Thursday, August 14, 2008


a recent back and forth in science is worthy of note. liu and diamond published a policy forum back in january on china's environmental conditions attempting to answer the question about how to fundamentally alter the system such that environmental quality is improved.

they propose the consolidation of china's disparate environmental agencies, and the establishment of a new, higher level, agency. this agency would presumably coordinate high efficiency/low pollution measures--green gdp, among others. other "fundamental changes" include things like "changes in attitudes towards the environment." okay buddy. if only.

the fundamental problem with these types of institutional/attitudinal reform arguments is that they don't question consumption or development--a point raised in a letter by ellis, in response to liu and diamond. he notes, correctly, that the same criteria guide the governments of china and the US (namely economic performance) and that the only reason the US seems green is because much of its impacts have been exported to other places and are not accounted for when the US does its environmental accounting. he concludes that a good policy would involve the internalization of costs, regardless of geographic location.

this all seems very good. unfortunately, liu and diamond had to respond in a typical scientific (pompous) manner with a letter of their own. in it, they don't refute any of ellis's points but simply highlight the fact that chinese administrators seemed to take note and completed some institutional reform as a result. far from reedeeming themselves, their response indicates to me that they're still stuck in a techno-optimistic framework where governments can policy themselves out of environmental degradation without addressing root causes. and i thought jared diamond was cool.

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