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New thinking on “new villages”

China must revive its countryside to save the environment, write Tang Aimin, Jiang Gaoming & Dou Guanyi. Green technologies can bring progress and sustainable development to the country’s rural areas.

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The Euro-American model of progress looks ever weaker against the background of soaring food, oil and iron prices. The extreme weather over the Lunar New Year, which caused chaos in south China, highlighted the dangers of over-reliance on fossil fuels. Without essentials like food, water, air and power, “modernisation” turns into a nightmare. 

China has a population of 1.3 billion people, of which 70% live in rural areas. The country must therefore choose a green route to modernisation. The key to solve problems like inflation, unemployment, energy shortages and pollution is to develop ecological towns suited to the needs of China and a sustainable rural economy. Take energy as an example: straw has been traditionally used as fuel in rural China, but as living standards have increased, so has the use of fossil fuels. Domestic appliances, from colour TVs to air conditioners, are becoming ever more popular and create rising energy demand. By 2020, it is estimated that rural residents will consume the equivalent of 1.99 tonnes of standard coal every year; up from 0.62 tonnes and accounting for 60% of China’s predicted increase in energy consumption between 2005 and 2020. Our studies in villages in north China have found that traditional straw-burning stoves are being abandoned for their electric, gas or coal equivalents. The unused straw is burnt in the fields, causing serious air pollution. On September 26, 2007, a plane carrying a visiting Russian politician was prevented from landing at Ji’nan airport due to the smoke from straw-burning. This source of air pollution has become a serious concern for China’s government and its people. 

As large numbers of rural residents flock to urban areas, problems in the city are exacerbated and children and the elderly are left in the villages. The countryside’s vitality is being lost; surveys show people’s contentment falling. At the same time, over-population and rapid urbanisation is affecting social harmony and stability. Growth is restricted to the cities; the villages, which form the foundations of Chinese society, are ignored. The government issues a document every year stressing rural issues – agriculture, villages and farmers’ issues – yet the topics which get debated most at annual government meetings are always urban ones: city housing, schools and healthcare, secondary and tertiary industries and GDP growth. Investment is concentrated in the cities and industry; there is nowhere near enough spending on China’s New Villages”. 

The experience of developed countries shows us that urbanised growth at the cost of natural resources and the environment is not the best option. Global warming, desertification, biodiversity loss, energy, water and food shortages all make this clear. Developed countries account for only 15% of the world’s current population. If India and China – around 48% of the world’s population – follow the same route, we are heading for an ecological collapse. We should learn from developed countries and seek a mode of urbanisation that will meet China’s needs while following global trends in development. China’s “New Village Strategy” is an important part of this. We need to create villages with high-quality environments; environmentally friendly industries; and modern technology, transportation and communications. At the same time, the villages should not require residents to change their lifestyles; they should not require huge investment or effort to build. They should allow modern people to live in harmony with nature.  

New technology and green industries can increase agricultural profits in a sustainable fashion. If the rural population is settled, other problems will disappear. However, for this to happen, the central government must shift investment from cities to villages. Some agricultural industries are now located in the cities, but the work is done by farmers who are forced to relocate, putting pressure on the transport system. Strong financial support from central government could develop a new, environmentally friendly, diverse and competitive agricultural market. This will provide sustainable incomes; bring scattered hamlets together into new, modern communities with urban and rural areas; and create educated technical staff and business owners. Many would return to the villages, reducing the pressure on China’s cities.  

We have been carrying out trials of environmentally friendly agricultural technologies since 2005 in Linyi, Shandong province. For instance, waste straw can be processed into cattle fodder and used to raise cows, which could increase farmers’ income. The cattle dung can then be transformed into methane to provide energy and the by-products can be spread on the fields, reducing the use of chemical fertiliser by 50% and increasing grain output. We calculate that a company buying in fodder and straw will get a 37% return on investment. However, after investing in the necessary equipment, a company making use of these circular processes can achieve a 120% return. The performance of green companies can far outstrip that of traditional companies, without producing pollution or relying on fossil fuels and chemical fertilisers. These increased incomes will help revive the country’s villages.  

