Sunday, January 31, 2010

Pedal Power! Electric two-wheelers in China

There was a nifty article in The New York Times today on electric bikes:

An Electric Boost for Bicyclists
By J. David Goodman (Jan 31, 2010)

"Detroit may be introducing electric car designs and China may be pushing forward with a big expansion of its highways and trains." But millions more are "taking part in a more accidental transportation upheaval."

In China, "an estimated 120 million electric bicycles now hum along the roads, up from a few thousand in the 1990s. They are replacing traditional bikes and motorcycles at a rapid clip and, in many cases, allowing people to put off the switch to cars.  In turn, the booming Chinese electric-bike industry is spurring worldwide interest and impressive sales in India, Europe and the United States. China is exporting many bikes, and Western manufacturers are also copying the Chinese trend to produce models of their own. From virtually nothing a decade ago, electric bikes have become an $11 billion global industry."

Electric bicycle riders in China, where about 120 million such bikes
are used, with some going up to 30 miles an hour. (NY Times)

More perspective on e-bikes from other publications:

E-Yikes! Electric Bikes Terrorize the Streets of China (WSJ)
“Electric bicycles, or e-bikes, have taken off in China. But some people say they are dangerous, and may not be so green after all." (Jan 17, 2010)

China’s E-Bikes: Less-Than-Perfect Pioneers (WSJ)
Blog entry from WSJ's Shai Oster. With video! (Jan 19, 2010)

Putting the brakes on pedal power (Washington Post)
"Bicycles give way to automobiles, but e-bikes keep two-wheel tradition alive." Alex Wang of NRDC is quoted in this piece! He rides an e-bike to work in Beijing. (Dec 14, 2009)

As a bonus, here is an academic paper I came across last quarter doing research for the solar cells class. (Published in Energy Policy)

The future of electric two-wheelers and electric vehicles in China
J. Weinert, J. Ogden, D. Sperling and A. Burke (2008)


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Where Chan Chan comes from

Hong Kong, you make me sad sometimes. But according to this piece by Philip Bowring in the IHT, at least you haven't given up completely...

"This city is normally associated with money making, not radical politics. But activism has been stirring, creating unease in Beijing and among local oligarch business interests. However puny Hong Kong’s voices of dissent may seem, they are a reminder of the catalytic role the territory has played in politics in the past — as a source of new ideas for China and refuge for dissenters like Sun Yat-sen, Ho Chi Minh and Emilio Aguinaldo of the Philippines."

This week, "five members of two pro-democracy political parties are due to resign from the Legislative Council, Hong Kong’s lawmaking body. Their objective is to spark a special election that they want to use as a referendum on universal suffrage for the next elections in 2012. At present, Hong Kong is on track for democratic reforms at a snail’s pace. The local administration, pressured by Beijing, which associates democratic development with dissent, remains reluctant to submit to greater public accountability. All democrats, whether or not they support the move by legislators planning to resign, want more directly elected seats to the Legislature in 2012 and a timetable for the full democratic election of the legislature and chief executive."

In recent years, Hong Kong has been seen as rather compliant with Beijing's demands. Yet Bowring notes several strains of dissent that have been growing, in addition to the continuing calls for greater self-rule from the democratic parties:

  1. People on the bottom end of a growing income gap, who are getting the impression that "government is simply an accomplice of big business"
  2. Middle class people, who want stability, but want the government to be more responsive to their needs.
  3. Students, who care about things like human rights and the environment, which are often subsumed to the interests of powerful polluters

As Bowring points out, "the rise in anti-government and anti-Beijing sentiment may seem surprising given the recent improvement in Hong Kong’s economy and its increasing dependence on the mainland’s surging economic growth. Patriotism and pride in Chinese achievements have also been on the rise. [And I can tell you, some Hong Kongers are very pro-China.] Yet here's the crux of it:

"But Hong Kong has always separated its Chinese identity from Communist Party rule. Beijing’s unholy alliance with local vested interests offsets much of its patriotic appeal. Recent mainland crackdowns on dissent and the Internet have added to Hong Kong’s fears."

