What’s So Important About The Environment?

Published on 2012-05-09

Often, it is a question that has a predetermined answer however, is it important in its own terms, or is it important just because we say it is?

Often, it is a question that has a predetermined answer however, is it important in its own terms, or is it important just because we say it is?

On Wednesday 19 April, the British Chamber invited Austin Williams, lecturer at Xi’an Jiaotong University to share his views on the environmental movement and its impact on development. The events’ emphasis was on questioning mainstream thought to explore alternative possibilities - as Cardinal Newman famously said, 'the opposite of education is not ignorance. It is one-sidedness'.

Austin Williams disagrees with the sustainability orthodoxy so prominent in the west; claiming it restricts our creativity and ambition as well as the development of human welfare in general. Instead, we should rely on human ingenuity to devise solutions and continue to industrialise.

Below is a summary of some of his key points:
“What’s so important about the Environment”?

  • For the West, a sense of moral superiority;
  • For China, a means of acceptance
Neither of which are positive terms of reference.

AMBITION/ASPIRATION
Sustainability puts "the future" high on the agenda to the extent that we now look to the future with anxiety rather than optimism. This leads to setting limits on ourselves whereas in fact, we should have more faith in human ingenuity.

CRITICAL ENGAGEMENT
Innovation continues, but is only valuable and acceptable when perceived to minimise harm done to the planet. Therefore, improvements are limited to a narrow band of options by the logic of sustainable development. While the Chinese are discussing their ambition to be a nation of innovation, the West is looking for a less critically engaged society.

ARCHITECTURE
The visionary cities of today are either ironic products of a nostalgic attitude to the past or engineering gimmickry. China, on the other hand, tends to have an aspirational view of the future: a considered view of heritage; and a pragmatic view of Environment.

The point of the story is to flag up the potential harm that the uncritical importation of an anti-growth Western orthodoxy of sustainable development might do to China’s actual development.