Good salon conversation yesterday with Bill Barron, economist and author of The Great Disconnect, Martin Lees, secretary-general of the Club of Rome, Christine Loh of Hong Kong’s Civic Exchange and Adrian Nelson, who writes and consults on sustainability issues from Manila.
Organized by Civic Exchange, about 30 people packed a China Club room to hear Bill talk about his new book: http://bit.ly/5YwjRG. Martin and Adrian provide invaluable insight. The book essentially covers the disconnect between the reality scientists urgently are trying to convey about the state of our world, about how close we are to depleting our natural resources, to changing our climate and planet irreparably, yet the ever-growing levels of consumption and lack of action from most governments.
No governments are really looking to change our economic models, built around consumption-led growth and with 1 billion people in China and 1 billion people in India looking to consume as we have, that is simply unsustainable, given our severely depleted oceans, water resources, forests and fossil fuels.
Talked about was the U.S.’s missed opportunity to sign the Kyoto agreement and lead the world in development of green technology, that China is seizing this moment to do just that. Is the seismic shift that will be needed to adequately address the enormous challenges we face an impossibility in a democracy was a question asked? While China seems to understand the danger of inaction and the opportunity around leading all things green, the U.S. struggles even to pass a watered-down climate change bill now stalled in the senate.
Also considered was just why the public is not getting the message that we need to radically change our way of thinking about our lives and the resources we consume, and that our governments need to respond with appropriate regulatory frameworks – both international and national – stimulate innovation and change.
The question was asked why, when given the opportunity to really lead the way, is the Hong Kong government unable to respond in any effective way to the challenges it faces, starting with the public health crisis caused by the deteriorating quality of our air. Research has shown that 53 percent of the time the pollution that affects us most is locally grown – and not from across the border as the government had claimed. Pollution in Hong Kong, which is three times that of New York and causes 1,100 avoidable deaths a year, is caused mostly by transportation: buses, dirty trucks and shipping. The two power plants, of course, also play a role.
Christine’s Civic Exchange (www.civic-exchange.org) and more recently the Clean Air Network (www.hongkongcan.org) are both working hard to educate government about the public health effects of air pollution, its causes and solutions that would bring better quality of lives for us all. Hong Kong exists at an interesting intersection between China and the West and could easily play an essential role in stimulating change. Our government needs to seize this opportunity and lead.