Well, we missed the typhoon, the one that never materialized past the torrential downpours we had on Tuesday, and here I sit, back in my comfy little, boring, stateside house at 5 am, unable to sleep. Time to get on with reality. But before we get back to our regularly scheduled blogging, I just wanted to post my favorite picture from my China trip. Jeff pointed out that what really made this picture was not the unique beauty of the old woman’s face but the fact that she was wearing the traditional Communist uniform. We were just walking in the old part of town and she happened to open her door and come out to sit. She seemed equally happy to have her picture taken.
A few more realizations came on the long flight back from Shanghai. First, and this is going to sound incredible, in a city of almost 20 million people, I saw not one gas station. Not one. I have no idea where those millions of drivers and their millions of cars get their gas. Second, Sheryl and her son Noah pointed out that there were quite a few newly adopted babies coming to the US on our plane. I hadn’t really sorted all the crying that was going on until they pointed that out. And that made me think back to another thing I had noticed on our walks…we saw very few babies in general. No doubt the government’s one child edict had something to do with that. And finally, while there was a great deal of poverty by our standards, there seemed to be very, very little homelessness. And those that did live three generations to a small apartment still had a nobility and cheer that was striking.
And just one more quick thing that I found of interest for now (although I’m sure I’ll be blog processing this trip for weeks to come), Tom Friedman’s column yesterday spelled out a lot of the same themes I wrote about the other day. In some cases almost eerily so. In talking about the Chinese city of Dalian which is almost as big as New York but has no name recognition at all, he writes
I am not blaming them. It is a blessing that their people are
growing out of poverty. And, after all, theyâ€™re just following the
high-energy growth model pioneered by America. Weâ€™re still the worldâ€™s
biggest energy hogs, but weâ€™re now producing carbon copies in places
youâ€™ve never heard of. Yes, â€œAmericansâ€ are popping up all over
now â€” people who once lived low-energy lifestyles but by dint of oil
wealth or hard work are now moving into U.S.-style apartments, cars and
Without a transformational technological breakthrough in the energy
space, all of the incremental gains weâ€™re making will be devoured by
the exponential growth of all the new and old â€œAmericans.â€
Shanghai surely is symbolic of a new “America,” and I’m afraid, in the long run, we all may be worse for it.
Yes–I’d say we most probably will all be worse off for the development of new “shanghais”
This, of course is an issue brought to the table every time there’s a major international environmental accord (you know, those essentially non-binding commitments that the US won’t commit to, like Kyoto). The post-industrial western nations try to pressure the industrializing nations (like China) to adopt cleaner technologies as the energy demands of their populations explode. In turn, nations like China argue that they must rapidly industrialize to improve standards of living ASAP, and will worry about environmental and associated issues once they’ve developed a satisfactorily stable economic base. They rightly point out that the US and all the other western nations followed this very model, and that they are therefore entitled to do the same.
Of course, while there were signs of environmental degradation as least early as the 1800s (think of the great conservationists: Muir, Roosevelt, etc.), we did not have near the extent of scientific evidence that we have now. This is the defense of the post-industrial nations.
It’s an interesting dilemma: Do we have the right to ask developing nations to ‘develop’ judiciously, less rapidly, and dare I suggest, sustainably (of course we could hardly make such a request, as most post-industrial nations are so very far from achieving this themselves)? If so, is it the responsibility of the post-industrial nations to provide aid for this specific purpose? And why do we always see economic growth and environmental & social well-being as fundamentally at odds?
It seems to me that it’s incumbent upon us, the western nations who were once leaders in industrialization, to now become world leaders in the movement toward environmental sustainability, social justice, and improved quality of life for all. But I’m not going to hold my breath.
Thanks for posting that picture. what makes it for me is the expression of absolute joy on her face.
Clay Burell says
That “noble cheer” you mention is one of my favorite things about the Chinese, and I swear it has its roots in two things: the strange way hardship has of making us more able to laugh (think of Soviet humor in the face of breadlines and worse), and ancient Chinese Taoism (any creation myth that claims humans were originally the maggots that infested and bred in the corpse of a dead god ((PanGu)) could teach the West and Middle East a thing or two about a Divine Sense of Humor, since laughter in Western religion is taboo).
Enjoying your posts about Shanghai. Sarah’s comment is right on: I seem to remember reading that China used the US’s rejection of Kyoto as an “If they’re not going to cut back, we can’t” excuse for rejecting it too. And China did, notably, at the APEC conference in Australia last month (which our buffoon of a president called OPEC in his opening address), declare that the empty declarations and global warming pledges (non-binding) they made should be more properly negotiated in the U.N., where they would have (a little) more teeth.
You planning any return trips any time soon?
Your descriptions from Shanghai echo my own thoughts (although much more eloquently!) as I was wandering around that incredible place last weekend. While my daily dose of RSS keeps me fairly informed of goings-on around the world, including the mind-boggling pace of development in China, seeing it with my own eyes is something else entirely. Gazing open-mouthed at that Pudong skyline, I found it hard to truly grasp how it could all have materialized over only the last decade and a half or so. What’s going to give?
Thanks also for your thoughtful, insightful offerings at the conference.