A Green Leap Forward?

An environmental movement is beginning to emerge in China, but it may be too little too late

| May 10, 2007

As carbon dioxide clouds gather ominously over China's coal-reliant economy, the world's most populous nation has begun to breathe fresh air into sustainable energy industries. China currently occupies the seemingly contradictory position of being at the forefront of 'green' sustainable technology, while keeping up its standing as one of the world's worst polluters. As Mara Hvistendahl reports for Seed Magazine, the country is betting on green technology to pull them out of their eco-woes, and 'the stakes couldn't be higher.'

On a recent trip through China, Hvistendahl encountered a variety of sustainable energy projects scattered across the vast nation. In the remote and impoverished province of Gansu, solar powered appliances 'have become so popular... that families have started giving them as dowry.' And solar power is 'only part of the equation' in China's budding environmentalism, according to Hvistendahl. Other sustainable developments include 'investment and research in wind farms, bioenergy, and fuel cell and hybrid vehicles, and aiming to improve energy efficiency by a sizeable 4 percent annually.'

The projects may be impressive, but questions remain as to whether the moves will be sufficient. Hvistendahl points out that 70 percent of the country's power still comes from coal. And China remains home to 16 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world.

As a result, many in the world community are watching China's move toward environmentalism with a skeptical eye. Elizabeth Economy writes for the Nation that the widespread environmental degradation throughout the country is forcing the centralized government's hand to shift toward greener ways. Economy applauds the country's push for more renewable energy, but laments the slow pace of change. 'Pricing of natural resources, pollution levies and promotion incentives for officials should all be geared toward environmental protection,' Economy writes. 'Instead, growth at all costs is the guiding logic.'

Against the backdrop of the Chinese government's massive -- and sometimes suspect -- environmental reforms, Hvistendahl writes of a grassroots environmental movement that has begun to spread environmental awareness to the country's more than 1.2 billion people. If the movement succeeds(and that's a big if), 'the country could effectively leapfrog over the West in developing sustainable energy and growth.' If they fail, according to Hvistendahl 'the implications for the rest of the world could be grave.'

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