Anyone with a sense of decency and proportion about humanity’s current environmental predicament understands and sympathises with the claim by developing countries that the developed countries should actively support their contribution to controlling global warming by technology transfers, improved terms of trade and direct funding. Conversely, as India and China’s own governments have pointed out, the attitude of the governments of developed countries to their position is hypocritical at best and shameless at worst.
But at the same time, is it really clear exactly what would be accomplished by such support? Just as the justice of their cause is clear to anyone with half an eye, so the doubtfulness of their chosen route to development is clear to anyone with half an ear for the brilliant but discordant disharmonies of emerging capitalism. For both India and China (and most other developing countries) have certainly set themselves on a strictly capitalist road to industrialisation, and it is exactly this that undermines their claims to the sympathy and assistance of developed countries.
Not that the latter are any less culpable – after all, we invented capitalism, we made sure that most developing countries (with the notable exception of China itself) would adopt a capitalist strategy for economic development, and we have wilfully turned a blind eye to the environmental (not to mention social, cultural, political and psychological) consequences of our own road to wealth. But to support the industrialisation of any country on the same basis would only be more of the same problem we already have. Indeed, capitalism’s incessant demand for growth and more growth, coupled with the lower ‘carbon efficiency’ of less developed countries’ industries, would actually make the problem disproportionately worse. So even if the global environment could countenance the rapid doubling and trebling of the global economy, the environmental impact is actually likely to be much worse than that.
So what is the answer? Beats me. But it isn’t capitalist development, because that can only lock us – and in this case it really is us all – into a worse problem. Nor will it solve developing countries’ developmental problems, given that they are far more likely to suffer from the resulting climate chaos, resource depletion and ecosystems damage than their more developed neighbours.