From 'Here on Earth' by Tim Flannery:
'The division of labour delivers one great good in that it provides the glue for our civilisation. It is the glue of trade, a process which makes both parties wealthier than they were before, and the force it must supplant is that of the warrior with an imperative simply to take. An indication of the strength of this glue can be found by asking what resource draws people to the metropolis. It is, of course, each other, for there is no other worthwhile resource in a city, and so powerful is its pull that for hundreds of years cities have been population sinks, places where mortality, driven by appalling sanitation, crowding and pollution, consumed the endless stream of humanity drawn to them from the healthier countryside. But still they came, and despite the crowding, high prices and pollution they continue to come, because to sup from the table of labours divided is so valuable that it's even worth risking death for. And once our voluntary surrender to the competencies of others has gone so far, we find that we simply cannot exist outside a civilisation. '
Sad article, in a funny way
There is a nascent sense that some Chinese are getting fed up with the consumer society, writes Patti Waldmeir
I was quite calm about Beijing’s recent “airpocalypse” pollution crisis. First off, I was not in Beijing at the time (that helped).
China cannot teach me anything I do not already know about pollution, I reasoned. Having grown up in the car capital of the world (Detroit), raised on a diet of mercury-laced fish from lakes pronounced “dead” by environmentalists, I was a veteran of the pollution wars before China even had smokestacks (I figured).
But it is not just China’s dirty air and poisonous fish that make me nostalgic for my childhood these days – it is also the nascent sense that some Chinese are getting fed up with the consumer society.
Slavish devotees to materialism are scarcely thin on the ground even now: how could it be otherwise, in a country where credit card debt is still a new and exciting concept? But tucked away in rural corners of this vast country are more and more urban professionals who have chosen to drop out and make goat’s cheese (or the Chinese equivalent: live off the land, open a guest house or start an artists’ commune). They are, for lack of a better word, Chinese “hippies”.
So one day last week I took the hippie trail out to Chongming Island, a far-flung bit of Shanghai municipality that passes for “nature” in these parts, to meet a former property executive, an erstwhile salesman and various other former city dwellers who have jacked in their big pay cheques to raise vegetables rather than their standard of living.
Yu Feihu had a car, a flat and a big job in Guangdong province, cradle of modern Chinese capitalism, before he decided to reverse normal migration patterns and return to live in the rural village where he was born. He left Chongming at the age of 18 to pursue the capitalist dream ignited around then by Deng Xiaoping. Two years ago he baffled friends and family by moving back, to a two-room shack on a smallholding near his ancestral home, with an 11-year-old son in tow and a wife who is taking some persuading.
Mr Yu says his old job researching the property market in the southern city of Dongguan persuaded him that escaping pollution in Guangdong would be impossible. “The rivers were all black and the fish tasted of petrol,” he says. “It might take 300 years to recover from pollution like that.”
Of course, the rural idyll where he currently lives is scarcely all that pristine either. On the day that we visited – escaping Shanghai air quality ranked as “hazardous” – the grey soup that passes for air on Chongming seemed little better than in the city. Even Chongming’s rainwater is polluted: it lies within hailing distance of one of the most heavily industrialised areas of China, the Yangtze River delta, and the island is bordered on two sides by the severely polluted Yangtze.
Mr Yu, in fact, could not farm his ancestral land because of its proximity to the polluted river, so he rents a plot further inland – and tries to segregate his fields from the island’s surface water supply altogether, relying only on rainwater and groundwater. He admits that Chongming’s rain is acid and its groundwater tainted too, but he points out that pollution is a relative concept. Apparently, in today’s China, acid rain is preferable to the water of eastern China’s most famous river.
Over a lunch of spinach that tastes like spinach and fish that tastes healthier than it probably ought to, Mr Yu explains that he is self-sufficient now for eggs, fish and veggies, but buys oil and the little meat he sometimes eats. He certainly does not waste money heating the family’s simple farmhouse: it is frigid in the January damp. Does he miss his old life? “Not one bit,” he says, adding the Chinese version of the sentiment “money can’t buy you happiness”.
