China changes on a dime…

A few weeks back we had a seminar speaker from a prominent Chinese University and I had the pleasure of meeting with him separately for about an hour. He was trained in the US (although originally from China) and had worked briefly at a major US University before deciding to go back to China to take his current position. We talked at length about his particular situation (he is quite happy to be back home) and about how many other Chinese scientists are making the similar decision to go back to their homeland to be part of China’s growing scientific research enterprise. I have to admit that I did not realize that this was occurring although a quick skim through the table of contents of any major journal will make it quite clear to any reader that the Chinese are making major advances in basic biological research within their nation. I say all this just to point out that China is changing in ways that many of us do not realize and, despite my disagreements with their human rights stances on Darfur and Tibet, it is impossible to ignore that China is rapidly becoming a research and engineering powerhouse fully capable of surpassing the US or any other nation in technological development.

Yesterday I was listening to NPR and All Things Considered ran a story on China’s attempts to get emissions under control by imposing new rules on building construction. Essentially, China has decided to start going green and they’re starting now and they’re doing it on a grand scale. The theme of the piece was that China has realized that their explosive growth is damaging their local environment in ways that are unsustainable. They have measured these changes quantitatively and have put into place a plan to attempt to curtail their future impact. The first step in the plan is to immediately transition to building green apartment complexes, office buildings and other structures starting in Bejing and then spreading outward as technology develops. The technologies that will be used to limit emissions from these structures are being developed in China and are produced locally (you’ll have to listen to the story to get the details — they aren’t in the write up). All of this worries me a great deal…

Don’t get me wrong, this is good news. China is rapidly catching up to the US as the world’s major green house gas emitter and it is important that they cut emissions for the sake of all of us (perhaps one day the US government will realize that we have a similar obligation). On the other hand, I somehow imagined that the US would leave its denialist global warming positions behind with the upcoming election and we could begin a grand project to become the world leader in green technology that would usher in a new age of economic prosperity in this country. Well, if the NPR piece is accurate (and I have no reason to doubt NPR, unlike many other sources) it looks like China is already well ahead of us on this particular initiative and they are primed to start selling their technologies to the rest of the world. Just another thing to add to the list of opportunities that have been completely lost on the Bush administration.

3 responses to “China changes on a dime…

  1. JP,
    Great new look.
    As to the article, I agree on the lost opportunity here. But I’ll believe the Chinese govt plans when they turn into reality. I think a lot of these programs (while probably not totally hollow) are mainly PR shells to prop up their image before and during the Olympics. When world-champion distance runners refuse to compete in certain events because of poor air quality, that’s a major problem. So I’m sure there will be a ‘green blitz’ for the next few months.

  2. That is an excellent point and you may well be right. The only part of the piece that really suspended my cynicism was when they were discussing the data the Chinese Gov has collected on environmental damage and the prospects for all out chaos if something isn’t done quickly. It seems they have a good grasp of their monumental problem and are moving quickly to avoid the consequences of inaction. Here, of course, we’re still arguing… and did you hear the story of the celebrity 16 year old global warming denialist this morning (beware, it”l drive you nuts)?

  3. Nice formatting changes here. Easier to read!

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