Indeed "Beijing’s recent moves may have strengthened Hong Kong’s role as a refuge for future Sun Yat-sens." So thus, Bowring notes, it may turn out that the resignation of members of democratic parties on the Legislative Council won't work. "But as an assertion of commitment to values other than money-making, they will make an impression not just on Hong Kong but on China, where the intertwining of political power and money-making is germinating a new radicalism."

I hope Hong Kong will stand up for values. Show the world there is something more than money! It goes far beyond making waves in the West -- you must demonstrate this idea to the Sinic world. Google can do it. So can you.


Monday, January 25, 2010

文革. I still want to cry.

I can hardly write these lines. I still feel a sense of tremendous sorrow, a terrible chill, when reading works about the Cultural Revolution and examine this period and its impacts on society and on human lives.

As the New York Times reports, in 2009, China "quietly opened the archives of selected declassified government files from that era, in Beijing, Shanghai and Xi’an" and lifted a little the veil on that period, revealing some of the prosaic stories of the Cultural Revolution. These are not the worst excesses, only some of the pedestrian issues of the time -- though there are still hints of the revolutionary fervor and the cruelty and inhumanity of the period.

Stitching the Narrative of a Revolution
By Xiyun YANG and Michael WINES
The New York Times / January 25, 2010

Peasants recited quotations from Mao's “Little Red Book” before toiling in the fields in a village near Beijing in July of 1967. (Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)
The files of the Cultural Revolution, which raged from 1966 until Mao’s death in 1976, make up a mere 16 of the 21,568 volumes that the Beijing Municipal Archives has made public in four separate releases — in 1996, 1997, 2001 and 2009. (The other files cover periods of Chinese history from 1906.)

The yellowing files give scant insight into those days’ atrocities: the denunciations of parents by children; the humiliation of intellectuals; the millions of lives ruined by Red Guards ordered to remake society through upheaval. Mao’s personality cult made him a living god, and armed violence broke out over his affections. Everything was politicized. Many committed suicide.

Today, that era has been all but obliterated from the official history of the People’s Republic, its horrors glossed over in history books. While many younger Chinese know that the country passed through a period of turmoil, scholars say, few have any idea of its wild extremes. Events that were “earth shattering have now turned into words with vague and sketchy meanings,” Chen Xiaojing, a Communist Party official from the time, wrote in a carefully hedged account of his experiences, “My Cultural Revolution Years.”

... The files apparently have been filtered for anything dealing with deaths and imprisonment, and they describe a country still fervently Communist, and unrecognizable today. They narrate the story of a country in the throes of madness, when 'Mao Zedong thought'" was supposed to cure "everything from truancy to traffic jams to agricultural chemistry to illegal pigeon sales."

... In a handwritten series of 1972 speeches, many of them heavily edited in pen, a teacher from Beijing’s outskirts recalled how his comrades “patiently and delicately” sought to reform a teacher who was not a worker, but a member of the wealthy class. Rounds of criticism had little effect, so the group chose to help him realize his mistakes through physical labor, by weeding farmland. “He pulled grass,” the speech read. “At first, he was squatting, but he couldn’t handle it after two days. Then he pulled the grass while kneeling. Finally, he did it while crawling.”

What a horrific era; yet even today, a real societal discussion and full accounting of the past has not taken place. How can healing occur, and give rise to a greater sense of national understanding (and a commitment to never allow such violence to take place against a people or its heritage) when such a pivotal and destructive period in Chinese history remains hidden? Intentionally blocked by the government. How many lives were ended or irreparably harmed? How many cultural artifacts were destroyed, how many ideas, customs and practices lost? How many innocents were persecuted under the name of "revolution"? Without facing its history, how can China look to the future?

