Peking Review on Environment and Development

Environment and Development
by Chu Ko-ping
Peking Review
May 14, 1976, p. 19

The question of environment and development is of common concern to various countries in the world. The numerous developing countries are speeding up the development of their national economies and, in the course of such development, are protecting and improving the environment so that economic development and environmental protection can be co-ordinated with each other. This is a question of special concern to the developing countries and their people.

The question of environmental pollution and its damages has cropped up in many areas of the world. Pollution has become a scourge of society in some countries with highly developed economies. What is the root cause of environmental pollution and damage? The main social cause of environmental pollution and its damages lies in the fact that, as a result of the development of capitalism into imperialism, the monopoly capitalist groups, in their quest for big profits, are unscrupulously plundering the natural resources and disposing of harmful substances at will, thereby polluting and poisoning the environment. The developing countries also face certain questions concerning the environmental pollution and damage. But their environmental question is different in nature from that in the developed countries. Over a long period in the past, the colonialists and imperialists dominated the Asian, African and Latin American regions by various means, controlling their economic lifelines, carrying out savage plunder and ruthless exploitation, and engaging in indiscriminate development and utilization of natural resources, thereby wreaking serious havoc on their national economies and natural environment. This is the root cause of the poverty and backwardness of the developing countries and of the damage to their environment. In the face of superpower hegemonism, this state of affairs has become even more serious in these regions.

Now some people still regard economic development as the root cause of environmental pollution, while others consider poverty its root cause. All these views represent an attempt to evade the essence of the matter and seek the causes of the problem from superficial phenomenon, thus making it impossible to reach a correct conclusion in conformity with objective reality, and leading to pessimism about the future of the human environment.

Economic development and environmental protection are interrelated and promote each other. The former gives rise to the environmental problem and the latter constitutes an important condition for developing the economy; economic development increases the capability to protect the environment, and environmental improvement in turn promotes economic development. This is the interdependent relationship between the two.

At present, the developing countries have a pressing need to develop their national economies, gradually build up a modern industry and modern agriculture and achieve economic independence so as to consolidate their political independence. This is the urgent task of the developing countries in freeing themselves from imperialist, colonialist, neo-colonialist and big-power hegemonist control and plunder; it is also a basic guarantee for the protection and improvement of the environment. In the absence of political independence and economic development, how can the environment be effectively protected and improved? Economic development will be bring with it the problem of environmental pollution, which, however, can be solved only in the course of development, not by calling a halt to development or slowing down its pace. We hold that in the struggle against nature, man has constantly to sum up experience and go on discovering, inventing, creating and advancing. With social progress and scientific and technological development, the problem of environmental pollution can be prevented and solved in the course of development so long as we proceed from the interests of the people and adopt effective measures to this end.

China is a developing socialist country. We have in the course of advance also come across the problem of economic development causing environmental pollution. The main cause of pollution is the problem left over from the old China. It takes some time to transform the lopsided economy in the old society. So far we are still short of adequate experience and knowledge of environmental protection work, which is a new problem for us. Chairman Mao has taught us that we should proceed in all cases from the interests of the people. Economic development is in the interests of the people and so is environmental protection. The development and protection are in harmony with each other. We are constantly summing up experience and striving to reduce and eliminate pollution while developing the economy so as to create good living and working conditions for the working people.

In developing the economy, we should make an overall planning and arrangement when handling the relations between industry and agriculture, between town and country, between production and livelihood, between economic development and environmental protection, so that they will advance in co-ordination with each other. This is an important measure for preventing industrial pollution.

As to the development and utilization of natural resources, we should also make an all-round planning to ensure multiple benefits, pay attention to immediate and long-term effects, take into consideration the accruing gains and the possible effect on the ecological conditions. Our practice in the building of water conservancy projects over the years has proved that by making an overall planning and striving to ensure multiple benefits in flood-control, power-generation, irrigation, navigation and cultivation of aquatics, we can make the best use of water resources and at the same time reduce and avoid damage to the environment.

Geographical distribution of industries should be put on a rational basis, with greater stress put on small cities and towns. The small cities and towns have characteristics favouring the environmental protection such as the integration of cities with the countryside, of workers with peasants, facilitating production and conveniencing daily life. Meanwhile, the difficulties which often arise in big cities can be averted in small cities and towns: difficulties in housing, communications and transport, supplies of agricultural and sideline products and other public welfare facilities. This is also beneficial to environmental improvement.

To prevent industrial wastes from contaminating the environment, we put anti-pollution measures into practice simultaneously with the designing, construction and commission of the projects in our industrial construction. Such practice has proved effective. In so doing, we can ponder over the ways and means,before the construction work starts, of getting rid of the harmful substances as best we can in the course of production, or adopt purifying measures against any possible damage which might accrue from these harmful substances. This may cost more money when a project is under construction, but the cost will be much smaller than the price which has to be paid for keeping the pollution under control after it has occurred, and the results have proved much better.

Will the environmental protection and improvement affect development and slow down its pace? This depends on what policies are adopted. Our country regards the multiple-purpose use of resources as an important policy for economic development. Thanks to the development of modern industrial technology, the natural resources discovered and used by mankind are increasing daily. Discharge of industrial wastes at will will contaminate the environment. Multiple-purpose utilization of industrial wastes makes it possible to turn many harmful things to good account and make useless things useful. This will help to open up new sources of raw materials for industry, expand social production, increase social wealth and promote the development of production.

Agriculture is the foundation for the development of the national economies of the developing countries. Without the development of agriculture, industrial development cannot go very far. Protection and improvement of the environment is of particular importance to promoting the development of agriculture.

Agriculture production, including food crops, forestry, livestock breeding, side occupations and fishery, depends to a large extent on natural conditions. There is a certain limit to the development of agriculture under certain natural conditions, that is, it will be hampered by natural conditions. However, through its own hard work, mankind can change the existing natural conditions and strive to master the natural law governing the reproduction of living things, and create still greater productive forces. On the question of the natural conditions for agriculture, the naturalist point of view is wrong, and the ideas of pessimism and inertia are both groundless. In the old China, as a result of the long years of oppression and plunder by the imperialists and their lackeys, rural natural environment was seriously damaged, agricultural production was ruined because large tracts of land turned alkaline or became deserts. One-third of the cultivated lands were red soils or alkaline, sand-stony and cold-swampy fields and lands susceptible to drought and waterlogging. Some lands became barren. Since the founding of New China,  our Government has given the first place to agriculture in developing the national economy.

By extensive mobilization of the masses, relying on our own efforts and transforming our country in an indomitable spirit as displayed by the legendary Foolish Old Man who removed the mountains,  it has worked with great will to transform the natural conditions for production. After more than two decades of hard work, we have improved over one half of the alkaline land in north China, reclaimed, utilized and improved over 120 million mu of red soil which is sometimes called “red deserts,” and brought one-fifth of the land subject to erosion under preliminary control. With the planting of shelter belts over large areas and the improvement of water conservancy conditions in the desert regions in northwest and north China, more and more oases have emerged. The improvement of natural conditions for agriculture has enabled China to reap good harvests for 14 years running, with the broad masses of the people enjoying a happy life. Certain people assert that speedy development of agriculture would reduce the fertility of soil and bring about an ecological crisis. The fact that China has improved the  natural conditions for agriculture and reaped good harvests in succession shows that mankind can transform nature and create a more suitable environment. So long as the creative power of the people is brought into full play and necessary measures are taken, the fertility of soil will not be destroyed; instead, poor soil can be turned into fertile soil and produce more food grains.

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