Over at Forbes, Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia explains why China will need to democratize if it wants to consolidate its environmental gains. As she writes:
Thanks to technological advances and rising energy efficiency, China at the turn of this decade had three times better resource utilization than in 1978. This is not to deny that modernization and growth can generate new forms of pollution. But these are less injurious that the old. And as people get wealthier, they invest more in environmental improvements–trees, pollution-control technologies, more expensive but cleaner-burning fuels. It is no coincidence that richer economies are also by and large cleaner–and that as China's economy gets richer it also gets cleaner.
But the problem is that authoritarian governments have a well-known tendency to pursue status and legitimacy through massive public building projects. They build grand monuments, skyscrapers or space programs. China does all of this but has added something new to the annals of autocracy: showy environmental projects. Call it prestige environmentalism. Beijing's remarkable metamorphosis is the clearest example of that.
This kind of environmentalism has major dangers.