May 17, 2011 § Leave a Comment
One of China’s great philosophers, Mencius (4th c. B.C.E.), a follower of Confucius, told the story of a man from the state of Song in central China:
There was a man from Song who was distressed that his shoots of corn were not growing and so he tugged at them. Wearily, he returned home and said, ‘I have exhausted myself today; I have been helping the sprouts to grow.’ His son hurried out to take a look; the sprouts had all withered. Under heaven, there are but a few a few who do not help the sprouts to grow. Some feel that they can be of no benefit at all and thus neglect the sprouts entirely; they are the ones who don’t even bother to weed. Some actively help in the growing process; these are the ones who pull at the sprouts. It is not just that they are of no benefit—they even do harm. (Mencius 2A.2)
In telling this story, Mencius had a moral purpose, not an agronomic one. Still, it’s rather a shame that farmers today in the eastern province of Jiangsu didn’t take the agronomic lesson to be learned from Mencius more seriously.
In early May, farmers there, wanting to increase the size of their watermelons, sprayed about 115 acres of the crop with the chemical fertilizer forchlorfenuron, a growth accelerator. The chemical is legal, but, apparently, not particularly safe, especially when used in excessive quantity and in overly wet conditions. Beginning on May 7, watermelons in Jiangsu began, on their own, splitting open and exploding, sending rinds, seeds, and shrapnel of red flesh into the air.
No casualties yet, but one women in Jiangsu had a close call as the watermelon she was cutting up exploded in her hands.
Farmer Liu Mingsuo, the owner of eight of the landmined acres, has told China Central Television (CCTV) that he can no longer sleep at night, as he’s haunted by the vision of exploding watermelons. He told China Central Television, “On May 7, I came out and counted 80 (bursting watermelons) but by the afternoon it was 100. Two days later I didn’t bother to count anymore.”
The moral here for the Chinese is: listen to environmental advocates urging that the country reduce its use of toxic fertilizers and pesticides (China Global Times).
Also: read your Mencius!
April 18, 2011 § 2 Comments
In the past week, China’s English language press–China Daily, Xinhua, Caixin, Global Times–has seen an explosion of articles highlighting China’s plans to move ahead in the development of clean, renewable energy. Here is a small sampling of headlines, with the lead paragraph or two of the articles:
1. New energy industries to fuel China’s green growth (Xinhua) April 9 — With China’s ambitious plans to cut carbon emissions for a greener economy during the 12th five-year plan period from 2011 to 2015, new energy industries are becoming even more significant than in the past. These industries will be responsible for serving the country’s growing appetite for energy to feed its rapid development.
2. China Said to Mull Drastic Solar Power Increase (Caixin) April 12 — China may significantly raise its target for installed capacity for solar power generation over the next decade as the country steps up efforts to tap alternative energy.
China Solar Energy Association plans to present a proposal to the State Council, China’s cabinet, to lift installed photovoltaic capacity to 15 gigawatts and 50 gigawatts by 2015 and 2020 respectively, from the currently planned 5 gigawatts and 20 gigawatts, an industry insider told Caixin.
3. Pledge for more hydropower by 2015 (Global Times) April 11 — China will put more hydropower into use over the next five years, in an effort to transform the country’s energy consumption model, according to the Bureau of Energy under the National Development and Reform Commission.
By the end of 2015, China will have begun work on projects providing an extra 120 megawatts in hydropower capacity.
4. State Grid to Boost Wind Power Delivery Capacity (Caixin) April 15 — State Grid Corp. of China plans to lift its on-grid capacity to more than 90 million kilowatts by 2015, under a new target to reach over 150 million kilowatts by 2020.
5. Inner Mongolia becomes China’s first region with 10GW grid-access wind power capacity (Xinhua) April 10 — Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in north China has become the country’s first province-level region to have over 10GW of wind turbines installed and connected to the power grid.
This makes up about one third of China’s total grid-access wind installed capacity, according to figures from the autonomous regional government.
With this media barrage the Beijing leadership is underscoring for the public that its campaign to promote alternative forms of energy is real. Just-released figures from March 2011 appear to have prompted the blitz and intensified Beijing’s renewable energy efforts: the nation’s energy consumption increased more than 13% over the same month last year, alarming a government that has made reduction of energy intensity and carbon emissions the centerpiece of its 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015).
Wind power, solar power, water power and nuclear power–the development of which is currently on hold in China–are the country’s most promising alternatives to the coal that now keeps it running (70%-80% of its electricity is coal generated) but at the same time has made China the world’s leading emitter of climate-changing greenhouse gases. Cleaner sources of energy are essential, so Beijing believes. And, because cleaner energy serves only if it can be transferred from where it’s produced to where it’s needed, the government is doing all that it can to promote and expand the country’s power grid.
