoning in central China's Hunan Province, the local authorities admitted to knowing that the sulphuric acid plant was discharging arsenic into the river, but thought the flowing water could thin it down. This is just one of many such incidents, in which local authorities would rather push aside environmental considerations for economic gain.


Ma Jianguo, the vice-mayor, said that local authorities had learnt the lessons from their past development mode, and environmental considerations play an important role in their development program for the coming five years.


Such a reflection of the past should be encouraged, although it comes after more than two decades.


Far too often, we know what we are doing when we are killing the hens to get eggs, and yet we would rather regret doing so after the fact than stop immediately when we realize we are wrong.


We hope the vice-mayor's regret can wake up those localities that are killing the hens to stop their wrongdoing immediately.


(China Daily September 20, 2006)

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