Rising China and India need path to sustainable development

By Shang Huipeng
0 CommentsPrint E-mail China.org.cn, March 29, 2010
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This year marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of China and India diplomatic ties. Both the countries were poor before, but gained great achievements in recent years. Now the whole world is talking about the rise of China and India, so it might be a good way to memorize the anniversary by thinking about their future development.

A Western commentator once said, in the 19th century the U.K. taught the world how to produce; in the 20th century the U.S. showed the world how to consume; if China wants to lead the 21st century, it must teach the world sustainable development. With a combined population of 2.4 billion, China and India are twice the size of Europe and North America. To develop in a sustainable way is therefore a necessary question for consideration.

We all want to get rid of poverty and live a modern life and things are moving in this direction. But consumerism is eroding our soul and life unconsciously. People dream of owning big houses, cars, yachts, private planes, and traveling all over the world, but are such dreams realistic? The average American consumes 262.4 tons of oil and 1,000 trees in his lifetime. If all Chinese and Indians reached this living standard, you would have to multiply these figures by 2.4 billion! And the population is still growing. India will overtake China by 2031.

Paper was expensive in the past and seldom used in ordinary life. But now we have wrapping paper, toilet paper, napkins and sanitary towels. If Chinese and Indians used the same amount of paper as Americans, world consumption would reach 500 million tons, three to four times current output of 161 million tons.

Traditionally Indians use their hands to eat. But now richer people in Indian cities are using knives and forks. If all one billion Indians decide to use metal tableware, think how much steel consumption will increase! If each Chinese used 200 sets of disposable chopsticks a year - like the Japanese – over 260 billion sets would be needed. Imagine how many trees would be chopped down!

The U.S. consumes a quarter of global crude oil. If China and India reach the same consumption levels as the U.S., 780 million tons of crude oil will be burned every year. World oil reserves are just 15.89 billion tons. Even if all other countries stopped using oil, current reserves would only cover 20 years of consumption by China and India.

Greedy investors see a huge population as a giant market opportunity. They think of the unimaginable profits they will earn if everyone buys a packet of toilet paper or a bottle of shampoo. But the other side of the coin is the disastrous effect on the environment.

The logic of economic growth mode is to increase consumption; but that logic has its problems. We need to reflect upon our consumerist lifestyle. China and India do not need to copy the current model. What is more the whole world should abandon it, with the rich countries in North America and Europe giving a lead.

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