This sobering bit of news well illustrates the reality behind another recent report indicating that public concern for pollution is growing rapidly in China. A survey conducted by the China Environment Culture Promotion Association (CECPA) reported that 76% of respondents described environmental problems as "very serious" or "relatively serious." Respondents also listed the severity of pollution third among a set of issues, behind rising prices and food security. The survey, which this year was administered to 10,000 individuals in 31 provinces and municipalities, further found that
About 32 percent of the respondents felt "very unsatisfied" with air quality and 28 percent "very worried" about water quality, making them the top environmental worries for the public in 2008.The news report did not describe the results of previous annual surveys, which have been conducted 2005. However, CECPA's Secretary-General was quoted as candidly saying the survey results "show that environmental protection efforts have not been able to keep pace with the fast economic growth and improved living standards."
In fairness, they rarely have, in any country. But the survey is indicative of a shift in the politics of environmental protection in China. There are many signs, small and disparate, but visible, that China is taking environmental issues more seriously. In particular, government officials now talk about a "new road to environmental protection" (more on this tomorrow) that sounds like it will require transformation of the economic structure. It's unclear how much should be made of this new-found seriousness, but this survey is just one more indication that the environmental picture in China is changing more rapidly than many of us can keep up with.