The Challenge of Creating ‘Ecological Civilization’ in China

songyue pagoda dengfeng henan china

The plane arrived in one of the world’s most polluted cities, Zhengzhou, in western China. My husband, John Grim, and I were here for the Songshan Forum focused broadly on “Ecological Civilization” held in mid-September in Dengfeng. This is in Henan, a province of some 94 million people. If Henan were a nation-state it would be the world’s 12th-largest economy. China’s rapid modernization in a few short decades — on a scale unfathomable to most Americans — has resulted in staggering environmental problems, which are evident here.

Henan is in the midst of a severe drought, as are many parts of China. We saw the burnt-out crops of corn and wheat. The local river, now channeled into concrete basins, has dried up from a lack of runoff from the surrounding mountains. We feel the air thick with smog and particulate matter. At times it is hard to breathe. It is now obvious that the price to pay for modernization is indeed high in China.