Will Olympics illuminate pollution problem enough for gov’t. to act?
In a recent survey of over 3,000 Chinese citizens, environmental issues emerged as a big problem in the eyes of the majority of respondents.** The 2008 survey, conducted as part of the Pew Research Center’s Pew Global Attitudes Project, found that about three quarters of those surveyed (74%) cite air pollution as a big problem. 66% of respondents ranked water pollution as a big problem.
But not only did Chinese say they were concerned about environmental problems, but they also said something should be done about it. As many as 80% of Chinese think protecting the environment should be made a priority, even if this results in slower growth and a potential loss of jobs. The new data suggest the Chinese people may be struggling with some of the consequences of economic growth.
What I find most striking about these results are: A) That concern for the environment is so salient among the Chinese, that people are willing to sacrifice some economic growth and jobs to take steps towards correcting those environmental problems, and B) That the concern for the environment was based on “pollution” themes. Pollution-based environmental problems are salient because they are visible, tangible, and ‘real’ products of industrial growth (as can be witnessed in this excellent series of short films). These types of problems were also perceived as very important to Americans in the late 1960s and early 1970s, before the U.S. enacted its core environmental policy. Can we expect that to be the next for China? And if so, when will that next step actually commence?
**Methodology: “Face-to-face interviews were conducted with 3,212 adults in China between March 28 and April 19, 2008, a period which followed the March 10 onset of civil unrest on Tibet and preceded the May 12 earthquake in China’s Sichuan Province. The sample, which is disproportionately representative of China’s urban areas, includes eight major cities, as well as medium-sized towns and rural areas in eight Chinese provinces. The area covered by the sample represents approximately 42% of the country’s adult population.”