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Sustainability in Suzhou?
Alex Steffen, 5 May 04

Here's a good article on the challenges the Chinese city of Suzhou faces in trying to introduce an element of sustainability into its future. China, in general, has a long way to go, but efforts like these are steps in the right direction:

"One of the best places to view sustainability, the Chinese way, is in Suzhou, a rapidly expanding city of 2.2 million people located just 40 miles from Shanghai. In the first place, the city provides a textbook case of China’s rapid and lucrative expansion. Last year, the city’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was $22 billion; this year it’s $27 billion. In 2003 alone, Suzhou has attracted an estimated $5.3 billion in foreign investment.

"In the 21st century, Suzhou is one huge construction zone. As residents grumble about the disruptions to their daily lives, government officials are investing billions of dollars in massive public works projects: building ring highways, widening roads and alleyways, laying more than 50 miles of sewage and rainwater pipes, landscaping the city’s myriad canals, renovating and building housing complexes and breaking ground on the first of four planned light rail and subway lines.

"To the west and east of the city, where two industrial parks are growing by nine miles a year, centuries-old villages are being bulldozed to make room for 20-story apartment buildings, foreign-owned mega-corporations, landscaped parks and western-style subdivisions. “Development,” reads a Suzhou billboard, “is an Immutable Truth.”...

"But as one of 10 nationally designated “model environmental cities,” Suzhou also points to a second wave of Chinese urbanization—one that isn’t inextricably linked to social and ecological devastation. Indeed, sustainability has become something of a mantra in Suzhou. Many of its green initiatives—such as relocating polluting industries outside of the city (away from waterways), and a pilot project requiring local taxis to run on natural gas—move beyond comparable strategies in the United States.

“One of our goals is to build an eco-city,” says Suzhou Mayor Yang Weize, pulling out his business card, printed on recycled paper. “With rapid growth in industrialization and population comes great responsibility to pursue environmentally friendly development. We should not use the land that belongs to the next generations.”

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Yesterday I attended a fascinating talk by Sir Crispin Tickell (an environmental advisor to the UK government, a former diplomat, and generally a very impressive Establishment greenie). He'd just returned from some kind of environmental conference in China, and seemed extremely positive about the Chinese government's approach to environmental problems. For example he says that in 1998 he expressed his condolences to a government official for the Yangtze flood . The official's response was encouraging: not only did he say that the flood damage was largely a result of environmental damage, but also that he was taking action to prevent that damage (by preventing logging in the affected region). Better still, the official was aware that this might only move the problem elsewhere, since the wood had to come from somewhere.

Granted, this was presumably a politician trying to impress a known environmentalist with how green the Chinese government was, but it's still a good sign. Similarly, the government is apparently trying to rejig its measures of GDP and so on to take account 'clean green growth'. I can't find any mentions of this term on the internet, but I suspect it refers to this project discussed in the 'People's Daily':

"SEPA [China's environmental watchdog, the State Environmental Protection Agency] is working with the National Statistics Bureau and the Organization Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), the Party's human resource organ, to draft a comprehensive assessment plan with a variety of criteria including environmental indicators."

Posted by: Dan O'Huiginn on 6 May 04

China's growing need for power as they modernize to co-habit with the Western economy is going to produce nightmares.

Firstly, they are putting huge dams up that are not only droughting important wetlands downstream but are flooding important valleys up stream, where hundreds of thousands of people are having to relocate -- to city centers which are causing the power request in the first place -- and endangering many types of very rare animals and plants that require the special habitat of the mountain valleys in China. The dam projects have been universally denounced by just about every international expert and environmental team.

Secondly, China is making staggering investments in nuclear power plant construction. To this end, Western corporations are being invited in to massively develop China's nuclear infrastructure over the next two decades and the Bush administration recently revoked a long-standing order against US companies sharing or selling nuclear information to China so that they didn't lose out on the international cash grab of this pricey development scheme.

This is a major step backward in the movement to lessen the power of the nuclear magnets upon global society. The fight is to move away from extremely dirty hi-tech power plants such as these and back towards more local and clean power sources. The extreme modernization of East and Southeast Asia is a major ecological problem that will have both regional and global fallout as a result.

Posted by: Richard Kahn on 11 May 04



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