L-abe-L

As I wait for final decisions on my doctoral candidacy and employment applications, I have been spending my days to read and write. Both my academic trainings and work experiences have exposed me to a wide range of environmental topics, however, none of which has penetrated to a depth where I can proudly label myself as an expert.

While a label in and of itself does not really make too much of a difference, and may even fall subject to mockery as being superficial. Action speaks louder than word, or does it? Let’s be real. Today’s society operates, unfortunately, more on connection and cash than meritocracy. Leaders give birth to “leaders,” university educators educate a lineage of “academicians,” and even the religious leaders’ recognize their kids as reincarnations of some sort. Consequently, a label is more often than not more important, at least for one’s entrance ticket, than actual knowledge.

The commodification of labels is no longer rare, and the inflation of one’s record is only a part of the social trend. Everyone, in today’s society, is an innovator. In 2010, the word innovative is one of the most overused buzzwords, only surpassed by “extensive experience.” In other words, the unreasoned emphasis on and measures against these labels as means to categorize people into different ability quadrants have led to label trade and piracy. However, neither trade, nor piracy carries much substance. On the contrary, such social yardstick, socially accepted, but morally corrosive, will only serve as a catalyst to further erode what is already a shaky social structure.

A, or a bunch of, label[s] has become the entrance ticket[s] to opportunities ranking right behind cash and connection. However, as more and more people buy rather than gain higher labels, the pursuance of these labels has become costlier and often results in no long-term paybacks guaranteed any more than the ones purchased.

A label can only say so much about a person that it is time to evaluate individuals against their deliverable capabilities and lived experiences rather than labels they purchase or pirate.

30/11/12 Tupgon T.

A Corpulent Few Means A Skinny Bunch

China is set to build a huge eco-city from scratch, where none of the estimated 80,000 residents will need to drive. The master planning of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture envisages a romantic eco-space, in which homes nest amidst public green spaces. Eco-parks filter and purify wastewater like Mother Nature does. Automobiles are no longer part and parcel of the eco-landscape.

In this grand new eco-city of 78 million square foot area, humans reside in harmony with nature. “Land outside the city will be reserved for farming.” Every morning, as farm chickens crow the city awake from a long undisturbed night of rest. The city runs on renewable and waste-generated energy, and the residents regale on organic products right off the local farms. In the evenings, sheep baas the city off to sleep, and the last bark of a guard dog fades into the depth of tranquil nights.

However fictitiously romantic and futuristic it may sound, a grand political vision often waters down into mere writing as time passes by and more hands get involved. At the suffocating grips of severe corruption, no design seems to fully translate into construction and meaningful post-construction operation.

It is not only the construction of the city, or piecing together the hardware, raises serious socio-environmental concerns, but also the installation of software (e.g., residents, and post-construction operation and management systems) that demands a closer look into the proposed project’s overall value and feasibility.

Even if some political miracles happen, and the project does survive all the usual embezzlement, material substitution, and construction challenges, the question remains about post-construction end-user behavior. What if the residents of this grand eco-city won’t or do not know how to operate the city as it is designed? What if the building managers are not fully capable of grasping, let along handling, such cutting edge new builds? Remember, long-term success in energy saving and emissions reduction depend more on green practices rather than green designs.

As one of my friends used to say, eco-friendliness is a lived process rather than a set of patterns. How will the project designers, contactors, and managers address the inevitable knowledge gap among the invested parties? How will they ensure that eco-friendly designs and constructions will translate into meaningful environmentally friendly practices? Who will be living in this city when and if it gets built? Will it be an eco-city for all or a holiday resort for the few?

The scale of the proposed project also raises other concerns, such as land use change, cost concerns (not only financial, but social and environmental). Where will China build this city? What about the site’s residents and biodiversity? What about the environmental footprint of implementing such a massive project?

I am also concerned about the fact that allocating unreasonable large sum of fund and political preference to a few obnoxiously giant projects will only end up starving a greater number of competing projects, disrupting many ongoing smaller, but essential green efforts, and creating false GDP figures that reflect more of money wasted on unsustainable construction projects, rather than living conditions improved.

The speed of today’s development and innovation forbids any rigid and long-term green prescriptions. What may seem eco-friendly and energy-saving today may no longer hold true five or ten years down the line. The author of this news piece puts forward the ultimate question, which asks if this project will “stand the test of time.”

In short, feeding a few unreasonably fat will only leave the majority undernourished.

11/05/12
Chad T.

Wire Hanger Stove

Ecochunk recently published a piece on eco-friendly dung stove made using recycled wire hangers (http://www.ecochunk.com/3498/2012/10/29/thab-eco-friendly-dung-stove-made-using-recycled-wire-hangers/#more-3498). As a nomad and environmentalist myself, I feel obligated to voice against misrepresentation of my culture and dilution of the global effort to go green.

