WASHINGTON, D.C. — Fifty-seven percent of Chinese adults surveyed in 2011 — before the country’s economic slowdown grabbed headlines — prioritized protecting the environment, even at the risk of curbing economic growth. About one in five believed economic growth is more important. Chinese attitudes are typical of those in other emerging-market economies, where residents sided with the environment over the economy in earlier surveys.
Similarly, Americans historically prioritized environment protection over economic growth from 1985 to 2008. However, economic growth has taken priority since the economic recession deepened in 2009. If China’s economic troubles worsen, residents’ attitudes could change too.
Among the 22% of Chinese who did not choose the environment or the economy, about half of them (12%) answered they don’t know. Those who did not have an opinion tended to be poor rural residents with no education beyond elementary school, perhaps indicating their lack of awareness about environmental issues. The 9% who answered neither tended to be wealthy urban residents with high education. For them, it might be a dilemma of choosing one over the other because both the economy and the environment are extremely important.
More Environmental Challenges Lie in Urban Areas
More than three in four (77%) Chinese are satisfied with current efforts to preserve the environment. Residents living in the urban areas, the hub of much of China’s industrial activity, however, are significantly less satisfied than their rural counterparts with these efforts, as well as the quality of the air and water where they live. With good reason: The World Health Organization finds air pollution in Shanghai and Beijing is double or even triple the severity it is in London or Los Angeles. Further, China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection finds groundwater at 57% of its monitoring sites in cities is polluted or extremely polluted.
Just because it’s only 57% doesn’t mean it’s not a strong priority for the remaining 43%. A quick google search on some recent incidences:
- Today tens of thousands of people are on the streets of Dalian, in northeast China, to protest pollution from a big factory making paraxylene (PX), a toxic chemical used in plastics and synthetic fibers. – Aug 14 2011http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/08/todays-news-out-of-china-the-dalian-px-protests/243572/
- Thousands protest against pollution from chemical plant in Jiangxi, southeastern province of China – Aug 16, 2011 http://www.socialistworld.net/doc/5239
- A prominent Chinese environmental activist group has criticized Apple and its supply chain for the second time this year, saying the company is dumping polluted waste and toxic metals into areas surrounding Chinese communities. – Sept. 1, 2011 http://signalnews.com/apple-toxic-dumping-pollution-china-688
- Hundreds of local residents staged violent protests over pollution by a factory which manufactures solar panels for the US-listed company Jinko Solar, and was emitting excessive levels of fluoride, – Sept. 19, 2011 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/8773738/China-shuts-factory-after-pollution-protest.html
- 30,000 Chinese ‘Occupy’ Highway to Protest Polluting Coal Plants in Guandong Province. Each year, protests spring up to counter the construction of dirty coal plants. But this appears to be the biggest yet. – Dec. 30 2011 http://www.care2.com/causes/30000-chinese-occupy-highway-to-protest-polluting-coal-plants.html
- Major Retailers Contribute To Severe Water Pollution In China. Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a Beijing-based nonprofit, sent letters to 48 companies outlining the violations and received responses from 16. Many of the international brands named, like H&M, Walmart, Burberry and Adidas had already begun investigating violations. Others, like Abercrombie & Fitch, Puma, Guess and Zara have yet to address or respond to charges – Apr 23, 2012 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/23/china-water-pollution-fashion-textile-factories_n_1445766.html