World turned upside down.

Grist post asks "Did China block Copenhagen progress to pave way for its own dominance in cleantech?"

A little far-fetched ... but point well-taken. I don't think it was active blocking, so much as China already was going to pursue its unilateral carbon intensity goals, national action plan on climate, and far-reaching energy and green technology policies. No skin off its nose whatever came out of Copenhagen. If the US was going to be idiotic and still not take any action (in reality, it's not COP15 that matters for the US, it's what happens in the Senate this spring), then so much the better -- they'd be even slower off the block and slower to catch up.

Did China block Copenhagen progress to pave way for its own dominance in cleantech?

22 Jan 2010 6:31 PM
by Geoffrey Lean

You hear it all the time, one of the most frequently voiced excuses for Western countries failing to radically cut carbon dioxide emissions: Taking any such action would hand a massive competitive advantage to fast-industrializing China.

Yet evidence is piling up that the very opposite is the case. The main challenge from the world’s new industrial superpower is not that it will continue to use the dirty, old technologies of the past, but that it will come to dominate the new, clean, green ones of the future.

As developed nations fail to put an adequate price on carbon, and thus to stimulate clean-technology development themselves, they risk handing market supremacy to the rival they most fear. Indeed, it could even be hypothesized that China’s blocking of agreement on rich-country emission targets in Copenhagen was intended to hold back the development of cleantech by its Western rivals.

Visitor after distinguished visitor to the world’s most populous country returns home shaken, if not stirred, by the speed and determination with which it is adopting these technologies, especially in renewable energy. David Sandalow, the U.S. assistant secretary of energy for policy and international affairs—a longtime expert in the field, both in and out of government, who has trekked across the Pacific five times since last summer—says, “China’s investment in clean energy is extraordinary. Unless the U.S. makes investments, we are not competitive in the cleantech sector in the years and decades to come.”

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Case for a Climate Bill

The New York Times editorial board is calling on President Obama to forge ahead with a climate bill, despite the loss of the Democrats' 60th Senate seat. According to conventional wisdom (and some pundits), the chances of Congress taking action on energy and climate this year are now "somewhere between terrible and nil." However, the editorial challenges Obama to "prove the conventional wisdom wrong by making a full-throated case for a climate bill in his State of the Union speech this week."

Some of the reasons action cannot wait? In addition to concerns about climate change (which only continue to mount in severity), the editorial cites issues of national competitiveness that are at stake:
  • China is "moving aggressively to create jobs in the clean-energy industry. Beijing not only plans to generate 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, but hopes to become the world’s leading exporter of clean energy technologies. Five years ago, it had no presence at all in the wind manufacturing industry; today it has 70 manufacturers. It is rapidly becoming a world leader in solar power, with one-third of the world’s manufacturing capacity."
  • American credibility is on the line. At COP15, the US pledged to "meet at least the House’s 17 percent target. Success in the Senate is essential to delivering on that pledge. Failure would undo many of the good things [Obama] achieved in Copenhagen, and it would give reluctant powers like China an excuse to duck their pledges." [Not sure about this last sentence with regard to China, which agreed to a voluntary carbon intensity reduction unilaterally ... and they probably mean to keep it.]
  • Finally, the editorial notes, "the 'jobs argument' should impress the Senate ... The climate change bills pending in the Senate would not begin to bite for several years, when the recession should be over. The cost to households, according to the Congressional Budget Office, would be small. A good program would create more jobs than it cost."
Unfortunately, things still look a bit hazy, despite Harry Reid's earlier announcement that the climate bill was on the agenda for March. The editorial worries that "many Democrats as well as Republicans seem willing to settle for what would be the third energy bill in five years—loans for nuclear power, mandates for renewable energy, new standards for energy efficiency. These are all useful steps. But the only sure way to unlock the investments required to transform the way the country produces and delivers energy is to put a price on carbon." (This presumably refers to private capital markets rather than government-sponsored programs or large-scale federal investment).

