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China's green leap forward?

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“With one hand, we hold the environmental-impact assessment,” he says. “With the other hand, we must hold the social-impact assessment.”

He points out, knowingly, that following his suggestions would reinforce the central government’s stated goal of maintaining a “harmonious society.”

Yu’s promotion of social-impact assessments is an example of how the emerging environmental movement in China is adapting to the unique circumstances in which it is arising.

“Successful Chinese [nongovernmental organizations],” says Linden Ellis of the China Environment Forum at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., “in stark contract to Western NGOs, make major efforts to support and work with the government, particularly the central government.

“In the US,” Ms. Ellis continues, “the environmental movement really got under way when people started suing the government; in China, good intentions seem to be still good enough.”

The Chinese environmental movement today, which has been growing rapidly since the first environmental nonprofits were allowed to legally organize in 1994, is often compared with the early years of the modern American environmental movement. But there are key differences.

Major antidam campaigns were a hallmark of the US environmental movement in the 1960s, during a cultural moment when activists in various spheres were organizing to say “no” to perceived ills – from racism to sexism to the Vietnam War.

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