“Facing the ruin of their environment, the Chinese looked hard and amended their constitution. This core document now calls for the building of an ecological civilisation,” he says. “We built an agricultural, then an industrial, and now must build an ecological civilisation.”
“I have no cynicism about whether they mean to do it. My job is to try and clean up the environment for future generations. The Chinese really want to do that.” This task, apparently insurmountable for the west, is made possible by China’s 2,500-year tradition of centralised government.
Highly authoritarian, centralised government that is.
Thornton says that when he first went to China, he’d only read the western media about it and had many of the same notions he’s often challenged with, especially concerning democracy and human rights. “And I understand where they come from. But I also know that the western democracies that we prize so much aren’t doing very well with respect to the environment. We’ve elected somebody in the United States who seems really dedicated to the notion of contempt for the environment.”
In the west, efforts to address environmental problems are fragmentary and not well funded. “Whereas in China,” he says, “suddenly you have this direction from the top on down asking all of these top people over the course of the next few decades: How does everything have to change to deliver this?”
There’s a certain relish there, isn’t there? That licking of the lips at the State’s power to force everyone to do as he wants.