A couple other relevant notes:

1) Tree Hugger asks: Could Scott Brown's Victory Be Good for Clean Energy Reform?

2) As we saw at COP15, international action on climate often seems to hinge on U.S. domestic politics.

As Reuters AlertNet reports, "It's hard to imagine an upset in one U.S. Senate race could derail plans for a new international climate change treaty." But "the U.S. Democratic party's loss of a long-held Senate seat in Massachusetts this week, to Republican Scott Brown, means getting key climate change legislation passed in the United States just got a lot harder. And without willingness by the U.S. -- the world’s historically largest carbon emitter -- to commit to ambitious cuts in emissions, few other nations will feel pressure to be ambitious in their own plans."

Canada, for example, is concerned about the legislative stall in its southern neighbor and what it will mean for their own energy system.

There are real worries that a minority in the Senate -- 41 people -- can simply hold the entire world's efforts hostage, either by preventing action at home by the world's second-largest emitter (reduces incentives for others to act, makes agreement harder to reach by not living up to "common but differentiated responsibilities") or simply refusing to allow the U.S. to take part in an international regime.

It should be noted that those 41 senators would not all be from the same political party, as support for climate action is coming from both sides of the aisle. John Kerry (D), Lindsey Graham (R), and Joe Lieberman (I) recently visited the White House to discuss a bipartisan climate bill, and a coalition is in the works that may be able to pass it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Chinese architecture & Development

Awesome commentary on Chinese architecture and urbanization from Ma Xiaowei, founder of AGER Shanghai, a landscape and architectural design firm. From an interview in the Global Times.

One phrase I liked, where he comments on the China Pavilion at the 2010 World expo in Shanghai, which uses "China Red" and the "official cap" to represent imperial authority, "the essence of power in ancient times."
But in traditional Chinese culture, humanity and nature are essential, too. Little things like green grass, small bridges, dark blue bricks and painted white walls are what ordinary people relate to a harmonious life, and they are more than just simple symbols.

China could learn from the 1970 Expo, which was held in the Osaka Castle, on how to mix culture into the actual exhibitions. The location was in a rural area, surrounded by bamboo forest, where people enjoy a peaceful life. This concept is what harmony is all about, and it used the famous cherry blossom to represent Japan without it seeming like a forced cultural symbol.
Here's his response to the question: "Traditional Chinese landscape architecture, such as private gardens and small bridges, offers a good example of living in a harmonious environment. But does it work in today's fast-paced urban lifestyle?"
I think there is a misunderstanding about traditional Chinese landscape architecture. It does not equal a small bridge over a flowing stream, nor an elegant pavilion with a pagoda far away. What traditional landscape architecture really offers us is a way of thinking, a philosophy that modern people should adopt. People should live in a natural environment and live in harmony with nature. This is the essence of it.

But now, we tend to only look for big things such as wide roads, fancy skyscrapers and forced city planning... What we really need to pay attention to is: Will people live comfortably here? Is it convenient to cross an eight-lane road to enter the park? Do we really need a man-made mushroom in the park?

Time changes, and so do people's aesthetic values. But the essence of what makes a happy life will never change. A harmonious living environment and a reasonable view on development is what we really need to remember from traditional Chinese landscape architecture.
On green cities in China:
As a matter of fact, Chinese people traditionally live a low-carbon life. People used to live in hutong and build their houses around small alleys. It saves energy on transportation. This is a green lifestyle.

Compare this to some Western cities, such as Pittsburgh. The environment was polluted by heavy industry first, then people realized how important it is to have a healthy low-carbon lifestyle. It is a green city now because people learned from the mistakes they made in the past.

So for China, we can see the mistakes other cities made before and should learn from them. As long as we do not abandon what our ancestors had and were proud of, it won't be very difficult to maintain.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Environmental Movement

The Asia Society has published an interview with Liu Jianqing, a journalist and environmentalist.

