Is it ethical to buy goods from China and India?

Our ethical columnist on why these two new economic powers need to de-develop as soon as possible.

Ethan Greenhart

Topics World

Dear Ethan,

I am getting very worried about China and India. They have basically just told the G8 to stuff its agreement on carbon emissions. Obviously these developing nations want to improve their people’s lives, but this breakneck industrialisation seems extreme. What is the right balance we can strike to address both problems of poverty and climate change in the developing world? Is it ethical to buy stuff made there?

West Sussex

Dear Beth,

In the spirit of the mystical practices of the East, let me introduce a new yoga position into what I like to think of as our little consciousness-raising group here. When an issue arises which the world currently looks at upside-down, I shall say ‘HEADSTAND!’. We will then all stand on our heads (some of us may need a little support from our partner, which would be easier if she could stop that callous laughing), to facilitate seeing things in an alternative way. There is nothing like all the blood rushing to your head to clear the mind.

So, China and India? HEADSTAND! Once more, when it comes to developing nations most ‘thinkers’ have the problem the wrong way up. The question should not be how they can grow to be more like our obese economies. It is how we can lose weight to be more like their traditional skinny-ribbed societies – and how we can help them stop industrialising in the process. ‘Developing’ economies? What is needed is de-development.

I used to have a real soft spot for the Chinese. True, there have always been far too many of them for the planet to sustain. But I loved watching all those films of small people (inherently better than big ones – just compare the carbon footprints!). They rode bicycles, wore the same utilitarian clothes and ate nothing but rice. Simple people, living lives uncluttered by excess children thanks to the sensible (if slightly wishy-washy) state-imposed ‘one child’ policy. Many of them had the pleasure of working by hand on the land, bent over double in praise of the natural way of life. They even had the good grace to organise a famine once in a while, all the better to keep the population in check. Call it ‘Communist dictatorship’ if you like, but it looked far preferable to the Tyranny of Consumerism to me.

Back then, I thought the only really bad thing about the Chinese (apart from, did I mention, the small matter of there being hundreds of millions too many of them?) was their treatment of Tibet. Before the Chinese invaded, Tibet was, in many ways, a model society – simple, farming-based, mystical, un-modern. No wonder many sensible people still treat the Dalai Lama like a demi-God!

But lately my view of the Chinese has gone from ‘sweet’ to ‘sour’ (excuse this stereotype-based humour, but research shows it can be an effective way of making a point to a less politically-aware audience). For some mad reason they now seem to want to be like us in the West – drowning in ‘stuff’ while choking on carbon emissions. Just when a country like Britain begins to come to its senses and closes down all its smoky old industries, the Chinese go and open up a whole new industrial barrel of monkeys (and even if it is being opened, putting monkeys in a barrel is an appalling concept).

Did you know the Chinese economy is actually GROWING by more than 10 per cent a year? That China has the brass neck to build, on average, a new power station every week – most of them burning COAL? A double eco-atrocity of course, since they have to cut the stuff out of Gaia’s womb in the first place, and then give Her cancer by burning it. Every year, the increase in the amount of electricity they produce is the same as Britain’s entire national grid! And China’s total emissions are soon expected to overtake even America’s. They are going to be more evil than the great Satan!!

But do China’s rulers apologise for all this reckless pollution-creation (or ‘wealth-creation’ as they so dishonestly call it)? No, they are so utterly off their noodles that they actually boast about it. I know it is hard to believe, so I reprint here what China’s so-called President Hu said to the G8 summit last week: ‘Developing countries still have a long way to go before achieving industrialisation, urbanisation and modernisation, and they face an arduous task of improving people’s life. To meet their development goals, developing countries need to consume more energy.’ Industrialisation, modernisation, putting ‘improving people’s lives’ before the planet? Hu the hell does he think he is?

Never mind all that old-fashioned stuff about the Chinese being the ‘yellow peril’. Today they are the green peril, and something must be done. Clearly they need another Cultural Revolution to bring them back to their senses; perhaps the Chinese should be made to carry around a Little Green Book full of quotations from today’s foremost planetary thinkers rather than Mao (modesty forbids mention of any names). In fact, a green Cultural Revolution, where young, enlightened Green Guards berate their elders about their wicked ways, is something every country should consider!

If, however, the Chinese cannot rein in their rapacious desires, then other action will be required to bring them to their senses and make them appreciate the virtues of a low-energy, low-income life. So yes, Beth, I think that a boycott of everything that says ‘Made in China’ is a terrific idea. We should not be buying stuff that is flown halfway around the world in any case; sacrificing all our clothes and computers is a small price to pay for aircraft-free air. And given that ‘Made in China’ goods include almost everything in the British shops these days, this would also have a positive impact on the disgusting rates of over-consumption over here.

If even the moral stigma of being shunned by the shoppers of West Sussex is not enough to bring the increasingly mental Orientals to their senses, however, then it will be necessary to wheel out the big guns of the G8 to teach them a lesson. Of course, I know that the G8 is made up of The World’s Worst Polluters (at least until China takes the title at the Beijing Olympics!), but as Geldof and Bono point out, it’s worth ‘supping with the devil’ to make other people do the right thing. The G8 should force China to slow down and chill out. Maybe a boycott of the Olympics in China would be a good place to start. If we’re really lucky, the rest of the world might boycott the London Olympics in return, and just think of all the carbon footprints that would remove from our brown and unpleasant land. If all else fails, China must be hauled before an international court and charged with crimes against nature.

As for India, much the same arguments apply. They have some wonderful cultural traditions: they’re frequently vegetarian (a virtue of not being able to afford meat); they worship cows; they make do wearing nothing but a loincloth; and recycle their waste in rivers. But they, too, have now caught the modern disease. There are too many of them, and both they and their economy are growing far too fast.

Now we can see the true wickedness of British and Western colonialism. It is not, as some of my old University friends on the Left claimed, that ‘we’ oppressed, impoverished and held back the colonies. Far from it: the real trouble was that ‘we’ gave them the idea of industrialising and getting richer. HANDSTAND! (Sorry, forgot for a moment.) So we reap the whirlwind – and the hurricanes, tsunamis and other effects of man-made global warming. Well, they reap them most directly obviously, but we have to watch it all on our solar-powered laptops.

Right-thinking Indians (and there are lots of them, like the dam-busting marvel Arundhati Roy) should launch a campaign called ‘Quit it, India’, based on Ghandi’s Quit India movement, calling on their government to halt the expansion of Mumbai and other cities into the natural habitats so beloved of tigers, trees and peasants. Otherwise we will have to boycott their goods and, err, call centres. Which again could have a beneficial offshoot over here, forcing us to give up banks and money and return to a sustainable barter economy.

The Chinese and Indian governments (who are now in cahoots) did get one thing dead right at that G8 summit, however. They said that it was up to us in the rich West to give the world a lead in reducing emissions. Yes, let’s lead by example. Let us aspire to bringing the simple traditions of pious, cash-poor but spiritually-rich rural life over here, and show them over there the error of their modernising ways. Rice-eating, bicycling peasants of the world, unite! We have noting to lose but our chainstores!

Ethan Greenhart is here to answer all your questions about ethical living in the twenty-first century. Email him at {encode=”” title=””}. Read his earlier columns here.

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Topics World


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