Solving the ‘Wicked Problem’ of China’s Environmental Future: Cautious Optimism in the Face of Unprecedented Threats

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Environmental Sciences
Physical Sciences and Mathematics
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Maley, Jamison

China’s global position as an exporter of inexpensive, low-value goods has been sustained by a coal-fired growth model whose devastating environmental and social consequences are only recently being acknowledged properly by party leadership. A systematic review and analysis has been conducted of the most current academic literature addressing China’s environmental challenges. A sizeable amount of research (around 360 publications) was amassed in this pursuit, covering not only China’s environment, but also related governmental, economic, and social factors. The author has defined China's environmental future as a 'wicked problem', which creates two allowances by default. First, it communicates that the problem is highly complex, involves multiple stakeholders, and has no easy solutions. Second, it recognizes that only a uniquely multi- sectoral approach can achieve accurate forecasting and sound recommendations. This paper follows this multi-sectoral approach, crossing institutional lines in search of developments economically and politically, as well as prevailing trends in both technology and culture. Scenario building of divergent futures has been visualized in order to generate confident and informed forecasting of China's environmental future. The author remains cautiously optimistic regarding these future projections. However, heroic innovations in technology and environmental efficiency must be matched by seismic shifts in economic, social, and political policy. Real solutions and recommendations are prescribed in the final section of this Capstone. The importance of these recommendations cannot be overestimated. Expert consensus has equated humanity's avoidance of climate fallout with the need for transformative solutions in China.

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