I am writing this post as a response (agreement) to Shannon’s post rather than just putting it in the comments…
From time to time if I am stuck conversing with a die-hard environmentalist, I will ask them what they think the WORST thing that has happened with regards to the environment is, in their opinion. I usually don’t listen to their reply to closely and then tell them what they OUGHT to be saying
The Fall of Communism and End of Socialism
Under Communism prior to Deng Xiaoping, mainland China was a starving wasteland with few consumer goods, frequent famines, and millions living in caves (no joke). After Deng unleashed his reforms in the countryside, which migrated to the cities, the Chinese government removed the boot of this failed dogma and unleashed a nation of hard charging entrepreneurs and traders. For years the overseas Chinese were some of the most successful business people in Asia – now they were free to raise the standards of living of their own people.
Power plants were built – millions of homes didn’t even have heat – and the country roared to life. New cities were built, highways, ports and railways crossed the country, and now China is the manufacturer for a huge variety of what you have in your house today.
And what did the Chinese consumer want? They wanted what YOU have – a car (bicycles went by the wayside as soon as they had the money), a nice flat, overseas travel, air conditioning and heat in the winter, electricity to power their myriad consumer devices and appliances, and food of all types (especially meat products). An explosion of manufacturing and consumption erupted throughout the country which hasn’t abated (may be slowing a bit now due to the recession).
While Chinese Communism was abandoning Marxist economic principles (but keeping the dictatorship of the state, a core theme), India was abandoning its inward-focused socialism. In the 80’s India began some tentative reforms which also brought the economy to life, as Indians’ overseas were also known as prosperous businesspeople, like the overseas Chinese. Like the Chinese – the Indians wanted what Western consumers had – cosmetics, cars, clothes, air conditioning, power for appliances, more types of food, and all the rest. While their economy was still tied to a democracy (and thus couldn’t run over the rights of everyone in pursuit of development) they focused more on services and managed an incredible run of growth which led to Mumbai being one of the most expensive cities in the entire world to live in.
Don’t forget Brazil – Brazil also moved away from many socialist principles and the economy started to grow to keep up with its burgeoning population, who also want many of the comforts that we take for granted in the West.
China, India and Brazil represent a giant mass of humanity, the most populous countries in their respective continents, all of whom featured BILLIONS of consumers “voting with their feet” (through their actions, since they didn’t really leave) and showing that what they wanted wasn’t a simple, spartan zero-footprint life but in fact the cars, power, air conditioning, and higher end food (meats and not simple grains) that are bemoaned in the West.
IF ONLY – I tell the environmentalist – that you would have allied yourself with Socialism and Communism, two ideologies that made some of the most ambitious and entrepreneurial people in the world poor and impoverished – you would have been able to keep those countries “down”, with few cars (except for the elite) and a tiny infrastructure which is tied to limited consumption.
I remember when East Germany fell – and saw a brief interview with an East German intellectual – saying that he wished for a “third way”, other than the capitalism of the West when the wall fell – but that never happened.
Another opportunity lost for the environmentalist… after all barbed wire, guard towers, and shoot-to-kill orders are a small price to pay for the absence of cars and carbon, right?
A completely bankrupt ideology, which has been blasted to oblivion in the developed world. Their moment, like that of the East German intellectual – never comes when people are given a chance to live their lives fully.