Commenters like Tom Friedman and James Fallows have suggested that China’s command-and-control government and history of dramatic social change (Great Leap Forward, anyone?) actually offers a better approach, compared to the vagaries of democratic governance, to tackling a challenge as huge as sustainability–when and if the government makes it a priority.
That theory is being tested right now. The top story on Digg this week was about China’s plans to reduce water consumption 60% per unit of GDP by 2020. Currently, China faces its worst drought in 50 years, affecting 4.37 million people and 2.1 million head of livestock. The country is tackling the drought with irrigation and subsidies to farmers, although the long-term plan involves cleaning up urban water supplies and improving efficiency of irrigation in China’s northern breadbasket.
On Thursday of this week, the government took even more drastic steps to end the drought in Beijing. It fired iodide sticks into clouds to produce an artificial and rare snowfall, which even fell over the Great Wall.
Clearly China’s environmental measures are prompted by necessity, not idealism. But that may make them no less effective.