Liu former senior investigative reporter at Southern Weekend, China's most influential investigative newspaper, where he provided front-line and in-depth coverage of China's burgeoning environmental movement. Some of Liu's most influential articles include his 2004 expose on the controversial Tiger Leaping Gorge dams in Yunnan province. The story was personally read by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, who then ordered the project to be suspended pending a central government investigation. Liu's 2005 article on the Summer Palace lake reconstruction resulted in the State Environmental Protection Administration holding China's first state-level public environmental hearing.

Plus, tons more awesome stuff at the Asia Society society website:

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Google may be the one company ...

Google's move is brilliant simply because it might be the only one that can pull it off.

Where Chinese people do not simply have a nationalist, defensive backlash (e.g. Carrefour), but pause to consider and ask themselves, "What is happening? Why is this happening? Why would Google take such an action."

They love Google. I think they might possibly love Google -- or at least admire it, for its innovation, business acumen, but also general sense of public decency, more than they love the government.

Google is, for once, an unquestionable good. It's not a country, a sovereign government, a greedy, rapacious, imperialistic foreign corporation bent on exploiting the China market for profit. It's a group of engineers, creative, inspired and innovative, who just want to do good for the world by expanding the availability of information.

And I think that vision of Google inspires a lot of people, including students and Netizens in China.

I know a lot of this is the Silicon Valley part of me speaking. But I am animated by the culture of this place where I grew up, and even though I sometimes still wonder about the impact and ability of technology to be relevant in people's lives, I still believe in its ability to bring improvement.

More analysis from CNET to come ...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Google, continued.

Here are a couple of interesting analyses. I can't wait to get the SJ Mercury tomorrow.

From James Fallows at The Atlantic:

"It is a significant development. Significant for Google; and while only marginally significant for developments inside China, potentially very significant for China's relations with the rest of the world.... If a major U.S. company -- indeed, Google has been ranked the #1 brand in the world -- has concluded that, in effect, it must break diplomatic relations with China because its policies are too repressive and intrusive to make peace with, that is a significant judgment."

He also reminds readers of the distinction between "China" and its rise, which he sees as largely positive, and this particular government that has promulgated a certain set of policies:

"For my Chinese readers, let me emphasize again my argument that China is not a "threat" and that its development is good news for mankind. But its government is on a path at the moment that courts resistance around the world." (Read more)

From ZDNet:
Assessing Google's showdown with China: Does it make sense?
Looks at the issue from Google's perspective.

"Google’s currency is user trust. As a global business that profits from tracking users and tailoring ads to them security matters a lot. If users don’t trust Google to keep their data safe Google’s business suffers. In that light, Google’s showdown with China makes sense. Google can’t let one country -- even one that could be insanely profitable -- erode the company’s goodwill it has built up in its short history. What happens in China can hurt Google’s other businesses." (Read more)

Overall coverage from the New York Times here.


Google this. (Reflections)

Google is showing us there is not only one approach, not only one way forward in China. There are legitimate options aside from capitulation -- options that uphold human decency and take into account ethical considerations while meeting company objectives. (Perhaps those conditions are themselves included among company objectives -- CSR, right?) Until now, you had to go in their way, whether you were gritting your teeth or happily diving into the pool. Well, it seems at least that Google is saying there are lines that should not be crossed -- that we are not willing to give up everything for this one market. (Even if it is the biggest potential market).

The Chinese government can try to pin this on Google, but I'm sorry, I don't think most Chinese people (or most other Netizens in the world) are going to buy the line that Google is some evil, imperialistic company bent on the destruction of the Chinese nation. Please, don't try to tell us that Google is a splittist terrorist organization, or that it hurts the feelings of the Chinese people. Such prevarications and falsehoods (oh screw that, such lies) won't work.

