Western Media Coverage: Is the Glass Half Empty or Half Full?
Most western observers, critics and the media, while acknowledging some progress, have tended to emphasize the most dramatic and horrendous examples of environmental degradation, and all that still remains to be done. Articles in mainstream publications such as Mother Jones, and the New York Times’ ten-part series “Choking on Growth” are just some examples.
Chinese environmental experts, not as frequently cited in the America mainstream media, acknowledge that while much remains to be done, a lot of positive progress is already happening, such as the progress made in areas of sustainable development, which is seldom picked up by western media outlets.
Impact of American Consumerism
American mainstream media also tends to shy away from looking more closely at the inextricable connections between Americans’ voracious appetites for cheap goods and China’s environmental degradation. One exception is the Chicago Times’ excellent prize winning series in 2006 by Evan Osnos on the hidden tolls exacted by Americans’ desire for cheap cashmere sweaters and hardwood floors.
Also usually missing from American/western coverage of the issue is the notion of producer responsibility and the extent to which American and multinational companies may be contributing to China’s environmental degradation. For example, of some 4,000 firms on the air pollution blacklist released by the Beijing-based NGO Institute of Public and Environment Affairs (IPEA), 40 are multinationals including Michelin China, Sina-Mars Group APP, and joint ventures of Toyota and Ford; IPEA also issued the China Water Pollution map that showed that of up to 280 foreign firms were involved in the 9,400 water violations cited since 2006.
At the same time, some other corporations in China, both locals and multinationals, are beginning to practice greater corporate social responsibility, and to take a keener interest in promoting environmental sustainability. For example, Wal-Mart, with 104 stores in China, is planning to set goals for their Chinese suppliers to follow Chinese environmental laws and regulations, and to monitor their compliance.
United across countries and cultures by a shared interest in the environment, there are many American environmental NGOs and concerned individuals who are already working with the Chinese on solving China’s environmental problems, yet one hears next to nothing of this in the mainstream media. For example, organizations already working on joint U.S.-China environmental and energy issues include the National Resources Defense Council the China-U.S. Energy Efficiency Alliance.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES ON CHINA’S ENVIRONMENT:
- Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), China
- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
- The Earth Institute, Columbia University
- New York Times Expert Roundtable Discussion: As a companion piece to their series of ten articles in 2007 and 2008 on China’s environment that are almost unanimously critical, the New York Times has assembled online a panel of American and Chinese environmental experts who at least provide a more interesting diversity of perspectives in answering readers’ questions about China’s environment.
- China Dialogue: A bilingual site by an independent, non-profit organization based in London and Beijing promoting dialogue on the environment between China and the world.
- Crossroads (Blog): A thoughtful blog by an American consultant working in China on corporate social responsibility in China.
- China Environmental News Digest: A digest of American mainstream media articles on China’s environment.
- The World Bank
- National Resources Defense Council China Clean Energy Project
1 Zhuoqiong Wang, “Global giants on pollution blacklist,” China Daily, December 14, 2007, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2007-12/14/content_6320388.htm (accessed 12/17/08).
2 Jonathan Birchall, “Wal-Mart’s green push in China,” Financial Times, April 7, 2008, http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/9800822c-043a-11dd-b28b-000077b07658.html?nclick_check=1 (accessed 4/14/08).