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Lester Brown: China growth unsustainable on all counts, must change

China's growth model, based on the West's economic model with its massive appetite for resources and increasing environmental degradation is unsustainable and will have to change, a leading environmentalist said.

Lester Brown, head of the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute, told reporters in Beijing that China's current path could not be maintained at either the national or international level.

"The Western economic model -- the fossil fuel based, automobile-centered, throwaway economy -- will not work for China," Brown said.

"If it doesn't work for China, it will not work for India or the three billion other people in developing countries who are also dreaming the American dream."

Brown, in Beijing to promote the Chinese edition of his new book, "Plan B 2.0, Rescuing a Planet Under Stress," said China had overtaken the United States as the leading consumer of most basic commodities and would soon face major shortages.

"Among the five basic food, energy and industrial commodities -- grain and meat, oil and coal and steel -- consumption in China has eclipsed that of the United States in all but oil," he said.

If China's economy continues to grow by 8.0 percent annually, per capita income will equal that of current levels in the United States by the year 2030, when the nation will boast a population of 1.45 billion people, Brown said.

China grew 9.9 percent last year and 10.3 percent in the first quarter of 2006 and looks set to expand at similar rates going forward.

On the same model, Brown said China's annual grain consumption would equal two-thirds of current world grain output and annual paper consumption would be double current world production by 2030.

"There go the world's forests," he said.

On oil, Brown pointed to a similar scenario of simply not having enough to meet China's demands.

"If oil consumption per person reaches the US level by 2031, China will use 99 million barrels a day.

"The world is currently producing 84 million barrels a day and may never produce much more."

If three out of every four people in China own cars, as in the United States, there will be 1.1 billion vehicles on Chinese roads, compared to the current world fleet of 800 million, Brown said.

At a time of globalization and intense competition to produce more at ever lower prices, the contemporary economic model is doomed, Brown said.

"Environmental scientists have been saying for some time that the global economy is being slowly undermined by environmental trends of human origin," Brown said.

Coupled with climate change, Brown said that "we may be approaching the point of no return."

To avert disaster, the world must embrace renewable energy, move to eradicate poverty, stabilize populations and restore natural systems, he said.

Editorial Notes: It's a tragedy for the Chinese people that their country is rapidly industrialising, destroying much sustainable infrastructure and leaving so much pollution behind in the process — now, at the beginning of the end of the oil age, when perhaps as a globe we should be reversing the trend of industrialisation. However, any criticism from an ecological perspective by people in Western nations must also include leading by example. -AF

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