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中产阶级有望推动解决中国污染问题

Pankaj Ghemawat 2013年11月08日

根据环保圈内人士普遍认可的库兹涅茨曲线,一个国家的富裕程度达到一定的水平之后,环境污染等问题就会开始大幅好转。随着中国人均收入水平的提高,中产阶级的壮大,来自他们的压力有望迫使政府采取行动,治理污染。

    中共十八届三中全会召开之际,一大片乌云将笼罩在北京市的上空。这不是什么影射,只是实话实说。此时正值深秋季节,中国首都和其他城市高企的污染水平即将习惯性地迎来季节性飙升。美国宇航局地球观测站(NASA Earth Observatory)刚刚宣布,中国东北城市哈尔滨的细颗粒物(PM2.5) 浓度高达每立方米1,000微克。相比之下,根据美国环保局(the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)的空气质量标准,PM2.5的浓度应该保持在每立方米35微克以下。

    用不了多久,这片阴云就会蔓延到人民大会堂内部:一些中国问题观察人士认为,一如腐败问题,环境污染已经对中国共产党的执政地位构成最重大的威胁。中国的环境污染是一场大规模的悲剧:据估计,中国北方一些城市的人均寿命现已缩短了好几年。把这些消逝的光阴扩大数百万倍,大家就能深刻地体会到,环境污染造成的影响远不止农田退化、工厂因停工带来的经济损失,以及种种生活上的不便(比如,一些城市的有车一族只有隔天才能开车出门),它还导致了巨大的人员伤亡。与此同时,中国新近崛起的中产阶级越来越敢于公开评论污染问题。他们希望尽情享受自己辛苦打拼得来的财富,而无法让孩子在户外玩耍显然有悖于所有人对富足生活的想象。

    那么,中国政府会采取行动吗?经济学家所称的库兹涅茨曲线(Kuznets curve,环保圈普遍把它叫做“越富裕、越绿色”曲线)确实显示,中国政府会迫于国内的压力,被迫采取措施,治理环境。根据这项由诺贝尔经济学奖得主西蒙•库兹涅茨率先做出的经验观测,一个国家刚刚步入工业化发展阶段时,收入不平等和环境污染等大量问题会进一步恶化。然而,一旦该国的居民收入达到一定水平,情况就会开始好转,呈现出一条倒U曲线。中国目前的人均年收入大约为6,000美元,恰好处于库兹涅茨环境曲线通常掉头向下的位置。换句话说,中国人现在够有钱了,可以开始治理污染了。

    如果中国中产阶级最终迫使政府采取行动治污,能得到好处的人或许不仅仅局限于长期遭受环境问题折磨的中国人自己,可能还包括世界其他地方的人们。尤其需要提及的是,如果中国这种来自国内的压力重现于印度等国,它就有可能成为不仅是应对环境污染,甚至是应对全球变暖的最佳路径。原因是,当今世界,全球性治理羸弱,只有让局部利益与全局利益取得一致,或者说让中国和世界其他国家的利益一致,全球性问题才有望迎来真正的转机。(财富中文网)

    本文作者潘卡基•格玛沃特是西班牙IESE商学院Rubiralta教席全球战略学教授,著有《世界3.0》一书。

    译者:叶寒        

    A cloud will hang over the upcoming plenum of the Chinese Communist party in Beijing -- literally. It is late fall, and so pollution levels in China's capital as well as in other of its cities, always high, are going to go through their usual seasonal surge. The NASA Earth Observatory just announced that the northern city of Harbin saw concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) as high as 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter. For comparison, the NASA report said, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's air quality standards say PM2.5 should remain below 35 micrograms per cubic meter.

    And now, this pall will soon extend to within the great hall of people: Some China watchers are describing pollution -- along with corruption -- as one of the most significant threats to the legitimacy and continued rule of the Communist party. Pollution in China is a human tragedy on a vast scale: It has been estimated that in some northern Chinese cities, lifespans have already been shortened by several years. Multiply that many millions of time over, and you get a sense of the human toll, above and beyond the degradation of farmland, the economic costs of factory shutdowns, the inconvenience of being able to drive only every other day, and so forth. At the same time, China's new middle class, which is getting increasingly vocal about pollution, wants to enjoy the wealth it has worked so hard for and not being able to let one's kids play outdoors isn't anyone's idea of prosperity.

    Will the Chinese government act? What economists call the Kuznets curve -- popularly referred to in environmental circles as the richer-is-greener curve -- suggests Beijing will be forced to by local pressure. This is the empirical observation, first made by Nobel Prize winner Simon Kuznets, that many problems like income inequality and pollution first get worse as a country industrializes. But once a country's citizens reach a certain level of income, the situation starts to get better, producing an inverted-U curve. China's average per capita incomes, now around $6,000, are where environmental Kuznets curves are often supposed to turn down. In other words, China is now rich enough to do something about its pollution.

    If China's middle class finally forces its government to act on pollution, the benefits may accrue not only to long-suffering Chinese citizens but also to the rest of us. In particular, local pressures -- if reproduced in other countries such as India -- may be the best path for dealing with not only pollution but also global warming. Because in a world with weak global governance, the alignment of local interests with global interests -- the alignment of China's interests with the rest of the world's -- may represent the only real hope for real change.

    Pankaj Ghemawat is the Rubiralta Professor of Global Strategy at IESE and the author of World 3.0.    

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