Recycled-Wire-Hangers-Stove for Tibetan nomads, is this some type of Halloween cold jokes? Come on, you got to be pulling everyone’s legs here. First of all, let’s not be fooled with the catchy Eco friendly title, and be carried away with the scary indoor toxic fumes in Tibet, and be stupefied with the billions of wire hungers ended up in the U.S. landfills every year.

While I salute to the creativity and eco-mindedness of folks involved here, let’s not paint the cliché racially biased picture of primal nomads freezing in the plateau blizzard, and then there comes the savior wealthy ones. The latter’s trash becomes the former’s treasure, and everyone lives happily ever after.

First, how eco-friendly could shipping American wire hungers off on “dwindling and carbon-emitting fuels” to the Tibetan plateau be? Let’s be realistic, it’s not eco-friendly, period.

Second, how socio-economically sensible is it to transport these wire-stoves overseas? Are the invested parties going to transport them by ship or airfreight? It doesn’t take an economist to figure out the cost if a village’s worth supply is to be transported. Wouldn’t it make more sense to reallocate the cost to raise health-related awareness, to hold basic medical training sessions, or to come up with something more levelheaded?

Third, how culturally acceptable can it be to propose the introduction of a wire-bound pile to hot rocks in one’s residence? When you are stressed over the possibility of your kids run into designer kid-friendly soft edge furniture, please do not forget the very families you are trying to save with your hangers also have little ones to worry about.

The list goes on, but I hope you got my points.

May I have a cup of coffee, please?

So here I come, ready to embrace a productive day, but only find the clumsy chick at the café keeps folks waiting. Five, ten, fifteen minute gone by, finally it’s my turn. “What are you getting today?” asks the colorful headed hippie, who wears more colors in her hair than a rainbow does.

“A large cup of regular coffee, please.” “Sure. Give me a minute” says the Ms. Fashionable and walks away to attend the bakery, and then the overflowing sink. I gave her five more minutes, and that’s it.

“A-hum (fake cough), excuse me. Hello, excuse me.”

“O, why don’t you go to the other side, and they will get your order,” says the Ms. F.

I mean it’s ten in the morning. A population of folks lined up on the other side of the counter to break their fast.

She got to be kidding. “You mean on that side?”

She nods.

“With all those folks?”

She nods again.

“Can I just get a cup? It’s two bucks.”

“You just want the coffee?” she finally wakes up.

“Yes, madam.”

“O, here you go. Enjoy.”

A slow day because of Hurricane Sandy

Schools are closed. Public transits suspended. Even the prognosticating cashier at the corner store encourages you to stock up and avoid any trips in the days ahead. “It’s gonna be bad, real bad,” she emphasizes and shakes her head in disbelief.

The landlord shares tips as how to prepare for a power outage. A friend even sends a voice message to describe how big of a battle he has had with the strong wind to keep his clothes from being stripped away. SCARED? If the answer is not yet, then here come some more scary facts about the impending storm.

Emergencies are issued in states across the east coast. President Obama cancels Florida campaign trip to return to DC to monitor the storm. The New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq closed on Monday and reportedly will remain closed on Tuesday. “[It] is the first time in 27 years the stock market have closed for a full day due to adverse weather,” reports BBC.

Scary yet major news channels kept telling about the “super storm turning ugly,” “Hurricane Sandy barrel[ing] toward Northeast,” and the storm churning the Atlantic Ocean. In short, no much rain has come yet, but psychologically the storm has already reached its climax.

So here we go, virtually watching the hurricane to unfold, and psychologically battling the storm hours ago. It’s like watching a horror movie. You invest undivided attention, so we have with the “approaching” storm. We wait. We wait, and we wait. We are having a slow day because of the strengthening storm.

C.T

10/29/12

 

 

A Brief Report on Yunnan Drought

Just a month ago the southwest China’s Yunnan Province was in the grip of persisting drought. Cracked lands and withered crops stretched across the province. Thirsty local residents and livestock rose into 8 millions and 1.5 millions respectively. 1, 6, 7 & 9 What came to known locally as “the great drought” has also dried up over 273 rivers and 413 small reservoirs in the region. 6, 7 &  9  The sustained aridity has reportedly cost Yunnan $1.6 billion dollars9 in failed crops and severely crippled key industries like flower, tobacco, and hydropower generation, to name but a few. As I write this drought report, however, heavy rains wreaked havoc many places across China including many parts in Yunnan. Weather is like that, as Paul Krugman points out in his recent article Loading the Climate Dice, it fluctuates.

It is also this very observation that “dooms us to climate catastrophe,” argues Krugman. It is the variability in rainfalls from season to season and year-to-year that makes it “easy to miss, ignore or obscure the longer-term trend.”22 It is easy for people to miss the big picture in the presence of short-run fluctuations.

At the beginning of August 2012, Climate Change and Energy Consul Bob Easton and I took a fieldtrip to Yunnan. We have called on relevant governmental departments, research institutes, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and visited local villages (Please see Annex 1 for the complete list of departments, organizations, and villages we have visited). 

