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by: Bernard Teo

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Copyright © 2003-2012
Bernard Teo
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Mon 30 Jun 2008

The China Price

Category : Commentary/ChinaPrice.txt

This is the smog in Nanjing. You can't make out the details of buildings that are less than 400 metres away on foot. Actually, it's the same in Shanghai and Suzhou, but maybe not as bad. The air is especially bad in Nanjing because it's surrounded by mountains. The smog gets trapped in between.

On the bullet train from Suzhou to Nanjing, if you sit on the left side of the cabin, you see the source of all these pollution - smoke billowing out from umpteen furnaces.

You see farmland if you sit on the right but I didn't know that till the return trip.

It's easy to imagine lungs blackened by continued exposure to the smog. Especially wretched are the fumes coming off the buses when you're stuck with them in traffic. You gulp for air - but what you get is nausea.

So, for the time I was in Nanjing I was thinking, the famous so-called China Price does come at a great price - to the Chinese people. Eventually there will be a payback - tuberculosis, exploding heath-care costs - and China will no longer be able to offer the China Price.

And that time may come sooner rather than later.

I had picked up Kishore Mahbubani's book, "The New Asian Hemisphere", immediately when I got back home (my hunger for information having grown stronger rather than was satiated from that trip) and this jumped out at me on page 190, in the section on global warming -

Even though China ia a major new cause of greenhouse gas emissions, Chinese officials are genuinely worried. The chief economist of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Biro, gave a talk in New York in late 2006. He was asked which country, in his view, had the most environmentally conscious government. Most people expected him to mention one or two Scandinavian countries, or perhaps even the UK. Instead, he named China, to the surprise of everyone in the room. [italics added]

Daniel Esty, Hillhouse Professor of Environment Law and Policy at Yale University, says that although the Chinese government has avoided any commitment to limiting CO2 emissions, it has set a target of cutting energy use per unit of GDP by 20 percent by 2010 - an ambitious goal for a country that gets 70 percent of its power by burning coal. "China has adopted fuel-economy standards that will push average car mileage to nearly 40 miles a gallon over the next five years, and much higher than in the US. And it has promised to reduce water pollution by 10 percent by 2020 and increase industrial solid-waste recycling by 60 percent." He says that these "aren't just empty promises. The State Environmental Protection Agency, which recently acknowledged that air- and water-quality levels are worsening, blocked 163 projects worth US$99 billion in 2006." Furthermore, "startup companies are being launched every day to develop pollution-control technologies, improve energy efficiency, and create alternate sources of power. The US$220 million in clean-tech venture capital China received in 2006 puts it ahead of Europe as a venue for new environmental companies." The good news is that in this field, China does not need to reinvent the wheel. It can learn a lesson or two from Japan, which weathered the oil crises of the 1970s and from that difficult experience learned to become one of the world's leading leading countries in energy efficency...

I hadn't known all these. So that was interesting. Because, while Shanghai was predictably Shanghai, and Suzhou was depressing, and Nanjing somewhat surly, Hangzhou had a nice, clean, cool, happy feel - like Fisherman's Wharf during WWDC week. And I was told China had more great places just like that. So there's all this potential - if they could just fix this pollution problem. They'll have a place where no Chinese would ever want to leave. What more incentive is there, then, to lick the problem?

Posted at 7:31AM UTC | permalink

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