No one, however, should conclude that China’s aggressive development of renewable energy and green technology is simply about meeting China’s domestic energy needs or cleaning China’s own air and water. Look at the 12th Five-Year Plan: Beijing leaders now see green energy—wind and solar power, in particular—as key to building a more sophisticated, high-tech, export economy. No more blue jeans, no more cheap throw-away cigarette lighters—no more “workshop of the world” low-tech economy. The Chinese seek global leadership in the 21st century in the nurturing and trade of clean energy technology.
Americans who aren’t moved to support investment in green energy and technology by the argument that fossil fuels cannot be sustained indefinitely—and may slowly be killing us—perhaps can, and should, be moved by a baser, less scientific one. To paraphrase President Clinton, “It’s about economic competitiveness, stupid!”
That was U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s message—put more subtly and gracefully–in his speech to the National Press Club in November 2010. I recommend you read it (here).
April 12, 2011 § 2 Comments
“Walk, don’t drive.” That was the message of the Green Pedestrian Crossing campaign, sponsored last year by the China Environmental Protection Foundation. Launched in car-crazed Shanghai, the campaign spread to 15 other Chinese cities and, according to the Foundation, reached “3.92 million people and increased general public awareness about environmental awareness by 86%.”
How the Foundation arrived at these figures is not entirely clear. But the figures–and their accuracy–aside, the campaign, as captured in the following 2-minute video, was highly original.
In the words of the China Environmental Protection Foundation, the award-winning campaign (Adfest 2011 “Best of Show”; Gold Design Lion at Cannes International Advertising Festival 2010) “demonstrated to the public that even an ordinary moment could be ‘green,’ and that taking one small step can make a significant contribution to protecting the environment.”
Whether it made a dent in China’s driving mania–or in the country’s carbon output–is doubtful, but the Green Pedestrian Crossing campaign was certainly eye-catching and deserving of all the awards it garnered.
February 2, 2011 § 4 Comments
This post appears in today’s Huffington Post:
In 2004, there were 38 golf courses in the Beijing area. Worried about land grabs by developers, the Chinese government that year issued a moratorium on the development of new courses. Just two weeks ago, however, the Southern Weekend (Nanfang zhoumo) reported that China’s Department of Homeland, after a city-wide inspection, found the number of Beijing courses to have nearly doubled since 2004, from 38 to 73 (a number that excludes 42 driving ranges).
With the average 18-hole course occupying 248 acres, roughly 18,100 acres of Beijing land (approximately 25% more acreage than the whole of Manhattan) are given over to the elite sport of golfing. The Southern Weekend remarks that many courses are located on flat, arable land—land especially suitable for corn production. And, of course, golf grasses require intensive turf management—meaning heavy watering and heavy application of pesticides and other chemicals, which leach into the soil and the city’s groundwater.
The government, it seems, can issue all the prohibitions and moratoriums in the world, but they mean little without enforcement. And though you’d think that enforcement of the 2004 moratorium would be a relatively simple matter, course developers don’t necessarily register the land that comes into their possession for “golf course” use. Instead they might register it as land for a recreational center, a high-end tourist site, a hotel, or a resort—and then incorporate a course into the project.
Still, the construction of a golf course can hardly be kept a secret. Spotting one going up shouldn’t be much of a challenge. This then raises a number of questions: 1) Did the 2004 moratorium lay out a clear set of punishments for its violation (I’ve found nothing)? 2) Were local land officials given the responsibility and the means for enforcement of the moratorium? 3) If so, did local land officials not follow through on their responsibilities? 4) Were local officials working hand-in-hand with the land developers? 5) And did local officials, when uncovering violations, ignore them because the courses represented an economic boon to their jurisdictions? These questions need to be sorted out.
But, there is little question that, environmentally, Beijing’s golf craze– considering the sizeable amount of land taken out of production in a country short of arable land, the water and the pesticides needed to maintain the 18,100 acres, and the harmful effects of intensive turf management on the city’s water supply—makes little sense.
And if the environmental irrationality of promoting the sport of golf in China needs to be underscored, just read yesterday’s People’s Daily (Jan. 31), which reports:
As of January 28, 77.4 million mu (5.16 million acres) of crops had been harmed by the ongoing drought, and 2.57 million people were faced with drinking water shortages in China….Local governments of the affected regions must make efforts to monitor drought conditions, speed up the building of water projects, increase drought-fighting material reserves and grant subsidies to the drought-stricken population.
An accompanying article, “China to Invest $608b in Water Projects,” writes:
Efforts will be intensified to promote water conservation as well as the sustainable use of the precious resource, and the task will be a multi-trillion yuan national priority, a central policy document said.
In a country like ours, where, in the minds of many, driving the right car and belonging to an exclusive golf club mark elite socio-economic status, we should be slow to criticize Chinese for aspiring to similar status symbols. (We can ask, however, why Chinese routinely look to Western symbols–like the game of golf–for affirmation of status.) In any event, let’s just hope that they are quicker to appreciate the injury their pursuit of these symbols will have on their environmental present and future.