China’s Green Leap Forward?

The North Korean developments seem to have swallowed a great deal of my attention recently, but I remain committed to blasting out short essays on a handful of China-related topics which began earlier this summer.  And thus:

The German sinologist Gerd Boesken roams the cities of Hamburg and Dusseldorf, dispensing much knowledge about China.  I was fortunate to attend his lecture in Hamburg this past July 15, entitled “China’s Green Leap Forward?”  The talk was arranged by the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce, took place in a gorgeous annex of the rococo City Hall, and was attended by all kinds of interested German businessmen.

(Having arrived in Hamburg in a wonderful BMW with a German banker who I had hooked up with via Mitfahrgelegenheit, I was again amid the Geschaeftsmaenner, like some exiled Bruenhilde who longs to hoist the spear with fellow warriors but is in fact in the midst of a long farewell.)    

Here, as promised, is the gist of the talk:

Boesken recaps the well-known notion of natural scarcity in China, but does so with slightly different figures than “percentage of arable land.”  Instead, he breaks it down as follows: whereas the U.S. has 7.5 hectares of land per person, China has but 1.5. 

Boesken then organizes his talk around the “Five Elements,” and states that each has a disasterous antipode.  For water, floods.  Water control has been a key political concept in China, seen in the water radical in characters for law, regulation, etc.  “Das tauscht mit Politik,” he says, going on to recap Wittefogel’s “hydrological theory” for the development of Chinese history and recalling the disasterous floods of 1742 in Yanzhou and 1937-38 on the Yellow River (the last caused when Chiang Kai-shek ordered the levies blown up to retard the southward onslaught of the Japanese armies).  Boesken’s graph: 

Wasser Regulieren –> Organisieren –> Regeln –> Herrschen –> Befehlen

After a note on natural catastrophes identified with last emperors (e.g., 1976 Tangshan earthquake), Boesken goes on to note that the PRC has 7% of the fresh water on the planet, 22% of the people, and that about 40% of the land in China is acutely effected by erosion.  And thus the rise of the drinking water business.  As Boesken keenly states of the CCP outlook or bottom line on the enviornment: “Die leute muesst ein Oekonomie verdienen, dann alles passiert,” or interpreted further in English, “Once the people can make money, then any eco-friendly project is fine.”   The Five-Year Plan for 2006-10 includes 300 million RMB for canals, and water conservation.

Boesken riffs extensively on coal for the East Coast cities and how the PRC is moving to displace coal partially through the use of atomic energy.  [He cites Johnny Erling;s 22 April 2009 article “Chinesichen bauen 42 neue Atomkraft Werke /The Chinese Build 42 New Atomic Energy Plants”.]  Two of the plants are in the Liaodong Peninsula (Hongyanhe 1 and 2), but most are clustered in Zhejiang and Guangdong.  Some are set up with help from the US firm Westinghouse. 

On coal: Globally, coal provides 37% of electricity, but in China the number is much higher: coal provides 80% of energy, making this an urgent concern, as burning coal is “ungeheurere umweltnegatif / unbelievably bad for the environment.”  China is mining 31% of the coal in the world, versus 26% by the U.S. and 8% for India. 

On the subject of bio-mass potential, Boesken mentions the 700 million pigs being raised in China at any given time, stating that “15% Treibhaueffect bei.”  [still need to translate this phrase, apologies].   See endnote by ecologist and linguist par excellence Eliezer Gurarie.  Trash transport is a major concern.

”]Gobi and Green [click on picture for link to Futurist blog and AFP story]The Green Wall of China, the effort to plant trees across the entirety of China’s northern frontier as a barrier to desertification, is described as the biggest eco-project in the history of the world.  Here Boesken gets sidetracked a bit, but I love it: the propaganda campaign in support of this project is “typical for China’s political culture,” and can be called “Eco-Maoist propaganda.” 


With reference to wind, Boesken notes that from 2003-2007, we saw the commercialization of the wind commercial sector.

In 2008, China set the goal to be the world center of creation, use, and production (Entwicklung, Nutung, und Produktion) of wind power.  General Electric is working on this in China, and with greater and greater success.  Jilin province is particularly wind-rich. 

Wind Farms in southern Minnesota, U.S.A., the first such visible structure from I-90 driving East from Seattle
Wind Farms in southern Minnesota, U.S.A., the first such visible structure from I-90 driving East from Seattle


Along similar lines, readers may be interested in Peking University environmental historian Bao Maohong, a close friend who spoke at my university in spring 2008; Bao’s article in Conservation and Society gives a good sense of his work. 

My Summary: The United States needs to get in gear, listen a bit harder to Steven Chu, and mobilize these and similar projects or once again, as with the automotive industry in the 1980s, the country will be left on the margins of a major area of economic development in China.  The Germans are, as usual, way ahead of the game.   


Interview with Gerd Boesken, “Bamboo Circular,” Taiwan-Hamburg Friendship Society, May 2009.

Wolfgang Pomrehn, “China lüftet durch: Peking verstärkt Engagement fur erneuerbare Energien. Zwolf Windparks mit ingesamt 120 Gigawatt Leistung koennten 2020 knapp ein Zehntel des Bedarfs decken [China blows through: Beijing strengthens its engagement for new energies: Twelve windparks with potential for 120 gigawatts could provide less than one tenth of China’s needs],”  Junge Welt [Young World, former organ of the {communist}Free German Youth, 17 July 2009, p. 9.

Endnote [by Eliezer Gurarie]

i like the green wall of china posting. that is, i like all your postings.  but on that particualr one, i wanted to comment, just to let you know that “15% Treibhaueffect bei.” refers to the “Treibhauseffect” or “Greenhouse effect“.  Probably, he said that coal “fuegt 15% Traibhauseffect bei”, probably meaning “is the source of 15% of the greenhouse gas emmisions”.

but commenting for some reason is disabled? or doesn’t work? or has a time delay? [I’m working on that, new apologies.]

“treiben” is a nice word by the way.  check it out here: is the best, quickest, most convenient and well-data-stocked source for german-english or -french or -spanish or -italian OR -chinese that i know of.

but in the meantime farethewell in duluth, one of the largest concentrations of finnic genes in the world, and beyond.