CC: How Confucianism Could Curb Global Warming
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HOW CONFUCIANISM COULD CURB GLOBAL WARMING
CHINA OPENLY DEBATES THE ROLE OF EASTERN THOUGHT IN SUSTAINABILITY
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
But Pan Yue, China's vice minister for environmental protection, is calling
for China to capitalize on traditional Chinese religions in promoting
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
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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