Archive for December, 2013

Beijing Forum

Sunday, December 8th, 2013

I was certainly very pleased (and honored!) to receive an invitation from Peking University to participate in the 10th anniversary of the Beijing Forum. This is an annual event that draws in prominent political and academic representatives (including Australia’s recent Prime Minister Kevin Rudd this year), and one of its themes this year was “Forty Years of Environmental Protection in China and the World: Retrospect, Prospect and Institutional Innovation.”

The organizers couldn’t have known it, but that time period matched my own career almost exactly. I started out as an environmental engineer in January 1974 at ETA Engineering (an Argonne National Labs spin-off located in the Chicago area), before heading east to Penn to study market-based approaches to pollution control. Observations about the changes in environmental management that have occurred in the decades since then led to my own Forum contribution, entitled “Engineering to Economics, and Price to Quantity: Two Environmental Management Transitions in China and the World.”

In preparing the paper, I re-visited some early environmental readings, & one book clearly stood out: William Ophuls’ Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity. That book was appropriate as well for such a 40-year review, since it was based on Ophuls’ award-winning 1973 Ph.D. dissertation in political science at Yale. I had first read it back in the late 1970s, & was amazed in this recent review to see just how prescient it was! The parts I had underlined years ago could have been written yesterday, and the problems and concerns outlined were every bit as relevant – and indeed, were actually even more germane – today. So I took along his most recent effort on this trip – last year’s Immoderate Greatness: Why Civilizations Fail. (Warning: the new book, while very well argued & written, is a truly sobering read and certainly not for the faint-hearted!)


Sunday, December 8th, 2013

Back in Beijing again (i.e., my third trip to the city in the past six months), & it was nice to be back — although the 400+ air pollution index numbers on this visit were more than a bit daunting! My colleagues from the Shenzhen energy management company (see last year’s November posting) joined me for a number of meetings, and since one of them was celebrating a birthday, we had a ready-made excuse for a Peking duck dinner at the renowned Quanjude restaurant on Qianmen St., over near Tiananmen Square. Founded in 1864, the restaurant certainly lived up to its reputation!

A couple of other dinners were also memorable on this trip, because I had a chance to catch up with some former Energy Research Institute (ERI, of the NDRC) staffers. I had first met Song Yanqin back in my UN days, & we’ve had numerous chances to connect over the years, in both Beijing and New York. He’s now working for the World Bank in Beijing on renewable energy projects. Another former ERI person was Xu Litong, who also happens to have been a former student of mine at Penn. Litong and I worked together on a UN wind power project back in 2002 (& co-authored a paper about it, along with Prof. Wang Shujuan of Tsinghua University, the following year). Although Litong now spends half of his time in China & half in the U.S. (working on UN and other energy/environmental projects), we hadn’t connected in almost a decade. You might note from my recent summertime posting that I seem to spend a lot of time hanging around with ERI folks – certainly an advantage in my line of work – and these reunions were definitely a lot of fun!

Things are looking up in Beijing’s 798 art district!

A final treat on this trip was a visit to Beijing’s 798 art district. This is a former electronics factory complex, heavily influenced by East German Bauhaus designs, which subsequently became a fashionable enclave for Beijing’s arts community. With lots of sculptures, outdoor art, studios, design firms, shops, cafes and restaurants, the area has become a weekend magnet for tourists like me. And you can see that I fit right in with my newer (non-ERI) stalwart companions!

Penn lecture

Sunday, December 8th, 2013

For the past several years I’ve been giving a Fall lecture in one of Professor Noam Lior’s energy classes at Penn – and did so again this year in late October. Noam is a faculty member in the university’s Mechanical Engineering Department, and is a world-renowned expert in both energy and desalination – and for many, many years was editor of the technical journal Energy (as well as numerous others within the field). Given such expertise, it’s not surprising that he makes frequent trips to China – and this year I covered his class during one such visit (a week before I headed over to that country myself). Noam’s classes typically draw some very bright and inquisitive students, and this year’s group was certainly no exception!