An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
The environment is a closely related organism, rather like human beings. In modern medicine, what contribute the most to human health are not advanced diagnostic methods, nor the invention of a variety of cure, but the creation and practice of preventive medicine.
Ancient Chinese physicians called preventive medicine "cure before it develops into a disease" (“治未病”). There was a saying: "After a symptom develops into a disease, to treat it, is like trying to dig a well when you are dying from thirsty. It would be too late (“夫病已成而后药之，乱已成而后治之，譬犹渴而穿井，斗而铸锥，不亦晚乎”). Therefore the most valuable treatment is to eliminate the cause of the diseases, and the most effective way is to start form the minor signs that indicate possible problems (“贵绝恶于未萌，而起教于微渺”).”
Although ancient Chinese thoughts on “cure before the diseases emerge” did not feed into the modern preventive medicine, the invention of Vaccinia virus and immunization by Edward Jenner and Louis Pasteur had fundamentally changed human epidemic history. Into the 20th century, the principle that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” has become the guideline for disease control worldwide. Since 1949 China’s practice of preventive medicine since 1949, has also proved that “prevention” is an “effective, efficient and economic” measure that benefits all.
Vaccination works through antibodies via stimulating the human immune system. However, if a person has long been in a “sub-health” status, antibodies do not work their wonders so quickly because overall immunization power is low.
To focusing on prevention in the environment, we need to “vaccinate” the decision makers. The alternative, development at the cost of ecological degradation, environment pollution and resources exacerbation is like bringing a wolf into an infant’s bedroom. The long-term cost is not just GDP loss; public health, social stability and sustainability of the ecology are all at stake.
To be fair, not all China’s decision makers are short sighted and chasing quick success. The majority of the Chinese officials, especially those working at the grass-root level, are willing to pursue sustainable development. It is pity that under the current system, many of them were not able to do so. The detachment of decision from implementation often makes the right policy ineffective. At the local level there are always strategies to counter central government policies in favour of local government interests.
This is reflected in the Chinese central government’s lack of determination to thoroughly implement the policy because it lacks the means to ensure the implementation can contend with the entrenched local interests.
However it is not sufficient just to “vaccinate” the decision-making level. It is also necessary to produce more grass-root level antibodies to build up the base layer of the immunity.
One way to do it effectively and speedily is to mobilize each and every cell of the society, i.e. individuals. Only if we could simulate individual resistance, can we revive the whole society. This, in turn, requires an independent and comprehensive legal system that can protect each individual’s rights, allowing free expression and the involvement of civil society in government oversight.
Donald Tsang, the Chief Executive Officer of Hong Kong had to stand in front of the Legislative Council to face questioning about accepting regal corporate hospitality. Former US President Bill Clinton faced impeachment because of a personal scandal. The former Taiwanese President Chen Shuibian was prosecuted and jailed for corruption when he was on power. These examples demonstrate the power of public oversight and a functioning legal system.