Several weeks ago, James Wolfensohn spoke at a promotional event for his new book at the Center for the Arts. I attended and unfortunately thought better of bringing a notebook and pen, for some reason? Either way I do recall a few bits worth mentioning.
The most important things that I believe he referred are inextricably linked and have to do with our relationship with China. One is the issue of water scarcity, and the other is the possibility that China will buy large swaths of U.S. land for agriculture. Suffering from severe water problems, China faces social and health problems relating to the availability of clean water. The common lore of China's economic miracle is merely a feel-good panacea, and it's only a mirage. If China continues to pollute their water and air to no end, how do they expect to sustain their people in the future?
Well, buy land in the United States? My generalized recollection of Wolfensohn's point weeks ago is that 'we live in a global world now, and when you look at China, a country of 3 billion people, expecting to swell substantially in coming years, there might be food shortages which will be met by perhaps the Chinese buying huge pieces of land in the U.S. for agricultural purposes.' Wolfensohn also noted he believe there might be difficult political discussions about such a move, but his mention of "Chinese cities" in the U.S. brings to mind a number of questions. Noting that Wolfensohn is a member of the International Advisory Council for China's sovereign wealth fund the China Investment Corporation, it would be interesting to see if such a topic gets swept up by the MSM in the near future. What kind of dialogues are carried out about this within the China Investment Corporation? They obviously know how big their water problems are.
China's pollution problems have only been exacerbated by a decade of intensive industrial growth since their accession to the WTO in late 2001. It is no rumor that wistful figures characterize Chinese figures, but what they are doing to the environment is effectively a slow-kill pill, eating away possibilities in the future due to a lack of legal regulations, technology, or, perhaps, concern.
While it would be ideal for the Chinese to have no food supply issues, the momentum of quality water and land depletion seems to make such a task harder to accomplish. As a policymaker, one needs to question the utility of a system that produces such daunting pollution. It has been frequently asserted over the years that the cost of China's pollution is about 9% of GDP every years. Given that their GDP growth over the past decade has been an average of about 9%, not accounting for excessive bookkeeping and other creative measures, China's GDP growth seems quite mythical. Let's be serious, the really valuable things in life are the ones that provide a basis for health and safety for both now and in the future. However, for someone like Wolfensohn who has several chips on the world table, it would be nice to hear his reflection on the true value of water and how it affects this Chinese agri-colonization.