Archive for May, 2013

Taian and Taiyuan

Monday, May 20th, 2013

Jeremy & Roger on Mount Tai

As part of my GEF/World Bank project in China, I made a trip to Taian in Shandong Province and Taiyuan in Shanxi Province in May, giving presentations about emissions trading to several hundred local officials, company representatives, academics, and other interested parties. Luckily, my friend and colleague Jeremy Schreifels from U.S. EPA’s Clean Air Markets Division was along on this trip. I first met Jeremy in the 1990s in Ukraine, when we were working together on a U.S. AID project there – and have stayed in touch since. He is currently wrapping up a Ph.D. from Tsinghua University on NOx control in China, and since his courses are in Chinese, I was very happy to let him deal with all of the taxis, waiters, and others who normally have to suffer from my indecipherable Mandarin, finger pointing, & awkward pantomimes.

Taiyuan has changed pretty dramatically since I was last there ten years ago, and lots of construction is still going on. A real highlight of the Taian visit was a side trip to Tai Shan, the most important of China’s five great mountains — and a natural landmark long revered and visited by emperors throughout China’s history. Its importance is evident in the fact that an illustration of Tai Shan is included on the country’s five yuan currency note. That note shows the mountain rising above a ‘sea of clouds,’ which was exactly the view we had. Climbing has been a theme of many recent ‘Raufer Update’ postings, but timing constraints (ahem!) forced us to skip the 10+ kilometer hike with its thousands of steps, and take the cable car instead. That still left plenty of climbing at the summit, however, to take in the temple complex, the Immortal Bridge, the carved rock inscriptions, and many other sights. Truly a magnificent experience!


Monday, May 20th, 2013

I stayed in Beijing before, after and in-between the Taian/Taiyuan trips, and therefore had a chance to have a series of meetings with academic, private-sector, NGO and Chinese governmental officials during this two-week visit. During that time I was reading a book entitled Midnight in Peking, a real-life murder mystery about the 1937 slaying of the daughter of a British diplomat/scholar in the city. Despite the rather gruesome topic, it’s a very entertaining read because the author skillfully weaves in details about the anarchy of conditions in the city at that time, the coming Japanese invasion, the Legation Quarter home of the foreign contingent in the city, and colorful characters interacting in both high and very, very lowbrow settings – all while trying to solve the murder case.

By happenstance, I was staying in the Chong Wen Men district on this trip instead of in my usual haunts in the northern part of the city – and that put me almost exactly in the middle of the author’s audio walking tour for the book. And so of course I did the whole tour, including a visit to Armour Factory Alley (now Kuijiachang Hutong), the place where she and her father lived, a few houses down from where Edgar Snow was writing Red Star Over China; Chuanpan Hutong, which the author describes as “the baddest and most depraved street in old Peking,” the heart of the ‘Badlands’ area where one could find low-life bars, gambling dens, nightclubs, brothels, and much else…. and where she was very likely murdered; and the Legation Quarter, which still has European-styled buildings and parks, and housed the French, American and British diplomatic corps. The British legation was the site where foreigners gathered for a last stand in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion — and it now houses China’s Ministry of Public Security.

Fox Tower

My hotel was only a few hundred meters from Fox Tower (now called Dongbianmen), which played a key role in the book since that was the site where her body was found. I went back the next day to climb the tower, and visit the Ming Dynasty City Wall Relics Park along the southern section of the old city wall. The tower was home to some powerful (and dangerous) animalistic spirits in the city’s legends, and many residents were not surprised about the role it played in the grisly tale. Although only remnants of the wall remain, one can still look down from the tower and begin to grasp the sheer scale and impact it must have had on the city’s life.

The New Holy Wars

Monday, May 20th, 2013

In the paper I wrote for Energy Intelligence last summer, I cited just one economist – Robert H. Nelson, who published “The Economics Profession and the Making of Public Policy” in the J. of Economic Literature more than a quarter-century ago…. & I’ve been following his work ever since. About a decade ago, I read his book Economics as Religion, a great read which posits that while economists think of themselves as scientists, they might more accurately be viewed as priests proselytizing a secular religion – the well-known ‘gospel of efficiency.’ By assuming away important factors – e.g., the ‘pecuniary externalities’ of market transformations, or the ‘non-use’ values of environmental amenities – they’ve played a key role in legitimizing that “most vital religion of the modern age”: economic progress.

On this trip I was reading Nelson’s latest book, The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion vs. Environmental Religion in Contemporary America. The book is every bit as iconoclastic as the last one, with the target this time being environmentalists – who would no doubt be surprised to find themselves being likened to Creationists. By ignoring Darwin on several fronts (i.e., trying to re-create pristine landscapes that didn’t exist, lamenting the “great Darwinian triumph of our own species,”etc.), and utilizing Biblical imagery and threats, Nelson suggests that environmentalism has “reasserted the powerful U.S. Puritan heritage,” but in a secular form “free of the historical baggage of institutional Christianity.”

His work is both erudite and provocative, and he’s tackling the core intersection of economics and environmentalism – and so I’ll definitely continue to track his on-going efforts!