Letter From the President

A Visit to the Future

 

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 Air quality is improved, though much of the coal pollution has been replaced by automotive smog.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 consuĀ­mer 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 Bluemoon 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 comĀ­municate 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.

We've already reached a key goal: the Chinese edition of State of the World 2005 was released at a well-attended Beijing press conference on July 1. In the year ahead, Chinese collaborators will contribute to Worldwatch publications, including State of the World 2006, which will focus on China and India. We will also recruit two Chinese resident research fellows. In the meantime, Worldwatch Senior Fellow Eric Martinot is working at Tsinghua University, the MIT of China.

I came away from Beijing deeply impressed by the number of highly capable and committed Chinese who are wrestling with the same complex problems that we are. The country is full of energetic professionals working late into the night to address China's problems. Indeed, China's ability to change directions quickly may allow it to pioneer farsighted new policies and industries-and even to "leapfrog" the achievements of western countries, according to some of the leaders I met.

The Chinese will surely need all the capability and commitment they can muster. With so many people and so few natural resources, China will demonstrate one way or the other that the resource-intensive, throw-away development model will not work in the 21st century. China's ability to navigate this uncharted territory will shape not only its own future but the world's.

 

Christopher Flavin, Worldwatch President