The Green Path to Recovery – By Jie Zou

Wind turbines oscillate silently in the dry summer heat along the outskirts of the Gobi desert. The Spanish produced turbines dot the barren landscape for miles–transforming dusty and otherwise un-arable land into acres of clean, renewable energy.

In rural northwest China, wind farms are becoming more common as both Chinese and foreign investors pump capital into a booming alternative energy market. The demand for emission-free energy comes from the central government itself–offering financial backing in the form of tax breaks and subsidies to firms interested in building a “greener” environment.
Policy makers are calling the initiative a “green recovery path,” with many of the incentives aimed at creating jobs and promoting international commerce.

“Renewable energy, including solar and wind power, is expected to account for 10 percent of the country’s energy resources by 2010 and 15 percent by 2020,” the China Daily reported in July”Green Energy Attracts Investors” by Yu Tianyu. China Daily- July 10, 2009.

Meanwhile, plans for two more major wind farms in the northwestern Xinjiang and Gansu provinces will be breaking ground early next year. Investors are also set to begin funding research on the difficult process of harnessing offshore wind energy.”China to Begin Work on Gansu wind farm” by Ben Backwell, July 6, 2009.But the green path to recovery entails much more than solitary advancements in alternative energy.

In late July, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon met with Chinese President Hu Jintao to launch the “Green Lights Project”– a joint conservation program between the U.N. and the Chinese government that will phase out incandescent lamps in favor of more energy-efficient bulbs. The $14 million project is expected to cut China’s energy consumption by 8 percent.

Ban lauded the Chinese government for its “great strides” in renewable energy and energy efficiency. “The key is prioritizing clean energy, which China has already begun to do, creating new jobs, spurring innovation, and ushering in a new era of global prosperity. In doing so, China can serve as the vanguard of tomorrow’s economy, today.”

“By investing in green economy and green growth, your country has an opportunity to leapfrog over decades of traditional development based on high-polluting fuel,” Ban continued, comparing China’s ongoing industrialization to the western Industrial Revolution in the 1800′s.

Similar local programs have already begun to take shape, including “Green Lights for All,” one of several projects spearheaded by the Joint U.S.-China Cooperation on Clean Energy. The non-government organization plans to distribute 10 million compact fluorescent lights to students across the country with the help of .

Daniel Enking, 21, is a summer intern for JUCCCE who is working on another project called the “Energy Blueprint,” which will create “an online hub for clean energy programs using Web 2.0 software.” By utilizing interactive features, Enking hopes that the project will contribute to JUCCCE’s overall goal to “increase collaboration on clean energy projects between the U.S. and China.”

Enking, who is a Tufts University student from Freeport, Maine, represents an emerging generation of young environmentalists who are addressing climate change on a global, ecological and social scale.

“The central government has taken pretty bold initiatives to promote clean energy and reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but one of their biggest problems is getting it to trickle down into the more local governments,” he said.

In the past, non-government organizations were considered solely as extensions of the central government. That perception is beginning to change as more grassroots organizations like JUCCCE confront pressing environmental and social issues.Despite numerous strides in alternative energy and energy conservation, China remains a nation largely powered by coal.Coal accounts for approximately 70 percent of China’s total energy use, making it the international leader in coal production as well as home to some of the world’s most polluted cities.Previous China Daily article.

The pollution created by coal-fired plants has resulted in severe respiratory problems and even death; a financial burden that increases health care costs and decreases productivity in the world’s most populous nation.

An October 2008 report co-published by Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund and The Energy Foundation, claims that air and water pollution produced by coal-burning, as well as coal-mining deaths and injuries, are costing China 1.7 trillion yuan per year. “China’s Coal Crisis” and “The True Cost of Coal”,

The demand for coal has become so great that it dangerous; not only for those who live in industrial hubs, but also for those whose job it is to mine for it. In 2007, China reported 3,770 deaths directly caused by the coal mining industry.The Chinese State Administration of Work Safety Statistics.

But the relationship that the Chinese share with coal is a complicated one that cannot be expressed simply through numbers.
The story of Li Xiguang, dean of the School of Journalism at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, illustrates the extent to which coal plays in determining the livelihood of millions of Chinese families.

Raised in a family of coal miners, Li was once a coal miner himself, working in the coal-rich northeast area of China. Like many other Chinese who come from a background of coal, professor Li is decidedly “pro-coal.” He points out that his first name, Xiguang, means “the hope of light,” a name concocted by his mother who also worked in the deep coal pits as China’s “first and only woman coal miner engineer.”

While alternative energy has an optimistic future in China, China’s present is still based on coal. The push towards clean coal technology has been an integral fixture of the current 2006-2010 Five Year Plan and China has begun to mandate that coal firms replace outdated power stations with new, low-emission compliant plants. By utilizing “ultra-supercritical” technology, new Chinese coal-powered plants are operating at a higher efficiency than those in the United States.”China Far Outpaces the U.S. in Building Cleaner Coal-Fired Plants” by Keith Bradsher, May 10, 2009.

In an effort to appear more transparent to its nearly 1.1 billion citizens, the central government has also begun to address environmental concerns voiced by both the domestic and international public.

Following last year’s Beijing Olympics, the Ministry of Environmental Protection has begun to post daily air pollution index (API) ratings of twenty major cities across mainland China on its website. The same department hosts a hotline where citizens can call in to voice any environmental concerns.Ministry of Environmental Protection

API measures concentrations of sulfur dioxide (SO2) nitrogen dioxide (NO2), suspended particulate matter (PM10- above size 10), carbon monoxide (CO), and ground-level ozone (O3).

As China emerges as a world power, it is seemingly becoming more image-conscious as both a nation and as part of a global community. In a time of rapid growth and change, the green path to recovery refers to both a country’s mending of an economy and its image.