Magazine article World Watch

A Visit to the Future

Magazine article World Watch

A Visit to the Future

Article excerpt

Memories from my first trip to Beijing two decades ago are still vivid--the dark streets at night, rivers of bicycles flowing down the city's avenues, and, most unforgettably, the heavy, sulfurous smell of coal in the morning air.

Landing in Beijing this May, I found a city crammed with sleek new cars, towering skyscrapers, fast-food outlets, and other emblems of consumer society. Air quality is improved, though much of the coal pollution has been replaced by automotive smog. Behind these signs of change lies major economic and environmental upheaval--with enormous global implications.

China has over one-fifth of the world's population and is already the largest consumer of steel, cement, coal, and grain, as well as the second largest emitter of carbon dioxide. China's growth depends on vast imports of raw materials, and the strain thus imposed on the environmental and social health of the planet is exceeded only by the Unites States'.

China's spectacular economic growth guarantees its pivotal role in efforts to create a better world--which is exactly what took me to Beijing. With the support of the Blue-moon Fund, Worldwatch launched a new China program in 2004, aimed at working with Chinese NGOs, research institutes, and universities to help them develop the capacity to track global trends, analyze policy and technology innovations, and communicate important developments in China worldwide. Our chief partner there is the Global Environmental Institute. GEI works to increase the capacity of Chinese institutions to respond to environmental problems and to spur private-sector innovation in everything from mass transit to sustainable forestry products. …

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