Is the West partly to blame for China’s Environmental mess?

19 Apr

 Western countries, including the UK and the US, are often more than happy to blame issues with the environment on the industrialising BRICs and NICs; especially on China. It is no secret that China has some of the worst environmental issues in the world; it is the largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, contributing to almost quarter of all emissions. Between 2000 and 2011 alone the countries greenhouse emissions rose by 171%, with 70% of the world emission rises in 2011 coming from China. However to what extent can China be fully blamed for this?

Obviously it cannot be denied that the Chinese Government and people need to do more to protect their environment, not just for domestic health, economic and wellbeing issues, but also for the sustainability of the whole planet. However, the West must surely take a degree of blame for China’s environmental mess.

The West has outsourced a significant number of its manufacturing jobs to China, due to the cheap labour that can be found, thus reducing the price of consumer goods for the West, in turn benefiting the Western economy. However, with the outsourcing of manufacturing comes the outsourcing of environmental issues. Manufacturing is a dirty, energy consuming, polluting yet unavoidable process and business, and as such by outsourcing the West has managed to relocate the environmental strains of manufacturing onto someone else i.e. China, and then has subsequently pointed the blame towards those the West transferred the strain to [China].

On top of this, the West has, for a number of years, encouraged the ‘modernisation’ of developing countries to follow the ethnocentric model that allowed for Western Europe and North America to become ‘developed’. This model involved mass industrialisation, such as the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain, which came at a huge environmental cost. Stories of the smog’s found in London, Manchester and Sheffield are well known when discussing the living conditions during the period of Britain’s industrialisation, and therefore can the West really expect similar to not occur in China? If the West expects China to follow its path to ‘greatness’ through the industrialisation process the West itself went through,  it is then contradictory to expect it to be done without any environmental strain.

However, in today’s age, with a strain on the earth’s natural resources, can China realistically expect follow a similar pattern, whereby industrialisation and development occurs at the expense of the environment? Or should China attempt to undergo its development process from an environmentally friendly stand point, thus creating sustainability and reduced environmental impact.



Sharipo, J (2012) China’s Environmental Challenges, Polity Press, Cambridge.

White Collar Invasion: developed country policies leading to environmental degradation in South:

Industrial Revolutions and Environmental Problems:


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