Advanced Search

Please click here to take a brief survey

Dongtan and Greening China
Alex Steffen, 1 May 06

CHNA_UBR_05_04.jpg The single biggest uncertainty on the path to a bright green future can be summed up in one word: China.

By most measurements, China's impact on the planet is now second only to that of the U.S., and China's coming on strong: China is expected to have more cars that America in fifteen years, has built the second largest freeway system in the world and is expected to overtake America as the leading climate culprit. Indeed, China's impact on the future has been dubbed by some the Great Wall of Unknowns.

China has accomplished a miracle of economic development, raising hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and forging itself into an industrial powerhouse in just a few decades. But that development has extracted a terrible environmental cost, with China rapidly becoming the most polluted nation on the planet. Indeed, pollution, environmental degredation and resource depletion are so severe in China that a leading government official there warned that unless China can find a more sustainable path, "the miracle will end soon."

China has bold plans for confronting this crisis: green buildings, green cars, wind power, nanotechnology, mobile technologies, solar, even a green (or green-ish Olympics and new models of measuring economic growth to account for environmental costs. Whether these responses will actually take hold in an authoritarian and corrupt political culture is a different matter, of course, but a Green China may yet astound us all.

Since so much depends on building better cities, one of the more promising signs (though problems are still rife) is the rise of new green urban developments in Shanghai, Beijing, and Huangbaiyu. Our favorite is the Dongtan project on an island near Shanghai, billed as the world's first Eco-City, which will eventually house half a million people in green buildings powered by renewable energy. Dongtan is absolutely the best current model for bright green Chinese city planning.

We've written about Dongtan a lot, but the latest edition of the BBC program Costing the Earth has a great show which nicely tells the story. As architect Alejandro Gutierrez says,

"All over China now, peasant farmers are becoming urban citizens, working in factories, doing urban service jobs and so on. So China has initiated this extraordinary process of urbanization. They're expecting to build about 400 cities the size of Bristol in the next 20 years. Urbanization is becoming the dominant factor in what is happening in China and how China, ultimately, will affect the rest of the world"

I can't recommend Miriam O'Reilly's work on this show highly enough. On projects like Dongtan hinge the fate of our planet.

(photo by Worldchanging board member Ed Burtynsky, titled City Overview From Top of Military Hospital, Shanghai, 2004)

Bookmark and Share


Though it is true that China's government has recently "gotten religion" on the environment, I fear that it may end up being too little too late. China needs to create approximately 25 million jobs a year just to keep up and the number of cars just keeps increasing as well. The demographics do not bode well.

china law

Posted by: China Law Blog on 1 May 06

China Law said:
"China needs to create approximately 25 million jobs a year just to keep up and the number of cars just keeps increasing as well. The demographics do not bode well.

Actually, the demographics of China do bode well. Not sure where you get the 25 million jobs a year number. With a workforce participation of 65% that would mean that 40 million people are of the age to join the workforce every year. A more likely job creation number is about 15 million a year and this number is dropping. In fact, China has already started to experience labor shortages.

China is a rapidly aging society and will start losing population around 2030. From the CIA World Factbook -
China :0-14 years: (male 145,461,833/female 128,445,739)
Median age of females 33.2

Alex, Don't ignore India. If China is the biggest uncertainty then India is a very close second.
They are are more 60 million more Indians under the age of 14 versus Chinese.
India: 0-14 years: (male 173,478,760/female 163,852,827)

Unlike China, India's population is growing rapidly and will surpass China's in the next 50 years.

Although, India's annual car sales are less than China's now, I am guessing that they will pass China's within 20 years.

see - "In India's new money culture, a lust for cars"

Posted by: Joe Deely on 1 May 06

Imagine what happens when the Chinese start manufacturing 5MW windmills. (Think: cheap!)

Posted by: Alex on 2 May 06

China Law said:
"China needs to create approximately 25 million jobs a year just to keep up and the number of cars just keeps increasing as well. The demographics do not bode well."

Actually the demographics for China do bode well. China is an aging society and will start losing population sometime around 2030. As for creating 25 million jobs a year... not sure where you get that number from. Using a 2/3 workforce participation rate about 15 million people enter the workforce yearly.

Stats on China population:
0-14 years: 20.8% (male 145,461,833/female 128,445,739)
Median age of females 33.2
From -

Also, a recent new story talking about shortages of labor in China!

Posted by: Joe on 2 May 06

"The single biggest uncertainty on the path to a bright green future can be summed up in one word: China."

If China is the single biggest uncertainty, then India is a very close second. Unlike China's population which is stabilizing, India's population is still growing rapidly and will pass China's by 2050.

India has about 60 million more people under the age of 14 versus China.From
0-14 years: 30.8% (male 173,478,760/female 163,852,827)

Also while current;y behind in automobile production India is also growing rapidly in that area. - see,,1765316,00.html

Posted by: Joe on 2 May 06

both india and china are worrying and Asia already surpasses the Americas in carbon output. The additional problem here is that it's Shanghai building a green city and not China. Shanghai is a much more affluent and well managed city that's made some decent decissions about city planning from alternative lanes for bikes and scooters to a world class transit system (man is their subway nice...) to educational development along with Beijing. The major cities might be environmental, but wide scale attempts to control the pollution from factories seems to be lax in juxtaposition (although Walmart has vowed to make Chinese work and environmental conditions better). Additionally, while eco-villages might be sprouting up this again isn't like the usual Western way of making cities, Chinese cities meet development goals and this addition to Shanghai might lie vacant and used while the clutter and pollution of the main city continue to escalate. Keep in mind many of Shanghai's signature buildings don't have any or few tenants willing to rent in them (then again most of the skyplexes of Asia have similar problems including Taipei 101 and the 69 in Seoul), hence the eco-village might just be greenwashing on a billion dollar scale or wishful thinking, after all it's coming from central planning in which the populos has little say and the area from pudong to shanghai along the mag-lev is hardly populated at the moment at all.
But ya know it might be the best development in urban planning in years. Who knows?

Posted by: andrew jones on 2 May 06

Given the scale of China and India, even a pittance of governmental and private money spent locally on sustainable technologies and renewable energy still translates into a major driving force in the global economy for these technologies.

Inventors and visionaries looking to prove that something works to skeptics in their home countries should look for opportunities in China and India.

I think this could set a cascade in motion.

Posted by: Pace Arko on 3 May 06

Hi thanks for looking much forword to help the nature , we are still not late and we are still a group of people who can actually change the world , go forward , you can send me any thing i can do it for you , i can come and help you with your projects when ever the people get stressed ,

with lots of love and prayers for the movements

Posted by: Mukth Musthafa(muktha) on 7 May 06



MESSAGE (optional):

Search Worldchanging

Worldchanging Newsletter Get good news for a change —
Click here to sign up!


Website Design by Eben Design | Logo Design by Egg Hosting | Hosted by Amazon AWS | Problems with the site? Send email to tech /at/
Architecture for Humanity - all rights reserved except where otherwise indicated.

Find_us_on_facebook_badge.gif twitter-logo.jpg