This Tweet from @DrGCrisp made me look twice:
It’s the environment stupid: 80% of Chinese place environmental protection above economic development
I know we only have 140 characters, but this just can’t fly. No particular offence intended to @DrGCrisp, with whom I find plenty to agree.
But…eighty percent of Chinese? Those four words are speaking for over 1 billion people!!! What the? As it happens I have been doing some global demographic research lately, and one thing I can tell you for sure is that data barely exists to say anything definitive at all about the population of China, let alone opinions on the environment/economic growth nexus.
The source for the quote is a China daily article here, which tells us a bit more. The statistic comes from a survey of 3,400 residents of 34 cities conducted by the Pubic Opinion Research Center under Shanghai Jiao TongUniversity. One hundred residents in each city. Shanghai has over 20 million people. Nanjing has over 7 million people.
The survey was conducted through computer-aided telephone interviews.
I’ll propose an alternative view of the finding.
Of 3,400 residents of Chinese cities, which have among the worst air pollution in the world, who are wealthy enough to own a telephone and have sufficient leisure time to be bothered doing a computer aided interview, eighty percent of respondents would be satisfied to see economic growth sacrificed in the name of environmental protection.
In other words, this tells us nothing that we did not already know: when people have attained a certain level of material security, the environment normally rises as a concern. I have no doubt that many Chinese have a clear view that more needs to be done to clear the air. Speaking for 80% of this nation of whom many are still very, very poor, don’t live in cities, don’t have reliable electricity, water etc is just not sensible.
We can never drop our critical eye. When a statistic brings a pithy headline that tells us something we really want to hear, that’s the moment to take a second look and a good hard think.