It's been too deeply ingrained in all of our minds that ... Google is good. Google is creative. Google is innovative.

We strive to be like Google. We aspire to create the next Google! How many children, how many countless CS and EE grads in Chinese universities, have looked to the story of Google for inspiration? (It's not only in China ... it's really a global phenomenon).

And this is not simply dogma or ideology. It's because we see, on a daily basis, this company innovating, reaching for new frontiers, attempting to expand human knowledge, make information more easily available, more useful, more accurate and relevant, for all of us. From basic search to collaborative documents to road maps to music, Google has demonstrated its commitment to putting information at our fingertips and making it easy to use. They literally democratized GIS and brought remote sensing to the masses with Google Earth. They try for good, too -- reducing deforestation and carbon emissions, assisting with public health alerts, creating power metering tools and promoting energy efficiency.

Google even brightens up our day with playful logos over its search bar. And more than that ... our classmates, friends and siblings work there. This isn't some mysterious black box; we know who they are. Google is composed of bright, talented, dedicated and creative folks, who hope to make a difference, and maybe do a little good in this world -- and have fun while doing it!

Google is the good guy. Are you really going to bash a leading embodiment of Silicon Valley right when it is living up to the Silicon Valley ethos? Does China want to be un-Google? (Or un-Googley as it were?)


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Google! And the Silicon Valley ethos

Wow, just absolutely, wow. Google's "new approach to China" must be lighting up the blogosphere around the whole world.

Here is Google's blog announcement that it will uncensor its search results in China, following hacking attempts against its Gmail servers that attempted gain access to information and correspondence of Chinese human rights activists.

This is a real statement. When one of the world's most brilliant, most creative, and most widely admired companies -- one that embodies innovation and entrepreneurship -- says, "It's not okay for us to operate here in China. These conditions are no longer acceptable to us." Well, that's a real signal. "We are no longer going to sacrifice our ethics for access to this China market. Profits are not everything. We are going to take a stand."

P.S. For those bemoaning the loss of service, Google is perfectly willing to operate in China. It's really in the Chinese government's court now. Do you want to deprive 1/3 of your internet users of their main search engine and all of Google's services? Or are you willing to allow Google to live up to its core ideals as an Internet company? Its information-sharing ethos and commitment to unfettered exchange and open access?

P.P.S. Do you know how bad it looks when the embodiment of Silicon Valley, the hub of innovation and creativity and freedom that you are trying to replicate, decides to get out because it no longer wants to countenance the human rights abuses, the censorship, and the threat posed to its users' security?

Honestly, I don't know if Google just feels its presence is no longer helping more than it is hurting. Of course there are considerations of market share. But Google is really up in arms about this whole security threat. Maybe it doesn't want to put Chinese users at risk by providing what one would hope is a secure environment, but can't live up to that billing because of government intervention.

In any case, Google is finally standing up for something. "Don't be evil" indeed.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Superlatives - China keeps rising

Recent statistics reveal China's sustained growth, which is breaking new records, even in the face of last year's worldwide economic slowdown:
  • Figures released Monday show China "surged past the United States to become the world’s largest automobile market." (in units sold, not in dollars)
  • China "surpassed Germany as the biggest exporter of manufactured goods, according to year-end trade data."
  • The World Bank estimates that China will soon overtake Japan to become the No. 2 economy in the world. It was only the world’s fifth-largest economy four years ago.
According to the New York Times:
"the shift of economic gravity to China has occurred partly because growth here remained robust even as the world’s developed economies suffered the steepest drop in trade and economic output in decades.
But that did not happen by chance: China’s decisive government intervention in the economy, combined with the defiant optimism of its companies and consumers, has propelled an economy that until recently had seemed tethered to the health of its major export markets, including the United States."
Indeed, Chinese media are in a celebratory mood:
The country’s economic miracle, the newspaper People’s Daily boasted last week, exists because its leaders -- unlike those in other, unnamed nations -- can make quick decisions and ensure underlings carry them out. The Great Recession, the newspaper said, has laid bare cracks in plodding Western-style capitalism.
(Hm ... I wonder if that's also an underhanded swipe at Western-style democracy ...)

