Perhaps we got it all wrong. Perhaps we should ask the opposite question? "What will happen if we adopt Chinese lifestyles and consumption patterns".
I just read that China, despite being a stumbling block in climate negotiations has the most extensive payment scheme for ecosystem services in the world, they spend some US$90 billion in payment for ecosystem services according to a recent report. In Garden Earth I write:
In Europe and the USA, environmentalists have for decades used a rhetorical question: “what will happen if the Chinese adopts western lifestyles and consumption patterns?” Now, this question is no longer a rhetorical question. It is reality; it will not be answered by western environmentalists but by the Chinese themselves; because whatever the global impact is, the impact in China itself will be even greater. In 2006, there were 16 million electrical bicycles in China, in 2010 their numbers were probably 120 million (New York Times 2010b). Electrical bicycles are for sure no ideal and not unproblematic from an environmental perspective, they spread led from batteries and they need coal-generated electricity (ADB 2009). Nevertheless, they are clearly favourable compared to cars, and they represent just one of many examples of how they can avoid the mistakes of high-income countries. China is also the number one producer of solar technology.
I don't want to glorify China, neither for its environmental nor for its social policies. But I do think there is a tendency in the so called West to not see promising signs. We need to realise that the Chinese are not only good in churning out industrial goods, but they are also masters in managing the landscape, which is why China has continued to be a major force in the world for thousands of years, with dips now and then.