Chongming has a sprinkling of other urban refugees – though Mr Yu points out that at 40-something he is older than most. Many college-educated youngsters dream of going back to nature, he says. But in good hippie fashion, they too often turn out to be hopeless idealists.
Within living memory, Mao Zedong sent an entire generation of urbanites back to the countryside to live as peasants – and we all know how that turned out.
However, with any luck, “Airpocalypse 2013” will mark a turning point in China’s relationship with its own natural environment. With each new pollution crisis, another tree-hugger is born in China. So I say, bring on the smog.
[ Re: Smoking out the tree-hugging set - FT.com/ how-our-growth-hungry-economy-has-devastated-planet .
Well the Tree Hugger article showed there isn’t even any clean air or water for urbanites to go back to, let alone space! And anyway, urbanites have sacrificed the capability of doing that in order to ‘sup from the table of labours divided’ (Tim Flannery) . It’s just not going to happen. The majority of people live in cities, but cities are not the solution because they’re part of the problem: they are inherently environmentally unstable. (see articles below) Cities are the problem, yet they keep growing in Africa and Asia without any proper infrastructure, and people keep coming to them and getting more unhealthy, and more disconnected from the resources that sustain them, which reinforces the illusion that people can continue to grow and consume finite resources, and blinds them to the hugeness of the consequences.
The thing is there is no solution, not even Transition groups, or beekeeping or tree planting. Most of humanity, including our grandchildren, wont survive because they are so disconnected they will be unable to adapt.
There is great faith in Human Ingenuity, but I haven’t been convinced by the examples I’ve seen so far - ‘rewilding’ for instance, or breeding a varroa resistant bee. Antibiotics that viruses become resistant to. There is such a huge paradigm shift needed, from the attitude that ‘Man must conquer nature’ (Mao Zedong) to the illusion that Man can control it, and has the right to.
Have just finished a strange book called Green Mansions, describing how he lived off the land in the forest and fell in love with an ethereal woman who gets killed by a superstitious tribe. Love Sal x]
December 11, 2012 8:22 pm
Environment: Battle to balance urbanisation with ecological sustainability
“The faster we urbanise, the faster we consume ... We have to take the constraints of energy and resources into account.” Urban migration is drastically changing patterns of consumption and behaviour: China’s city dwellers use three times as much electricity as rural residents, eat 10 times as much sugar, and require vastly more infrastructure as they go about their daily lives. One official estimates that for every person who moves to a city, the government spends Rmb100,000 ($16,000) to build additional roads, bridges, utilities and other public goods – which all require energy-intensive inputs like steel or cement
http://www.alternet.org/environment/how-our-growth-hungry-economy-has-devastated-planet-and-how-we-can-change-course?akid=9952.79726.b2tz1R&rd=1&src=newsletter781334&t=4&paging=offThe main problem with pursuing never-ending growth stems from the fact that the economy is a subsystem of the biosphere. All of the inputs to the economy come from the environment, and all of the wastes produced by it return to the environment. As the economy expands, it consumes more materials and energy, and emits more wastes. But since we live on a finite planet, this process can’t go on forever. Like an inner tube inside a tire, the subsystem can only grow so large compared to the system that contains it.
A safe operating boundary is a sort of safety threshold—stay below it, and humanity incurs a low risk of abrupt and hazardous environmental change; go beyond it, and humanity faces a high risk. For three of the planetary processes (climate change, biodiversity loss, and the nitrogen cycle), humanity is now exceeding the planet’s safe operating boundary, and by a large margin in some cases. The potential consequences are severe: the authors warn that transgressing one or more of the planetary boundaries could lead to catastrophic changes at the continental to planetary scale.
Biodiversity loss is so far beyond the safe operating boundary that there's not enough space to draw it on this chart. Note that the safe operating boundary is measured differently for each planetary process. [ ie loss of biodiversity is what will kill us/is killing us – monoculture, monodiet, monothought/groupthink!]