China's “Eco-Generation” is Alive, Well, and Concerned:
H.I.T. and Climate Affairs
Michael H. Glantz
2 July 2007
China's “Eco-Generation” is Alive, Well, and Concerned: H.I.T. and Climate Affairs
Recently, I wrote about the dilemma that the Chinese government is facing with regard to its rapid drive for economic development. That drive is being fueled by fossil fuels. Fossil fuels (coal especially, and oil and gas) emit carbon dioxide to the atmosphere which is now considered by scientists around the globe to be responsible for global warming of the Earth's atmosphere. Global warming will have foreseeable adverse impacts on food production, water resources and an increase in extreme events such as droughts and dust storms.
The Chinese government is well aware of the potential impacts that global warming might have on its territory by the end of this century, but the pressure for rapid development is today … and constantly increasing amongst its 1.3 billion citizens. The pressure to act on the global warming problem is much less, despite the foreseeable, though still uncertain, dire consequences. So, the government is aware but likely will not act quickly, and even if it wanted to act, it would take a long time to develop or secure and put into place alternative sources of energy. China has now (in June 2007) surpassed the United States as the major emitter of carbon dioxide.
Although the US national government has been opposed to taking any mandatory action against human-induced global warming, grassroots initiatives by American cities and states to reduce the U.S. greenhouse gas footprint on the global warming problem are rapidly increasing.
With the above as background, I was invited to give a paper at a conference on climate and development in Harbin, China. Participants came mainly from Northeast Asia (Russia, South Korea, and Northeast China) with a few from North America. With increasing demand for food, the pressures on this region's land and water resources have grown sharply.
Though the province of which Harbin is the capital city, Heilongjiang, is considered China 's breadbasket, there are several examples worldwide where the inappropriate use of land and water has turned a country's proverbial breadbasket into an equally proverbial basket case. The national, as well as provincial, governments have recognized this foreseeable outcome --- if people continue to operation in the future as they had done in the past; in other words, “business as usual”.
At the conference I spoke about climate, environment, and development issues and the need for different academic disciplines (physical, biological and social sciences and the humanities) and different government bureaucracies (weather, agriculture, water, health, economic development, environmental protection, etc.) to work together.
No single agency or ministry acting alone can solve societies' environmental problems. Cooperation and collaboration are the driving forces for sustainable economic development in the future. With increasing amounts of manmade chemicals entering the Earth's environment on a daily basis, sustainable solutions to the adverse impacts of the constant interactions among society-climate-environment require a multidisciplinary perspective.
During the Question & Answer session at the conference, a student from the Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT) asked questions about global warming and human impacts on climate. It was clear she had not been to such an international meeting because she eagerly asked several questions in a row. It was refreshing. She would ask a new question just as I finished answering her previous one. People in the room could feel her passion for environmental issues, especially global warming, that sparked her questions.
At the break, some students asked if I could give a talk at their university. I agreed, but it was Saturday afternoon. Being from the USA, I assumed it would be impossible to make such an arrangement. I was wrong. They got permission from the university for me to give a lecture at the university on 8:30 am Sunday morning!!
At 8:00 am, students came to my hotel by taxi to take me and two colleagues to the university. When we entered the classroom, we were amazed to see about 200 undergraduate students waiting for my 45-minute lecture on “Climate Affairs”. Questions followed, delivered with passion, interest, and a real desire to learn.
These students made me believe that there is hope for China 's environmental future. These undergraduate students 17 to 22 years old are members of the first generation to have lived totally within an era of environmental concern. Growing up since the late 1980s, students have been awash in environmental issues and concerns. They, like their peers around the globe, are truly “The eco-generation”.
Soon these students will graduate to the workplace in a wide range of companies. They will be asked by their managers in a couple of years to be involved in company decisions. Many of those decisions will relate to the environment. What I am suggesting is that there has been the onset of a “sea change”; a major subtle change is the way the eco-generation will approach environmental issues.
Previous generations alive today and witness to, as well as the cause of, environmental problems worldwide are in a position of having to forego some things to which they had become accustomed. The eco-generation, however, is in a different position. It has the option to forego (deny themselves) products and activities that are known to degrade their air and watersheds. It seems to me that foregoing is an easier choice to make than to give up something you've gotten used to using or doing. The appearance of the eco-generation is a worldwide phenomenon and has been called to action by concern about our changing global climate. I believe the environment has a friend in the eco-genrations of today and thereafter.
--Michael H. Glantz
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