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China, India, and the 'State of the World'
Joel Makower, 11 Jan 06

Worldwatch's venerable State of the World annual is just out, and the 2006 edition zeroes in on China and India -- and the threats and opportunities they present to sustainability.

The litany of bad news has been well told. As Worldwatch puts it "If China and India were to consume resources and produce pollution at the current U.S. per-capital level, it would require two planet Earths just to sustain their two economies."

Among the realities: China has only 8% of the world's fresh water to meet the needs of 22% of the world's people. . . . China and India have both just started to build what are slated to be two of the largest automobile industries in the world . . . If Chinese per-capital grain consumption were to double to roughly European levels, China would require the equivalent of nearly 40% of today's global grain harvest.

And so it goes.

What could the good news possibly be? Turns out there's plenty. For starters, both China and India committed during 2005 to accelerate the development of renewable energy sources. India plans to increase renewables' share of power from 5% to as much as 25%, while China's new energy law will help jumpstart wind power, biofuels, and other renewable fuels.

China's automobile industry has adopted Europe's environmental standards, which are tougher than those in the U.S., part of that country's efforts to promote energy efficiency. China has achieved status as the world leader in producing and installing compact fluorescent light bulbs. India already has the fourth-largest wind power industry, while China and India are the third and fourth largest ethanol producers, respectively.

And then there are leapfrogging technologies and systems that could head off some of the more dire predictions about the development world's environmental footprint. One example is in transportation: A growing number of people in China now argue that an automobile-based transportation system simply is not capable of providing mass mobility to over a billion people without destroying resources that are required to meet other human needs.

In response, the Ministry of Construction has recently declared that public transport is a national priority and is promoting Bus Rapid Transit, an ingenious system that combines the speed of a subway with the affordability of a bus. First developed in Curitiba, Brazil in the 1990s, the idea is simple: dedicate selected lanes or roadways to bus traffic, have passengers prepay their fares for quick boarding (as on a subway), and give bus drivers control of stoplights so that the bus has a green light along its route. The result is the virtual equivalent of a subway system at a fraction of the capital cost.

Where this has been tried in China, such as in the southwestern province of Yunnan, car traffic has fallen by 20% and bus ridership during rush hour has jumped fivefold.

But let's be clear: State of the World 2006 does not make for joyous reading. The world's primary watersheds are being converted at an alarming rate to agricultural or urban-industrial uses. Mercury poisoning in developing countries is on the rise. Hundreds of nanotechnology products are entering the marketplace, with thousands more in the pipeline, while their effects on human health and the environment remain unknown and unpredictable. Factory farming is now the fastest-growing means of animal production in the world, with meat consumption rising fastest in the developing world. China now leads the world in production and consumption of meat.

It's a sobering perspective, but Worldwatch's talented team of writers makes it compelling reading nonetheless.

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Thanks so much for covering this, Joel.

It's interesting, and great, to hear that a city has finally copied the Bus Rapid Transit system. I've heard Jaime Lerner say in interviews that, in spite of being asked by communities to speak and consult about his transportation initiatives in Curitiba all the time (..and for years..), there's been remarkably little uptake elsewhere.

Posted by: Dawn Danby on 12 Jan 06

Hi! I'm from Yunnan, China. From my experience, bus drivers don't have the ability to control traffic lights, at least not yet. But the "Bus Rapid Transit" system seems working well so far(I'm not sure if it stands economically).

I believe, as a lot of others here do, that improving public transportation is the key.

Posted by: Liheng Qiao on 12 Jan 06

Brisbane built a Curitiba-like busway. A bit more expensive, has some tunnels and such.

It runs next to the South East Freeway, in the morning you can wave hi to the cars stuck in city-bound traffic.

Lots of European cities, like Nice and Vienna, have trams and bus-trams too.

Posted by: Adam Burke on 12 Jan 06

The problem with mass transit is getting the massive moneies without dipping into roadworks budgets.

I have seen quite a few cities mess that up and then snowball out of control as they cant catch back up and bussinesses shy away due to road issues and highly mobile WEAlTHY people and thus tax moola leaves.

Very few cities can fidangle the money needed to do a good mass trans system without making a mess elswhere.

Posted by: wintermane on 13 Jan 06

I'm glad to know about this. Amazing post!

Posted by: kevin on 13 Jan 06

For anyone who is worried about Worldwatch's projections... go back and read earlier WorldWatch State of the World's from the 80's.

Worldwatch and Lester Brown in particular, have almost always been wrong in their pessimistic projections.

Posted by: Joe Deely on 13 Jan 06

This is very interesting information.

On some blogs there is a function for the reader to obtain a printable copy of the original post. I read this at the library and some of these have such wonderful information that I would like to take it home with me. Other's may wish to do so also???

Posted by: pam on 13 Jan 06

Truly this "If China and India were to consume resources and produce pollution at the current U.S. per-capital level..." talk makes absolutely no sense. In my blog I explain why, it's too much to write here.

Down with alarmist statements. People doesn't need to be even more scared than they already are.

Posted by: Alan on 13 Jan 06

available at

Posted by: adri on 14 Jan 06


Posted by: nastinka on 24 Jan 06



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