When wrapping up this amazing book on the Environmental Crisis in CN, I was reminded of a great, but similarly gut-wrenching piece of non-fiction, Will Smith's portrayal of Chris Gardner in the 2006 movie 'The Pursuit of Happyness'. For those who haven't seen it, it's a dreadfully sad, but ultimately uplifting movie , about a young father trying to build a life for himself and his young son. Based on a true story, it's amazing, scary, depressing, and yet wildly inspiring. Although it was a good movie, ultimately the experience suffered since 98% of the movie is total downer. The story Jonathan Watts takes us on, sadly, follows a similar path. You can see the arc, as Watts trucks around CN, meeting the locals, and reporting the story on the various aspects of the environment; from the dusty farmers, to the most brilliant scientists in the country, he attempts valiantly to end the book on a high note.
As Watts puts it, CN is on a mission to beat the crap out of Math. How? Well, looking at the numbers, the throngs of CN people, the vastness of its land, the mountains of trash, the unimaginable statistics on pollution' it's tempting to throw in the towel, but Watts won't have any of it. For its part, CN is putting all its money behind the greatest scientists on Earth, and figuring out how to get cleaner water/energy, and bigger, juicier produce. The race is between a frenetic population growth and the dwindling resources that keep them all going.
On the ground in rural CN, there is a wispy paradoxical mirage, at once a driving force, and impossible to validate, and that is the dream, the delusion, that getting rich will make all the problems in the world go away. It's one struggling lower class workers have passed around for millennia, but in 2011, at this scale, at this speed, with these stakes, the little lie that kept the Consumerist train going all these years could devastate us all.
How can you tell a farmer from HLJ province that getting rich is overrated? All they know is that life is much better now than it was 20 years ago. They have more money, and more food, than their parents did. And until their stomachs and their neighbors' stomachs are full, the Environment will always take a backseat. And it's not as if this is just a CN problem: the truth is, in a massively efficient global 'organization' of sorts, we've all decided (for numerous reasons) that CN is a great place to make stuff. Mass production, batch processing, cost minimization, and resource centralization, is done to perfection in South CN. So the countries from all over the world have decided to outsource not just their manufacturing industries, but the pollution that goes with it, to CN.
You see, that's the dirty little secret. We all did this. As I sit here in my SH apartment, perhaps I should feel the most guilty. The lifestyle portrayed in SH in this book, is particularly nauseating. I actually felt physically disturbed reading about the shallow meaningless 'social climbing' that goes on in SH (just as it must in LA, NYC, or SF on any given night). In SH it's the army of Nouveau Riche, and it's what millions upon millions of empty bellied-CN here aspire to. You've been warned. As you read about the (now defunct) Barbie Stores, or the infamous Bar Rouge on the Bund, it's as if city planners in the capital are saying, 'take all the Foreign trash and plop it in SH' We don't want the gaudy architecture, or all those ridiculously overpriced night clubs'and we sure aren't going to let them put a bloody Disneyland next to the Forbidden City!! Put it all in SH.' Like the supply chain mastery and batch processing that goes on down in GD province, SH seems to be the centralized dumpsite for the wasteful foreign lifestyle. A cash cow, to be sure, but one that must be contained.
[Note: I live in SH too, and my friends don't live like those portrayed in the book. See the contradiction? Please don't take offense. It's only one aspect of the city.]
Enough needling the CN: let's turn the question around: what would you do if you had this massive demand for Energy and Resources? Would you reach out to other countries, and set up trade missions around the word, like the recent one in Africa? Would you invest in clean technologies? Would you implement controversial and unpopular restrictions on family sizes? You've got all the college graduates and all the technology and all the money in the world. What would you do?
Just how far would you go to beat the Math?
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