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CC: How Confucianism Could Curb Global Warming

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    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 30, 2009
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      By James Miller
      Christian Science Monitor
      June 26, 2009


      KINGSTON, ONTARIO - Now here's a curveball to secular Western policy
      experts: China's intellectuals are openly debating the role of Confucianism,
      Buddhism, and Taoism in promoting the Communist Party's vision of a
      harmonious society and ecologically sustainable economic development.

      Nowhere is the question of what to do about the environment more vital than
      in China, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases -- especially
      because scientists agree that climate change disproportionately affects the
      poor and the disenfranchised and that climate change will affect future
      generations far more than the present.

      Yet the general impression of China's role in issues relating to environment
      is one of foot-dragging because it hasn't bought into a Western model to
      address it.

      But Pan Yue, China's vice minister for environmental protection, is calling
      for China to capitalize on traditional Chinese religions in promoting
      ecological sustainability.

      He says, "One of the core principles of traditional Chinese culture is that
      of harmony between humans and nature. Different philosophies all emphasize
      the political wisdom of a balanced environment. Whether it is the Confucian
      idea of humans and nature becoming one, the Taoist view of the Tao
      reflecting nature, or the Buddhist belief that all living things are equal,
      Chinese philosophy has helped our culture to survive for thousands of years.
      It can be a powerful weapon in preventing an environmental crisis and
      building a harmonious society."

      And this just might work.

      As The New York Times recently reported, China is in the midst of a
      transformation to cleaner forms of energy.

      Although much of China's energy needs are still met by inefficient,
      coal-fired power stations with poor track records in terms of emissions,
      China has begun to invest heavily in cleaner coal technology in an effort to
      improve efficiency and reduce emissions.

      Because of this, the International Energy Agency reduced its estimate of the
      increase in Chinese emissions of global warming gases from 3.2 percent to 3
      percent even as the same agency raised its estimate of China's economic
      growth. China is managing to increase its economic output at a greater rate
      than its emissions.

      This is good news for everyone.

      But buried innocuously in the middle of this report was the startlingly
      frank statement of Cao Peixi, president of the China Huaneng group, China's
      largest state-owned electric company.

      When asked about his company's decision to invest in more expensive but
      cleaner technology he replied: "We shouldn't look at this project from a
      purely financial perspective. It represents the future."

      The $64,000 question facing economists and politicians across the world is
      how to make decisions that take into account the big picture beyond the
      "purely financial perspective."

      This is a hard question for Western economic and political theorists to
      answer, because their theories are based on the Enlightenment view of the
      self as an autonomous, rational individual.

      But how are we to make decisions that take into account the interests of
      those who have not yet been born?

      Being respectful to the interests of past and future generations is key to
      the Confucian view of the self and groups. To the question, "Who am I?" the
      Confucian answers, "I am the child of my parents and the parent of my

      Confucianism begins from the proposition that human beings are defined by
      kinship networks that span the centuries. From this perspective the
      interests of the individual are bound up with the interests of the kinship
      group as it extends forward and backward across the generations.

      This will be a key factor in the way China handles present and future
      environmental issues.

      Consider the views of Jiang Qing, a leading Confucian intellectual.
      According to a recent report by Daniel Bell, a political theorist at China's
      Tsinghua Univeristy, Mr. Jiang proposes a political system that can take
      into account the interests of those who are typically ignored in modern
      democracies, such as foreigners, future generations, and ancestors.

      "Is democracy really the best way to protect future victims of global
      warming?" he asks.

      As China assumes a greater leadership role on the world stage, we can expect
      the emergence of a variety of models of sustainable development rooted in a
      plurality of cultural traditions, including Confucianism.

      The time when Westernization was the only credible model of development is


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      Published by David Sunfellow
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