Southern China’s Pearl River Delta used to be lined by coastal mangrove forests that slowed down storm winds, filtered the water, absorbed carbon and lowered ambient temperatures. Today about 70% of the mangrove swamps have been infilled and paved over. In their place, glistening skyscrapers and cement now carpet the region, embodying a Western aesthetic of prosperity.
Such fast-paced growth, “2,100 acres paved over between 1979 and 1985; 6,700 more acres during the next decade; thousands and thousands more since”, puts the region’s future in peril. Cities are literally sinking from the weight of development, storm winds are more powerful, and flooding is more frequent and intense, temperatures are on the rise, and sewage systems are overtaxed.
This excellent New York Times article by Michael Kimmelman questions whether growth and the environment have to be opposing forces in the developing world. As a New Orleanian I cannot help but see the obvious parallels between the Pearl River Delta and Louisiana’s Gulf Coast. Both have destroyed their coastal tree buffers and now suffer the consequences of stronger storm winds and waves, higher temperatures and subsidence. And both continue to build without foresight of the implications of their development.
The question now is, are we going to take the long view and move forward strategically, building with resilience in mind? Or are we going to stick with the status quo, ignoring how our decisions today will impact the generations of tomorrow?
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