Do the countries of India and China have a "right" to pollute the environment until they catch up with more industrialized countries?
There was just a story on NPR recently about this very topic. China and India, in particular, argue that America was allowed to grow and prosper at the rate that we did because of complete inhibitions on our growth. Then, they say, when we could afford to be "kinder" to the Earth, we did so, but not until our pockets were lined and our future secure.
These emerging nations believe that they too should have the same opportunities a our nascent nation did. Unfortunately, "fairness" likely has little to do with it any more. Our actions destroyed (and continue to destroy) non-renewable resources. Countries with many times our population will accelerate the decline in these resources at a pace that is not sustainable.
I don't think you can truly understand the problem of pollution until you have traveled to one of these countries. A few years ago, I was in Ecuador. The stench from fossil fuels was unbelievable. I recall driving into a tunnel and having to turn the headlights on because the smoke and fumes were so thick at midday that it was pitch black. They have no requirements or regulations on emissions as we do here in the United States. My understanding is that a similar lack of control is the norm in China and India.
Post #3 commented that the key word is "right", that the question is very different if that word is deleted. Do the countries of India and China have to pollute the environment until they catch up with more industrialized countries? Easy answer - no, but industrialized countries have no authority to deter India and China, or other Third World countries for that matter, from acting as they see necessary to advance their own national interests.
So, what can First World countries do to help Third World countries find economical and feasible means of developing and supporting environmentally sound methods of obtaining resources and generating energy that will support development without causing pollution? In what ways can the First World help the Third World find alternatives to the practices used in the past? In what ways will the First World support the implementation of those alternatives, including helping to finance the development process where necessary?
I wish I knew the answers...
This is such a difficult issue to respond to. On the one hand, it is very unfair for "developed" nations such as the US and European countries to say to China and India that they are not allowed to develop in the same way because of the environmental implications. On the other hand, what China and India are doing is having a global impact on all of us. I think what should be done is that all countries need to research much more urgently alternative technologies and in particular "clean" energy. Whether this will happen or not is another matter...
Individuals and nations have a responsibility to act upon present lights and wisdom rather than upon the light and wisdom that informed a previous age. So China and India have no right to pollute as in the Industrial Revolution. On the other hand, technology for non-polluting ways and means is extremely costly and possibly beyond the reach of China and India. So China and India also have the right to not exceed their financial limits. Therefore the question is more complex and paradoxical than it possibly appears on the surface.
The right to pollute does not exist in any international agreement or law, nor does any mechanism for enforcing pollution limits and controls even if there were such a thing. To continue polluting on the scale that they, the US and Europe are is environmentally damaging, yes, but it is also the most cost effective means of expanding their economies and raising their standards of living in the short term, so we can expect more of the same, unfortunately.
It's easy to criticize India and China for polluting while we live a rather luxurious lifestyle in comparison to that of the average citizen in those countries. Citing the fact that we have better scientific knowledge nowadays is cold comfort to a woman who does not know where her children's dinner is coming from.
I think the real issue is one of ignorance - not theirs, but ours, here in the "first world". Our lives are made easier, and our drive to accumulate material goods is fed by, the very pollution that we decry here. The fact that the production of a pair of three dollar flip-flops may have contributed to the pollution of an entire ecosystem is a crime with many perpetrators. Just because the buyer cannot see or smell the pollution doesn't mean he or she is not a cause of it. By buying cheap foreign goods we help subsidize the pollution created by India and China.
There is no way anyone has the right to pollute when we have so many treaties against Earth pollution. Alternative methods of industrialism are available at all levels and in all countries. Using natural resources wisely is a cost-effective and productive way to expand in technology and other fields. Therefore, it would be reductive and limiting to assume that India and other countries necessarily will pollute the earth in order to succeed. It is quite a minimalist view of countries with outstanding potentials.
I don't believe any country has the "right" to pollute our Earth knowingly. However, there is a big difference between what the governments (of India and China) know and what the actual people (most of whom are below the poverty level) know. This may be a very simplistic argument, but something must be said about the need to survive when one is close to death. Many people in these countries (especially India) are just trying to survive.
I completely agree with pohnpei397 in that there are two sides to this issue. The conundrum in this regard simply revolves around the word "right." If we remove that particular word from the discussion, suddenly the question seems a bit easier to answer.
This is one where you can really see both sides quite easily.
On the one hand, they do seem to have the right to do what we in the industrialized world did to get ahead. It seems unfair to say, in essence, "when we did it, it was okay, but you should not do it." That really seems unfair.
On the other hand, we now know so much more about the consequences of pollution than we did when Europe and the US were industrializing. That means that India and China and others are knowingly contributing to environmental problems while countries like the US did so unknowingly.
Looked at in these ways, it is exceedingly difficult to ascertain what "rights" India and China ought to have in this regard.
i feel bad as im an indian and since my country's pollution problem is being discussed, it only makes me want to add that we are also doing alll that we can to save planet earth, and eventually ourselves, more so, it is like saying that my nation does not have the chance to develop like the US and UK have.