© 2009 Steven Wong

And now for something completely different… 2.0

Most of the time, I’m sure you don’t really notice a lot when you’re walking around. You get familiar with your surroundings or you’re just in a routine and you don’t really pay attention to the stuff in between your origin and your destination. I’ll admit it’s less so in China, if only because of the freshness of only having been here for a few weeks, but I’m starting to get to that stage.

Still, sometimes you see something that will stop you in your tracks. And so it is with this picture. Now, chain restaurants are nothing new, obviously, and we’ve all seen Bruce Lee movies, but unless you’ve lived in China before, I’d bet money that you’ve never seen a chain restaurant that used Bruce Lee as their branding. And you could say, well, that looks like any other Chinese guy, but come on. That’s as Bruce Lee as you can get without actually using a real picture of him.

Of course, I thought it was rather amusing, but it wasn’t until I got home and I translated the name of the restaurant that I really thought it was funny. It’s pronounced “zhen gong fu”, which translates to “real kung fu”. Now, what that has to do with food or why that would make you want to eat there is beyond me. All of which leads me to another edition of “And now for something completely different”, because I have a few links I want to pass on again.

First is a link that I visited from my friend Matt’s Twitter feed. It’s not your typical blog post, or even a site I’d visit normally, but just read it and try not to cry. Heart-wrenching.

Next up is an opinion piece by George Monbiot, who will be known to those from the UK. He’s an uber-opinionated treehugger, but at least this time, I agree with the main thrust of his article, namely that it’s the rich of the world (meaning you and me) who are the main cause of the environmental problems we have now.

The problem with his piece though is that he plays it too far to his side. He slags the very respected environmental scientist James Lovelock in his first paragraph, for even bringing population growth into the picture. Ok, blaming population growth is akin to blaming poor people – after all, it is well-documented that the richer a population is, the less children they have. Monbiot’s contention is that these poor people hardly consume anything, meaning they don’t really contribute to the climate change problem. That much is true.

However, Monbiot ignores the developmental sentiment, that we should at least try to help these people get out of poverty. He seems to imply that adding a few hundred million people to our global population now wouldn’t be a big deal, except that it is. Those are another few hundred million mouths to feed, a few hundred million more lives that will in all likelihood suffer through extreme poverty. I don’t know about you, but that’s something I’d rather try to help avoid.

But lifting the 5 billion people who don’t live as we do up to our standard of living (or at least to a respectable level) means increasing their level of consumption. Consumption = environmental burden. Monbiot is partially right: rich people consume more, hence they are responsible for more. But allowing the poor to be poor for the sake of environmental harmony isn’t something I’m prepared to abide by.

Anyway, the main idea then is to decouple consumption from environmental burden. Is that even possible? I think it’s probable that we will eventually be able to generate most of our energy needs through non-polluting methods. This open letter from an environmental scientist to an economist does make a point that it shouldn’t be too difficult – probably more of a political issue than a technical one.

However, I don’t see a way around trying to feed 6-7 billion people, especially if we in the Western world expect to have the same luxuries of choosing 15 types of potato chips/crisps and 6 brands of bottled water. Eventually, something will give and either a lot of people are going to die or we’re going to learn to deal with a lot less choice in our supermarkets and restaurants.