China's new middle class shows concern for the environment
Growing middle class may become a model for the rest of the world.
Population growth is nothing new to China however, economic growth is. In the past decade, a new middle class has emerged in China which now includes 14 percent of that country's population. Forecasts indicate that this percentage will only grow in the future.
China's growing middle class is showing greater concern for the environment and expressing a desire for sustainability and responsible stewardship. --And the government is listening.
These hundreds of millions of people are demanding a higher standard of living with more goods and services. They live in better housing, drive cars, and eat better food including more meets. This increased consumption means these people will be putting greater stress on the environment.
They're also better organized and enjoy more political connections.
China is a large country, and its large population has suffered from the effects of environmental degradation for centuries. Even the nature of traditional Chinese cuisine has been directly affected by environmental degradation. For example, many Chinese foods are cut into small bits and rapidly cooked over a fire because firewood has been historically difficult to obtain and is therefore a premium resource. Such cooking methods are efficient -- a direct result of centuries of deforestation.
However, as this middle-class grows the people enjoy more leisure time and they become more concerned about things that happen across the nation. While the poor struggle to eke out a day-to-day living, and tend to concern themselves with their immediate survival, the middle-class has the luxury of being concerned and involved in matters which extend outside of the household.
One item of interest is the environment. Everybody in China is affected by the quality of the environment. Decades of rapid industrialization have changed the landscape; entire mountains have been mined, and the mightiest rivers in that country have been dammed. The air has been filled with soot and other industrial pollutants, and the waters have been fished to near exhaustion.
Pollutants and shortages affect the food supply for the middle-class. Air quality affects the quality of life. And the middle-class is wealthy enough to spend time on these issues and organize politically.
And so China's middle class has started a grassroots environmental movement that has now gained the attention of government officials. until now, five year plans, which are routine programs by which the government charts the future course of the nation, have paid but little regard to the environment. China has previously focused on economic self-sufficiency and industrial capability. Now, those focuses are beginning to change.
China's middle class understands well that the quality of the environment directly impacts the quality of their lives as well as the quality of life for every Chinese person. They are calling for more sustainable developments, cleaner air and water, and a variety of reforms that are designed to improve quality of life. For the first time, those efforts are showing up in five year plans.
The government has responded reasonably well. New investments, laws, and policies as well as research and development, and a wide range of sweeping reforms are now being implemented with the intent of preserving China's natural resources and managing them for sustainability rather than short-term growth.
China's middle class is a new phenomena. As a new middle class, there is nothing that says they must follow the same habits of over consumption and indulgence is typically seen in the middle classes of the Western industrialized states. If they remain well organized and well connected, it just may be that the Chinese middle-class becomes the new model middle class for the world -- a middle-class that enjoys a reasonable standard of living while exercising collective stewardship of natural resources with the goal of long-term sustainability.
© 2012, Catholic Online. Distributed by NEWS CONSORTIUM.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: China, middle class, five year plan, environment
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