China’s New Auto Culture

by Scott London

A fascinating and disturbing article in today’s New York Times examines how the Chinese have displayed “an American-style passion for the automobile.” Nowhere is this more apparent than in the city of Shanghai, writes reporter Howard French. “For Shanghai, as for much of China, getting rich and growing attached to cars have increasingly gone hand in hand, and have produced side effects familiar in cities that have long been addicted to automobiles — from filthy air and stressful, marathon commutes to sharply rising oil consumption.”

I remember a conversation seven or eight years ago with the late economist Robert Theobald. He and I were commiserating about the latest reports on the state of the environment. Our future as a civilization hinges on whether we can find a more ecologically sustainable model, he told me. And we only have a few years to turn things around.

“The problem is that we’re now living in a global culture and there is no one to take up a new model,” he said. “The Chinese are the logical ones to take up a new model, but they have bought into exactly what we’re doing, which is fatal because of the environmental question. If the Chinese decide that they are going to have the American standard of living, the environmental ballgame is over.”

The full interview, one of many I had with Theobald before he died, is available here. See also my review of his book The Rapids of Change.