Thanks to Doug La Follette for this article.
BUSINESS: Chinese exec calls for limiting population, consumption (10/23/2009)
Debra Kahn, E&E reporter
SAN FRANCISCO — A leading Chinese industrialist called yesterday for worldwide population constraints and an end to government-sponsored consumerism as solutions to climate change and other environmental issues.
Speaking at a conference put on by Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), a group that helps businesses institute environment and social sustainability programs, Zhang Yue, chairman and CEO of Broad Air Conditioning, also said governments should stop stimulating the economy by appealing to consumers’ sense of patriotism.
“Encouraging folks to have kids is an encouragement to have more and more markets to buy more stuff,” Zhang said through an interpreter. “Some people say it’s a human rights issue [to control birth rates]: ‘My right to have kids is tied to my quality of life.’ I say it’ll take us in a direction that you have no right to take us in.”
The issue of population control has made headlines in recent days, with conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh attacking New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin for speculating that birth control could be used to limit greenhouse gas emissions (Greenwire, Oct. 21).
Zhang said China’s one-child policy should be emulated around the world, calling population growth “humankind’s first big problem.”
“We haven’t connected population to environmental protection yet in China,” Zhang said. Doing so would make clear the connection between population growth and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the issue of dealing with an aging populace, he said. “In the next two-three decades we’ve got to come down to a one-child policy. Only through population control can we really address some of these major issues.”
Zhang, who has been listed by Forbes as one of the 100 richest businesspeople in China, also said businesses and government need to slow down development or risk catastrophic climate change.
“The planet right now is in some ways an equation that can’t continue,” he said. “We’ll become extinct.” Although Broad sells air conditioners in 40 countries, the company is prioritizing higher salaries over expansion, he said. “Our company isn’t growing as fast as others, but we haven’t had a loan from the bank in 15 years.”
Zhang said governments, particularly the Chinese, should stop exhorting consumers to fix the economic downturn by shopping more.
“Countries are misguiding the public and driving consumption,” Zhang said. “We’ve tied consuming to patriotism almost in China, and it’s a very dangerous concept, a dangerous attitude to give the public.
“There’s no financial crisis really in China, but we use it as an excuse to get people to buy stuff,” he added. “Even people in the countryside who don’t have electricity are being encouraged to buy refrigerators.”
In response to a question about correlating economic growth with happiness, he said it was not so: “The more you develop economically, the worse the food is. Seventy percent of the antibiotics in the United States are used for livestock.”
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