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57% Of Chinese Believe Environmental Protection Should Be Their Country’s Top Priority

57% Of Chinese Believe Environmental Protection Should Be Their Country’s Top Priority

 

Written by Melanie Hart

Gallup has just released new poll results showing that a majority of Chinese citizens care more about cleaning up the environment than they do about growing the economy. Among Chinese adults Gallup surveyed last year, 57 percent believe that protecting the environment should be their country’s priority, even if improving environmental standards slows the pace of economic growth. Only 21 percent believe that economic growth is more important than environmental protection.

These poll results reflect a growing trend in Chinese society. As China climbs up the economic ladder, its citizens are increasingly deciding that economic growth is not enough. Being able to buy bigger houses and higher-end consumer goods is nice, but quality of life is about more than purchasing power. Real quality of life also requires good public health. In China, public health is suffering due to rampant pollution, and the citizens are desperate to change that.

Here in the United States, some anti-regulatory politicians like to claim that removing or weakening our environmental standards would make the United States a more prosperous country.

In reality, however, it doesn’t pay to be rich if you can’t be healthy too. No one knows that more than the Chinese. Ask the Chinese citizens living in cancer villages if losing their friends and relatives to cancer is a worthwhile price to pay for the dirty factory that provides jobs but poisons their villages with lead, cadmium, and other carcinogens.

Since China is not a democracy, Chinese citizens cannot vote their local politicians out of office when local governments allow businesses to emit harmful pollutants that put public health at risk. When that happens, the best option Chinese citizens have is to expose the situation through the media and hope someone in Beijing hears their story and decides to intervene.

Talking about environmental problems in China is tricky, however. Technically, the Chinese government encourages journalists to expose pollution scandals. Beijing generally finds that exposure to be useful, because it is hard for them to get accurate environmental data through official channels. They even have special transparency regulations that are supposed to give Chinese journalists access to environmental impact assessments, pollution monitoring results, and other government data.

Although Chinese leaders support exposing pollution problems in most cases, they are not okay with exposure that damages the central government’s image or sparks mass protests. They are, after all, an authoritarian regime. Because of that, they have “state secrets” regulations that make Chinese journalists liable for how citizens react to the stories they publish. If a media exposé about lead pollution sparks a protest, the journalist who wrote the story could go to jail. That means journalists have to self-sensor their environmental coverage, and citizens do not always have an outlet for exposing this information.

Environmental problems are increasingly seen as life-or-death, however. And that means many people in China are deciding they would rather risk going to jail than watch their children suffer irrevocable neurological damage from lead, mercury, and other pollutants.

 

When the media cannot fix their problems, Chinese citizens are increasingly taking to the streets in mass protests. We saw this in action in November 2010 when hundreds of citizens protested local government plans to build a waste incinerator near their homes in southern China’s Guangzhou City. We saw it again in December 2011 in Haimen, when Chinese citizens protested plans to build a coal plant.

Public anger is also erupting in the nation’s capital. This past winter, air pollution was so bad in Beijing, pilots could not see the runway at China’s national airport, and air traffic ground to a halt. Despite the obviously horrific conditions, Beijing’s city government rated the pollution as minor. Beijing residents flooded the internet with comments calling on their government to fess up to the fact that conditions were horrible and they were endangering public health. The citizens who posted those comments took a personal risk — any of them could have been punished for subversion, or in Chinese terminology, endangering “social stability.” Since there were so many of them, however, Beijing officials were forced to side with the people and take action to address the pollution. Now Beijing is planning to close down the city’s coal plants and switch over to natural gas.

When it comes to environmental pollution, the Chinese people are getting serious. They have to — that is the only way they can protect themselves and their children from serious harm.

Here in the United States, we should do everything we can to support their cause. We should also remember that we are lucky to live in a democracy where many of these battles have already been fought and won. That is one of our greatest assets, and it is something many in China are willing to risk everything to achieve.

This post was originally published by Climate Progress.

 

Related Stories:

What’s Killing China’s Rare River Porpoises?

30,000 Chinese ‘Occupy’ Highway to Protest Polluting Coal Plants

China’s Great Wall Is Crumbling Due to Mining

 

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Photo from Joe Dunckley via flickr

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50 comments

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3:35PM PST on Jan 21, 2013

Nothing good ever takes place in this ignorant and cruel country.

3:38PM PDT on Sep 23, 2012

EARTH CRY video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jppmMcjgWS0

10:02AM PDT on Sep 20, 2012

more than half is progress! and the other 43% dont say it isnt important, just that it isn't MOST important

6:17AM PDT on Aug 16, 2012

Complimenti ai cinesi, è un'ottima percentuale. Non so però se ai potenti interessa qualcosa.

6:17AM PDT on Aug 14, 2012

Thank you for this, it is very heartening to learn - although it does not entirely surprise me..............

Like most countries there are good and bad things about China, but we tend to only hear the bad things. They are a strange mixture of pollution and environmental disasters such as the 3 rivers dam, alongside a goodly number of really innovative and excellent "green" initiatives. .............Let us hope that they get it right sooner rather than later, for the sake of the people and the wider world. And let us wish the 57% success in their endeavours

7:02AM PDT on Jul 26, 2012

I knew it! I have faith that the chinese will "get it" faster than we! They DO have the self-discipline that it takes, if they want to - and it looks like they want to be responsible....
Right on! we need to support their "green" efforts!

11:19AM PDT on Jun 16, 2012

I doubt that that many Americans can be persuaded to care that much about the environment---they could usurp us as world leaders in the future if we don't wake up!

5:53PM PDT on Jun 14, 2012

Hooray for China's 57%, would that the USA would have the same percentage who worry about the environment.

9:24AM PDT on Jun 14, 2012

They have a good perspective on what is valuable.

7:48PM PDT on Jun 13, 2012

And when will they realize overpopulation and eating everything is also bad for environment?

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