Thursday, November 5, 2009

Green China

China has made significant political, economic, and environmental progress since the Tian'anmen Square incident of 1989. One major reason that incident was so important is because of the amount, and type, of media coverage it received. I feel that it was truly the turning point of modern China; a moment of shame that sparked the realization that the rest of the world was watching China, and despite their best efforts, the government couldn't keep the wool in place.

China remains a socialist country according to its behavior, and as stated in Article 1 of the Chinese constitution. As such, perhaps many people's deep rooted belief that anything related to "socialism" keeps us cautiously sinophobic. I do agree that there are countless examples of misuse of power in China, including, but not limited to, the suppression of personal freedoms and freedom of the press - for example, government blocking of facebook, twitter, youtube, etc. However, I suggest that we can still benefit by inspecting some aspects of China's policy that are on the right track, and may be even more progressive than our own.

China is a world powerhouse, if not soon The powerhouse. It is one of the commercial mainstays of the world, and its industrial output continues to exceed our own. But economic policy and progress aside, I am fascinated by the push in China to "go green."

Two major areas have started to emerge as fundamental changes in government regulation. The first is the transportation industry, the second is the power industry. China announced last year that several automakers were exploring the production of electric cars, with two manufactures to date already reaching the goal. Interestingly, the government has already committed to subsidizing the purchase of clean cars to be used in a number of cities "by public transport operators, taxi companies and postal and sanitary services."

But this is in the future, right?

I visited the city of Xi'an this summer (famous for the Terracotta soldiers). All scooters are, by law, electric powered which cuts down on both exhaust and noise pollution. All taxi cabs, by law, have been converted to run on natural gas. In fact, there is an initiative to increase the development of Xi'an as the "port" city to the vast resources of western China, and government oversight is trying to ensure the growth and expansion of the city happens with a green foundation by awarding contracts to companies that are "green." Which brings us to the second aspect of government intervention to push the green envelope.

A few years ago, the Three Gorges Dam was completed and the hydroelectric generators started up, bringing energy desperately needed to the region. Although this particular dam is riddled with controversy, it is a step in the right direction, and with the passage of a Renewable Energy Law in 2005, other hydroelectric power stations will follow.

China has also recently begun to investigate wind power. A new coalition was announced in October that partners workers and investors both in the US and in China to develop and manufacture large scale wind farms. The deal does include spending some of the money set aside by the economic stimulus plan, and the project will create jobs locally in Texas as well as in China. I think this is a great direction for our two countries - to pursue a common goal that will benefit citizens of each.

China is also exploring other forms of renewable energy including biomass, solar, and geothermal (of which they are already number one in the world).

But when do these advancements reach the general public?

It already has. In my travels in China, I have recently noticed every (literally) rooftop being decorated with the same object - a solar-powered water heater. These units do not power any electrical outlets, but they do capture the sun's power to heat enough water for all daily use, including showers, washing clothes and dishes, and cooking. Amazingly, these units are very cheap (about $170), and are available in even the most rural of settings.

"Green" is a hot topic, and although the US leads the world in talking about the problem, countries like China openly discussing the problems, and are using government intervention to solve it. We have done some good things, but this is still one aspect where I think government policies and oversight may be the only way to guarantee success.


Steve M. said...

Great post!

Shawn--Out of curiosity, what's your connection to China? Do you travel there often?

Shawn O. said...

I served a mission in Taiwan back in the day, and then ended up marrying a girl from Macao (near Hong Kong). So now the connection is both family and fascination.

Steve M. said...

Awesome! I served a Mandarin-speaking mission in Hong Kong. In fact, I spent about 6 months in Macau.