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The Wilson Center’s China Environment Forum has released two new research briefs, adding them to their growing archive of reports on issues ranging from health challenges in Xinjiang to waste disposal in rural areas. Particularly notable is the collection of reports resulting from a collaboration with Western Kentucky University; the two newest reports are both part of this series.

The first report is “Electric Cars: The Drive for a Sustainable Solution in China,” by Peter Marsters:

The CEO of Chinese automaker BYD has recently taken to drinking vials of his company’s battery fluid. The fluid, designed for use in electric cars, is theoretically non-toxic and environmentally friendly. While the CEO’s choice of beverage may seem trivial or even suicidal, it is symbolic of new Chinese entrepreneurs who aim to build businesses on being green. Some of the most promising of which are the growing government and private sector investors who are dedicated to producing the next generation of clean vehicles….

In an interview with China Environment Forum (CEF) staff, general manager of BYD America Fred Ni discussed the potential for growth in the EV market and BYD’s goal to be at the forefront. He stated that BYD has developed a battery that is of high quality, 100 percent recyclable, and perhaps most importantly, cheaper than its competitors. He hopes that these batteries can be used to overcome cost hurdles in EV development. Currently, BYD is working with local Shenzhen officials to produce electric fleet demonstration models, such as shuttle buses, which it hopes will serve as a model to other cities in the country. BYD, in addition to its own domestic production, wants to work with the big three U.S. automobile companies to produce electric cars with BYD’s battery. This is just one of many expanding Chinese companies hoping to reap the benefits of a potential multi-billion dollar EV economy….

The second new report is “Wising Up: Smart Grid as New Opening for U.S. China Energy Cooperation” by Kexin Liu:

With an average GDP rate of 10 percent for the past thirty years, China’s economic boom has brought millions out of poverty and fueled a rate of urbanization that is faster than any country in human history. Between 1980 and 2008, China’s urbanization rate rose from 20 to 44.9 percent, with the current urban population reaching slightly over 600 million. Strikingly, in an effort to address growing poverty in rural areas the Chinese government aims to promote urbanization of nearly 15 million each year until at least 2030, at which time 60 percent of China’s population will be urbanites. Maintaining a stable, safe, efficient, and clean national power grid for China’s rapid economic and urbanization growth is truly a Herculean task for the Chinese government and power utility companies.

China’s grid has not been able to keep up with the country’s growth and it faces particular challenges in times of extreme weather, such as during the Chinese New Year holidays in early 2008, when more than a dozen provinces in southeast and central China were hit by the most severe snowstorm in the last 50 years. The power grid throughout the region was severely disrupted, both by downed lines and delayed coal deliveries. According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, more than 30 million people were affected by the snow-triggered power shortage. This outage highlighted the low self-recovery and regional coordination capacity of China’s outdated power grid. However, large-scale power outages are not simply products of extreme weather or natural disasters in China. In recent years brownouts and blackouts are regular occurrences in China’s developed east coast cities, especially during peak hours in the summer. The reason for this situation is threefold; low generation capacity, shortages of coal, and the incapability of the transmission grid to deliver electricity to meet demand. In the first half of 2004 alone, 24 out of China’s 31 provinces and municipalities suffered from blackouts due to insufficient power supply. The economic cost of these blackouts equaled nearly 1 percent of China’s annual GDP growth that year. The overall situation has not improved significantly since then….

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By Ken Pomeranz

“Self-promotion Saturday?” My mother would be appalled, but times (and media cultures) change, and I do have a few things that might be of interest to China Beat readers. In addition to co-editing China in 2008 (which regular visitors to this site might possibly have heard of), I have another co-edited volume that came out this spring, and another book I edited has just come this summer.

The spring volume is The Environment and World History, 1500-2000 (UC Press), co-edited with Edmund Burke III; it includes both regional essays (I did the one on China), and topical ones (on energy and land use), plus an overview by yours truly (in which China figures prominently), that tries to make sense of the big picture.

The brand-new volume is The Pacific in the Age of Early Industrialization ca. 1800-1914 (Ashgate Publishing). This is the final volume in Ashgate’s 11 volume “Pacific World” series, and we take that term seriously – my volume looks at developments in Chile and California as well as China, Japan, Korea, and various parts of Southeast Asia. Several of the essays are classics – by Takeshi Hamashita, Kaoru Suighara and others – that were originally published in places where English-language readers may have a hard time finding them. I have added a long essay of my own on how development in different parts of the Pacific littoral have affected each other, on what is and isn’t distinctive about the way industrialization has occurred in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and coastal China, and about what some of this may mean for the contemporary world.

Last but not least, I have an essay coming out in two different places this week (actually already out in one of these venues) on China’s water problems, plans for additional mega-projects, and what the most ambitious of those plans – which focus on the waters of the Tibetan plateau – may mean for various groups of Chinese and for the even larger numbers of people who rely on Himalayan waters that start on China’s side of the border but wind up in South and Southeast Asia. (Those governments, of course, have their own plans, which are also covered.) This actually started out as a few paragraphs in the conclusion for China in 2008 and grew, and grew and

Anyway, there’s a more concise print version in the July/August issue of New Left Review, and a more detailed (and heavily footnoted) one online in Japan Focus: Asia-Pacific Journal. Not the most fun way to spend one’s summer – I became pretty depressed as I researched some of this – but it is an attempt to think through water problems and policies directly affecting roughly half the world’s population, whose future drinking water, irrigation water, hydropower, and so on may intersect amidst the retreating glaciers of Tibet.

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