I write this on April 22 - known before 1970 as Lenin's birthday and since then in America as "Earth Day" (when you are reading this, of course, I cannot know). With each passing year, the irony of grafting environmental awareness on the birthday of Communism's founder and examining the ecological records of his largest political heir (the Chinese Communist Party) grows more painful, more cynically amusing, and more impossible to ignore.
This will surprise the casual observer who only sees the CCP press releases on alternative energy sources (yes, Tom Friedman, that means you), but there is arguably no regime that damaged our planet as much as the Chinese Communist Party. The cadres have been forced to account for such exotic chemical spills as cadmium, benzene, and heaven knows what else. They have a slew of mining accidents - annually. Their hydroelectric dam addiction has thoroughly disturbed and distorted water flows, while turning such natural treasurers as the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers into toxic soups. Air pollution is so bad in the interior that the cadres in one city actually explored cutting out the tops of mountains to allow fresh air in. Then there are the open-air nuclear tests from last century, which killed over 200,000 people in occupied East Turkestan (also known as Xinjiang) and sickened many, many more.
In short, the regime in Zhongnanhai has taken its rightful place among Communist defilers of the environment. The Soviet Union was infamous for its toxic-caused animal mutation, and the Chernobyl fiasco was a shocking example of Moscow's lax concern for nuclear safety both before an accident and during one. Yet in the free world, environmentalism remains a largely left-wing phenomenon, complete with the lack of concern for Communist regime's actual records.
What the Western left may be thinking is not the point here, but rather the strange dichotomy between the presumed notion in the free world of government superiority in ecological matters and the reality of totalitarian regimes where the government is itself worse than any corporation - or entire industry - imaginable.
Most economists, environmentalists, and elected officials in the democratic world understand that in making decisions about what to buy, build, or bring together, long-term environmental consequences are not usually a major factor (the term in economic geek-speak is "externality"), and that government can have a role in countering this. However, that assumes government is an arbiter, or at most a facilitator, in the market, without any interests of its own.
Whether this assumption is correct or not is one of the disagreements that have driven politics in the free world for decades, if not centuries. However, there is one important point missed: a totalitarian regime is never an uninterested arbiter; it will always have its own interest - namely survival - front and center. Therefore, the aforementioned long-term environmental consequences are just as irrelevant to the Chinese Communist Party as it would be to your average consumer in the free world. In fact, one could argue that it's less relevant to the CCP, as the regime will assume it has enough power to protect itself from the consequences of the ecological damage it does (the people are, of course, left to suffer).
Thus, tyrannical regimes - interested only in surviving and protecting the group of tyrants (however large or small) - are all but certain to be worse stewards of the planet than democracies are, and the Chinese Communist Party is proving it every single day.
In time, this reality will become harder and harder for the CCP to conceal (the truth about the Soviets started to leak out in the 1980s, but the USSR collapsed before it became common knowledge). Thanks to the regime's faulty policies, China has become the largest carbon emitter on the planet. Its major electric dams are pollution havens. I shudder to think what will happen as they build more nuclear power plants (and I say this as a fan of nuclear power).
As the Zhongnanhai regime limps ahead, it will become abundantly clear to the free world's legion of "green" activists that the CCP is as much their enemy as it is the enemy of everyone else. It may very well be an event celebrated on the birthday of Communism's founder that become the tipping point for the end of Communism's largest regime.