An article I came across recently argued that the recession is forcing some of ‘China’s dirtiest factories’ to close and in the context of far stricter lending, local governments are less likely to offer credit to ‘big polluters’. It claims that in Zhejiang province, 60,000 small factories have been shuttered since last year, as China’s economic growth slows.

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This can arguably only be a good thing for the environment, but the article fails to consider the social and developmental impact of the loss of the thousands of jobs these factories provides. In terms of sustainable development – meeting the needs of the present, whilst not compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs (Brundtland) – the potential impacts of the recession are far from clear cut. Whilst land prices fall and housing and property development falters, land is being purchased by the World Land Trust and other conservation trusts, giving the environment a much needed rest bite from the sprawl of development. Similarly, even parts of the rainforest might be clawed back from the hands of developers and endangered species may benefit as a result.

However, as the credit crunch bites, how will people’s priorities and attitudes change when they may be truly struggling to keep up mortgage repayments, feed themselves and their families and make ends meet? How will this affect what feels like real progress towards a growing recognition that economic growth is pointless without genuine consideration of the environment and sustainability? A recent poll by Gallup shows that for the first time in 25 years Americans believe that economic growth should be prioritised, even if the environment suffers……

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