NIMBY-ism through Environmental Protest

15 May

The growth of NIMBY-ism coincides with a movement of environmental action across China, as the previously marginalised find a voice against the government. Since 1996, the number of environmental protests in China has been growing by 29% per year (Jie and Tao, 2012). Such problems are apolitical; therefore civilians are less anxious in participating in such overt resistance, hence the rapid growth of environmentalism across the country.   

The NIMBY concept often involves prejudice assumptions and control of marginalised social groups. As the middle class proportion of China’s population continues to grow so does their strength to resist government or demand improvements from the authorities. This has allowed a new discourse to develop as those previously ignored can now more effectively voice concerns, especially over developments which put their civil rights and health at risk. Previously the government enterprises or large corporate companies had little difficulty in bypassing local resistance. However greater media coverage, especially through micro-blogging highlights the increasing level of collective protest occurring across China (The Economist, 2012).  

Some recent NIMBY activities include the protests against dangerous industrial projects which create high risks to local the population’s health. Issues often include illegal land seizures and relocations, labour disputes and environmental pollution. In 2007 the most academically noted protest occurred over the PX chemical plant in Xiamen. This was the first time the public displayed a new ‘preventative’ form of protest, towards environmental issues. The collective unrest targeted a planned, rather than completed project as potential risks became enough to encourage people to revolt (Jie and Tao, 2012).

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This current wave of protests do not pose a great political threat to the established rule of the Chinese Communist Party, although those involved are asking for more than compensation; such movements now encompass broader demands for environmental protection. Previously the infamous 1989 Tiananmen Movement unsuccessfully sought significant political reform. The protests resulted from major social and structural changes in the post-Mao period. As the 1980s saw a population in recovery; most notably post their experiences of the Cultural Revolution. The reform agenda in this period created a ‘Crisis of Confidence’ in the CCP and socialism. Furthermore younger generations and academics were becoming increasingly exposed to Western ideologies through the news media including the BBC. Therefore many began to see democracy as the way forward for China’s development as they looked to Western models. These factors eventually led to the protests in 1989, directed towards the national leadership to influence elite politics and alter the balance of power. The sustained pro-democracy protests throughout Beijing were eventually quelled in June 1989; as authorities resorted to lethal force killing hundreds of citizens (Yan,2012). Unlike the political protests of 1989, the recent environmental movement structures demands around the issues of environmental protection and compensation. Furthermore recent protests are far more localized in nature with focused regions to target.  

However there are several wide spread issues, which have generated unified country-wide protest. The recent outbreaks of smog across China’s cities fuelled civil unrest and community action towards the central government. As the issue gained further international media coverage, leaders have little option but to respond to the issue. Subsequently there have been several responses including a government crackdown. As a result of China’s environmental watchdog 15 major factories have been punished for environmental violations causing air and water pollution (China.org, 2013)

While the current flurry of protests may not significantly alter government rule, it does highlight how China still “lack the institutions and credibility that allow modern bureaucracy to function effectively” (Johnson, 2005). The growth of NIMBY-ism across China due to the expanding middle-class has altered the capabilities of protest in the country and how authorities react. Undoubtedly the growing international media coverage and continual civil unrest has highlighted the issues of local environment for state policy, perhaps eventually generating an impartial legal system that would allow effective compensation for grievances. However the immense industrial demand upon China is set to continue, leading to several more decades of environmental degradation and subsequent social issues.

References

China.org (2013) China punishes factories for pollution, China.org.cn, [Online: http://www.china.org.cn/environment/2013-05/09/content_28770856.htm] [Accessed: 10/05/13].

Jie, F. and Tao, W. (2012) Officials struggling to respond to China’s year of environment protests, China Dialogue [Online: http://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/5438] [Accessed: 13/05/13].

Johnson, I. (2005) Wild Grass: Three Portrairs of Change in Modern China, New York: Vintage.

The Economist (2012) Environmental activism: Act Locally, Analects China [Online: http://www.economist.com/blogs/analects/2012/07/environmental-activism] [Accessed: 11/05/13].

Yan, F. (2012) A Little Spark Kindles a Great Fire? The Paradoc of China’s Rising Wave of Protest, Social Movement Studies: Journal of Social, Cultural and Political Protest, Routledge, pp.1-7.

 

 

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