However, as the article warns:
Sustaining a global-size economy is nowhere near as simple as building one, some Chinese and Western economists say. As the Chinese navigate toward a bigger role in the world financial system, they are already running into diplomatic and political headwinds.

At home, ordinary citizens and economists alike worry that the government’s decision to flood the economy with cash has created speculative bubbles -- in housing, in lending -- that could burst with disastrous effect. But curbing speculation requires moves, such as raising interest rates, that could crimp the sprees of investment and industrial expansion that are the main contributors to growth.
There are also worries about the way the Chinese government has chosen to stimulate the economy. Projects given funding last year appeared to be primarily SOEs, while many private companies/small- and medium- enterprises were left high and dry. Some commentators (also in TIME, Asia Times, Financial Times) are concerned this will reverse the trend of private sector expansion and return China to government-driven growth (though not necessarily government micromanagement). Also see a Carter Center report on the impacts of stimulus spending on SOEs.

URL: (, 1/11/2010)

Friday, January 08, 2010

Avatar in China

Why do we destroy everything that is good and connected? Why can we not recognize the beauty and value in existence, co-existence, tranquility and balance?

"A Chinese take on Avatar" makes note of a Chinese blogger's comparison of the movie to the situation of "nail houses" in China (i.e. last-house-standing after real estate developers force/entice/evict whole blocks from their homes).

When I stepped out of the movie theatre, I also thought about the hutong neighborhoods ... Definitely can draw parallels -- that sense of helplessness in the face of an onslaught by more powerful entities, a losing battle to preserve what is good and meaningful.

Some aspects of the movie in which one could see an analogy:

- Remaining in touch with the voices and memories of our ancestors.

- The sense of connectedness -- what one long-time hutong resident called being "grounded" in the book "The Last Days of Old Beijing".

- (Modern) human ignorance of things of value and a fixation on profit to the detriment of all else. "It's a f*cking tree! They need to leave so I can tear it down to mine the area." is just the same as, "It's a g*damn shack. Why can't these people move out so I can develop this ground and make money?" This view ignores the fact that these residences have centuries of history and that a living human community has grown up there and taken on meaning of its own.

Perhaps we can see Avatar as a missive to protect things of value, such as ecology and plantary connectedness -- or in the Chinese context, traditional architecture and living communities.

Friday, January 01, 2010

A brand new year, a brand new decade

From one Embarcadero, to another Embarcadero -- and then back again.

This evening, we went to watch the fireworks in San Francisco and ring in the New Year.

As we walked along the street, Andy Lee made the comment that to us growing up in the 1990s, the year 1910 seemed so long ago.

“Olden times!” I agreed.

"So those people of 2090," he continued, "will eventually look back on 2010 as such a faraway time in the past, the same we see 1910 as almost a different world. And now we're living it!"

"2010. A time when the planet was still in peril...” I said.

A time when we hadn’t yet solved global warming or environmental pollution and degradation. A time before humanity recognized its collective responsibility and its deep connection with the earth and the living systems that compose it, including many other species that also call this place home. Nuclear proliferation, terrorism, oppression, violations of basic human rights. A world that may not be able to feed itself, even as it speeds toward urbanization and modernization, and that is running out of fresh water. A world facing enormous challenges, full of conflict and disaster -- before it is rescued by concerted and thoughtful action, by international cooperation that transcends narrow borders, by ingenuity and innovation and the human spirit, and by the transformation of our societies into communities that are more peaceful, ecological and aware.

“2010. A time when the planet still existed...” Andy joked.

I hope my story is the one that plays out.

Happy 2010 everyone! May it be filled with love and good thoughts that are turned into positive actions.