China has a very mixed record when it comes to the environment. On one hand, the country is home to some of the world's most polluted cities in the world. Chock full of factories, coal-fired power plants, and chemical processors
, many Chinese cities are buried under a year-round haze of smog and pollution. They're one of the fastest-growing markets for cars, and Chinese citizens have increasingly picked up Western style habits like shopping and meat eating (per capita meat consumption has doubled since 1980) as their incomes have risen and authorities have relaxed their stance against capitalism and consumerism.
On the other hand, the Chinese government seems to be aware of the need to transition to a greener economy. They've introduced financial incentives and subsidies for renewable energy technology and are projected to become the largest market in the world for wind turbines sometime next year (passing us). This fall a Chinese company will introduce the first mass-produced fully electric car, a vehicle that could find its way to American showrooms not too long after.
And in Baoding, a city 100 miles southwest of Beijing, one mayor has been leading a large scale effort to transform his city from a polluted factory town into a model of what the future can hold for us all -- a green business and technology utopia.
I suspect that China's advancement towards a greener economy will be a long, bumpy road full of setbacks and Three Gorges Dams
, but one thing they have going for them is being able to move very quickly -- living under one party rule is good for that. If the central authorities want a greener China, sooner or later they're probably going to build a greener China.