China’s economic development is forcing our cities and villages further apart, causing great social discontent. This is in part due to the primacy of industry over agriculture in China and a lack of clarity and effective measures in the New Village Strategy. If they want the strategy to succeed, central government should put in the same effort in on rural issues as they do on industry and create new villages that operate according to ecological principles.  

 

Aimin Tang is director of the China Scientific Development Research Center; Jiang Gaoming is Chief Researcher at the Chinese Academy of Science’s Botanical Institute; Guanyi Dou is Head of Publicity at the Nantong branch of the Jiusan Society.

Homepage photo by yewenyi

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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

喊得越响,做起来越难

中国农村的环境问题远远比北京的堵车问题要严重得多,但离领导们比较远,今天开会讲讲,明天就忘了。

Our voices are getting louder, but more action needed

Environmental problems in rural China are much worse than traffic jams in Beijing. However, they are far from affecting the daily life of the leaders in Beijing. Leaders just talk about these problems in meetings and will forget about them the following day.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

污染

自从中国政府允许私营企业和外商投资,中国经济起飞并持续稳步增长至今。中国经济在10年内的增长相当于西方国家近半个世纪的经济增长量。

正因为如此巨大的发展,中国将其注意力集中于城市,这不仅是因为城市是创造财富的主要地区,而且因为中国想要建造现代化都市,以保持其公众形象。结果,中国农村并不在经济发展区域内,许多小城镇更是。在他们努力赶上来,他们试图利用最便宜的生产资料。但不幸的是, 最廉价的生产手段并不是最环保的。用来减少污染物释放到空气中的机器和工厂的造价昂贵,而且新的公司没有钱或者不知道如何投资和利用这些设施。

再者,也没有人愿意提供新的公司环保机制,因为其他公司还有它们自身的财政担忧。 "它不会直到最后树已死亡,最后的河中毒,最后的鱼被捕获,我们才认识到我们不能吃钱"。这个世界需要开始更多地了解环境,购买低污染的机器和帮助其他公司发展这样的设施。作为发展中国家的中国和印度更需要意识到环保的重要性,而且需要不损坏环境的发展。

Pollution

Ever since the Chinese government has allowed private enterprises and foreign investment, the conuntry's economy has taken off and has been growing steadly ever since. China's economy took a decade to achieve what took Western economies nearly half a century. Because of this enormous growth, much attention was focused on the urban cities not only because cities wre where the money was being made, but also because China wanted modernidized cities to protect their public image. As a result, the countryside was not included in the economic growth and many small towns were left behind. As they try to catch up, they try to use the cheepest means of production. Unfortunately, the cheepest means of production are not the most enviornmentally friendly. Machines and plants to reduce the amount of pollutants released into the air are expensive and the new companies do not have the money or the know how to invest in and use these machinese. Enviornment protection is not a priortiy when it is so expensive. Also, no one is willing to provide the new companies with enviornmentally friendly machinese because other companies have their own finances to worry about. "It will not be until the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught until we realize that we can not eat money" The world needs to start caring more about the enviornment, buy low pollution machines and help other companies build them also. China and India, the developing countries, need to be particurally aware of the enviornment and need to develop without ruining it.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

激发环保的做法

我想有很多方式来加大对这个问题的关注和采取有关的行动。为了引起北京对这些问题的重视,有效的做法就是
起草一个“新村民策略”提议,并与具体例子向北京建议如何来实施这一提议。

比如说,政府可以给环保企业减税。这样可以鼓励环保公司向郊区发展,同时这样还可促进乡村经济发展。

这样的做法对政府来说也是有吸引力的,因为这意味作对乡村的小的初期投资,而长期来说,这还将促成乡村商业的发展和最终造就更多来自郊区的纳税人。 马萤栅

A way to attract the green

I think that there are a few ways to go about brining more attention and action to this problem. In order to get Beijing’s attention on the matter it would be beneficial to write up a proposal of the “New villages Strategy” and suggest ways for Beijing to implement this strategy by giving examples. For instance, the government could give tax cuts to environmentally friendly companies. This would appeal to and attract environmentally companies to move to the rural areas, while in turn stimulating the local economy. This would appeal to the government because it would mean less initial financial aid to the area and in the long run the growth of commerce would eventually lead to more taxpayers in the area.

Marisa Millard 马萤栅