Chapter 1: China, India, and the New World Order

Christopher Flavin and Gary Gardner

China and India are on the verge of becoming far more than economic powers. (See Table 1-1, p. 7.) These two countries are now also planetary powers that are shaping the global biosphere and are therefore central to whether the world succeeds in building a healthy, prosperous, and environmentally sustainable future for the next generation. As China and India become world-class economies, they are set to join already industrialized nations as major consumers of resources and polluters of local and global ecosystems. And while the largest burden of these developments will fall on China and India themselves, the global impact is clear. (See Table 1-4, p. 16.)

The rise of China and India illustrates more clearly than any development in recent memory that the western, resource-intensive economic model is simply not capable of meeting the growing needs of more than 8 billion people in the twenty-first century. Major shifts in resource use, technologies, policies, and even basic values are needed. The political ambivalence toward today’s development models that now characterizes China, India, the United States, and most other countries will need to give way to a full-fledged commitment to prosper within the limits imposed by nature.

With their growing economies, expanding ecological footprints, and rising political influence, China and India will need to be a part of any plausible global effort to build a sustainable world economy. But the call for wholesale change in policies needs to sound just as loudly in the United States, whose footprint is the largest of all. Indeed, the prospects for success in this venture are greatest if these three planetary powers pull together to forge a new vision for sustainable economic development in the twenty-first century.

Christopher Flavin is President of the Worldwatch Institute. Gary Gardner is Director of Research at the Institute.