Issue Date: March 10, 2008
Jean-François Tremblay's Business Insights bemoaning the lack of adequate environmental protection facilities in China epitomizes Western arrogance and Western hypocrisy (C&EN, Jan. 7, page 16). People in developing countries are not stupid, they are not indifferent to environmental concerns, and they are not immune to the consequences of pollution in their lives. In fact, they suffer the consequences, not we.
There is a reason why not all of us can live in Beverly Hills (we can't afford it), and not all of us can send our kids to Harvard (we can't afford it). What we can afford, and people in poor countries cannot afford, is a much healthier environment. If we force our standards on them, they lose their jobs and they don't eat.
Survival is more important to most of us than a Western-style healthy environment. It's just that simple. Many Chinese factory workers are making $3.00 per day. When they are earning what Tremblay earns, they will probably expect, and be able to afford, the level of environmental quality that Tremblay demands.
In the meantime, the rest of us have an obligation to help them lower the cost of improving their environment. We have an obligation to help them avoid the mistakes that we have made. We have an obligation to deliver environmental technology that they need without making obscene profits from it. Finally, we have an obligation to help them improve their economic world so that they can improve their environmental world, and avoid Tremblay's eco-proselytizing.
El Granada, Calif.
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