Asia will decide the future of the planet

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The Asia Environmental Daily

By:  Scott Garner |  Beijing, China    February 3, 2018

The battle against global pollution, global warming, and environmental devastation is a battle that must be fought and it must be won. And it is a battle that will largely be fought in Asia.

I love Asia. And as much as I hate to say it, much of the world’s environmental ills originate in Asia. Most of the plastic in the world’s oceans originate in Asia. Excluding the United States, Asia is the largest contributor of CO2 and therefore global warming. Asia is therefore not only a large contributor to rising sea levels that threaten to swamp coastal cities worldwide, it is contributing to the acidification of the world’s oceans and the destruction of the world’s coral reefs. Elephants and rhinos are killed for their ivory and horns, to satisfy a market largely in Asia. The finning of sharks, and over-fishing, has led to the wholesale collapse of fisheries throughout Asia. The catastrophic depletion of ground-water is a phenomenon largely occurring in Asia.          

These are not criticisms. They are simply facts that need to be acknowledged.

The “peoples” of Asia do not want this present and future for themselves. They understand the problems and they are doing what they can to fight the battle. The fact is, after 25 years in Asia (China), it has been my experience that the people of Asia are the same as their brothers and sisters around the world. Basically, good people that want a better life for themselves, and a better future for their children. They want a good job, a decent standard of living, and a decent home. They want to drink clean water and they don’t want to be hungry. They want their children to have a good education and a better future. Parents throughout Asia are no different than parents in the more developed world.

The question is, how do you raise the living standard of 3 billion people, to something comparable to the United States or Western Europe, without causing wholesale environmental devastation in the process? No one can argue that the people of Asia have a fundamental human right to have a better life. No one can deny them that right, to simply have a decent living standard, that in the west we often take for granted.

But how does Asia do it?

A population of 3 billion and growing needs to be fed. 3 billion people need adequate nutrition and basic daily caloric intake, which stresses the land that must produce that food. 3 billion people need adequate supplies of clean drinking water, stressing ground-water and river resources. 3 billion people need transportation. 3 billion people need electricity, to power industry, the lights in their homes and workplaces, their tvs, laptops, and smart phones. 3 billion need massive amounts of energy to power their lives and yet at the same time, need to breathe clean air.

For the past 30 years, governments across Asia prioritized industrialization over all other considerations, including the environment. This was largely driven by the fact that 1) there was no consensus on what impact humans were having on the environment and 2) governments always have to make tough calls when balancing national priorities, even when they know very well the impact on the environment.

Asia has now reached a tipping point in its development. Governments across the continent have analyzed the scientific data, they have been dealing with the real-world problems of climate change and environmental destruction, and they have roughly reached the same conclusion. Something has to change.

Although coal is cheap, China is switching over to LNG, and making huge investments in renewable energy: solar, wind, and nuclear power. Laos and Nepal are building more hydro-electric dams, exporting electricity to their energy hungry neighbors. Govts. across Asia are extending tax-incentives for the purchase of electric vehicles, and building the charging stations to power them. Cities across India and Sri Lanka are banning the use of plastic bags. China is funding mass-transportation infrastructure across the entire continent, from subways to light rail, bullet trains, and maglev trains. On-shore and off-shore wind farms are being built from Japan to Egypt. Environmental activists across Asia, from Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Iran are doing their part to protect the environment and urging their governments to do more.    

The battle for the survival of the plant will be fought in Asia. It will be won or lost in Asia. And while the grave environmental issues we face are cause for extreme concern, what I see going on across Asia gives me hope. Governments, environmental activists, academics, and businesses doing their part to address the environmental issues that arise from national development.

What is disheartening is when these genuine efforts are dismissed by western media and western governments as, at best, propaganda, and at worst “fake news” and a giant “hoax” being perpetrated on the West, in order to hobble western economic competitors. This kind of thinking ignores the very real environmental issues Asia, and in fact the world, is facing. And the real efforts being made on the ground in Asia to battle these issues.

Every reputable scientist on earth says that global warming is occurring. Every reputable scientist says that acidification of the oceans is occurring. Every reputable scientist has said that we are depleting our groundwater. Every reputable scientist has said that desertification will ravage Asia. Every reputable scientist has said that the sea levels are rising and will swamp vast swaths of Asia’s coastline. And while Asia takes these issues seriously, western governments sometimes dismisses this as “fake news.” Western governments dismisses this as a vast “Asian conspiracy” to gain an economic advantage over its American and European competitors. 

The idea of an “Asian conspiracy” is somewhat ludicrous on its face. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in Asia will tell you…no one in Asia likes each other very much. After centuries of war, conflict, and brutality the peoples of Asia don’t necessarily like each other. And they certainly don’t trust each other.

China – Japan: They hate each other. And they certainly don’t trust each other

China – S. Korea: They like each other but they don’t trust each other

China-Vietnam: They don’t like each other and they don’t trust each other

China-India: They don’t like each other and they don’t trust each other

India-Pakistan: They hate each other and they certainly don’t trust each other

Indonesia-Malaysia: They don’t necessarily like each other and they don’t necessarily trust each other

Australia-Indonesia: They don’t necessarily like each other and they don’t necessarily trust each other

Saudi Arabia-Iran: They hate each other and they certainly don’t trust each other

On any given day, the nations of Asia can rarely agree on anything. Centuries of distrust and suspicion prevent them from ever really reaching any kind of consensus on anything. And the idea that they have somehow set aside centuries of conflict, distrust, and suspicion in order to engage in a grand conspiracy to perpetrate a complex hoax on the West amounts to little more than a wishful fantasy. More importantly, its simply unfair. It’s unfair in that it diminishes the hard work being done every day across Asia, to correct past mistakes and build a better, more sustainable future.

The fact is…each of these countries, each of these national governments, has looked at the same scientific data, drawn roughly similar conclusions, and enacted government policies that are roughly similar. Some countries are larger, wealthier, and farther along in their efforts. Some countries are poorer, lagging behind, and depending on their neighbors for help. But they seem to have drawn similar conclusions and are moving in the same direction, although at different paces. 

Renewable energy. Cleaner forms of energy. Efficient mass transportation. Protections of Asia’s rivers, lakes, and oceans. Sustainable development, balancing economic issues and human health. Protection of wildlife, for future generations.

Asia should be proud of the efforts it is making. Future generations, billions of people, will owe their future to the decisions being made across Asia today.


Scott Garner

The Asia Environmental Daily