Based on findings from literature review and in person interviews with relevant organizations and individuals, the current report provides an overview and preliminary analysis of Yunnan’s drought, its impact assessment, causal factors, adaptation measures, political debates, and potential opportunities for enhancing Sino-UK water collaboration.

I. Rich in Water Resources, but Susceptibility to Drought 

Yunnan is celebrated as the third national water-rich province in China right after Tibet and Sichuan province. However, its provincial capital Kunming is one of the 14 cities in China with the lowest water resources.15

Uneven distribution of regional water resources withholds Yunnan’s development and utilization of its water only at 7%, which is less than a third of the national average of 22%.15Temporally, rainy season normally spins from May to October and brings approximately 85% of the total annual rainfall. The remaining of the year is considered as dry season and only contributes about 15% of annual rainfall.

Geographically, 94% of the provincial terrain is mountainous, and only about 6% of the region lies flat. The region’s flat plains (6% of the total area) accommodate 2/3 of the population and 1/3 of the total farmland, but only have access to 7% of total water resources. In the absence of adaptive water resource management and efficient water infrastructures, rivers in the depth of low-lying valleys hardly contribute much water to the upper level of the highland. 

Yunnanese enjoyed four times more per capita water resource than the national average. Six major river systems, including Yangtze River (Jinsha River), the Pearl River, the Mekong (Lancang), the Red River (Honghe), the Salween (Nu River) and the Irrawaddy (i.e., tributaries like Dulong River), either originate or run through Yunnan Province. However, the region has suffered from three consecutive years’ drought—2009 to 2011. Whether 2012 will sustain the Great Drought into a fourth year is still open to discussion. The sustained drought in a region celebrated for its rich water resources begs the questions of what have induced the persisting drought and why the impact is so severe.

II. The Great Drought: An Overview

Since July 2009, a lingering drought for more than three years left Yunnan’s land parched and populations desperate. River flows decreased, water levels in lakes and other impoundments dropped to record low. Cracked riverbeds and withered plants upset the natural abundances, which were once celebrated as an epicentre of Chinese biodiversity.21 Concerns over drought induced disruption of social harmony7 and economic loss22 saturated headlines of the Chinese media.  

The occurrence and severity of the Great Drought is uncontested. Sustained precipitation reduction reset the lowest rainfall record in decades. In 2011, annual rainfall in 60 cities and counties across Yunnan province hit the lowest in 20 years. 41 of which suffered from the lowest annual rainfall in past 50 plus years11. Counties like Fumin have undergone three years’ consecutive drought, according to Yunnan official data Fumin county’s annual rainfalls in 2009, 2010, and 2011 were 558, 652, and 530 mm, which are much lower than its annual average of 853mm. Comparing to the annual average, Fumin’s precipitation in these three years decreased by 35%, 23% and 38% , respectively.11

Reduction in annual rainfall led to abnormally low river inflow across Yunnan Province. From January to May 2012, average inflow of Yunnan watersheds is 32% lower than the averages in corresponding time periods in previous years. In May, average water level is 40% lower than the averages in similar time periods. Figure 1 shows Yunnan’s six major watersheds and their main tributaries’ water level in comparison with historical average over many years.12

Figure 1:

Figure 1 Jan – May Yunnan Watersheds’ Average Water Level in Comparison with its Temporal Corresponding Historical Average (Yunnan Water Resource Bureau, 2012)

Impact of the Drought

Millions of people and animals suffered from shortage of drinking water.  In 2010, reportedly 18% of the provincial population were short of drinking water and suffered over $2.5 billion worth of crop failure.1 

Over 130-thousand hectares of forests and 520-thousand hectares of croplands were at the mercy of drought induced wildfire.22

Competition over scarce water resources ignited sporadic disruption of social harmony.7 Quarrels and outright fights broke out among desperate farmers as they struggled to meet their water needs. There were reportedly over 1,500 cases of disputes where officials had to step in.7

The booming hydropower generation has also slow down into an infinite halt. According to personal communications with Yunnan provincial development and reform commission, the sustained drought has decreased more than half of the electricity generation from the hydropower stations in the region. There is no way of knowing when it will resume normal production.

As Yunnan’s altitude ranges from few hundreds to over six thousand meters, its tropical environments and snow-capped mountains support one of the most concentrated and diverse spectrum of flora and fauna species. The topographic range has also created a safe haven for an extremely high degree of endemism. The once-in-a-century drought also imposed serious threat to the very survival of many endemic species whose numbers are small and habitats are highly concentrated.23 

Drought induced alteration in regional species composition will most likely lead to replacement of endemic species by drought resistant ones.24 Zhu Hua, an ecologist at XTBG and his colleagues noted a 10% increase in the abundance of liana species over the past few decades in southwest Yunnan’s tropical forests.1              

The replacement of matured tropic forest with fast growing commercial forest also deprives the ecosystem of its ability to capture moisture and absorb carbon dioxide. Cao Kunfang of XTBG points out, “having more lianas in tropical forest could compromise their function as a carbon sink.”1

In short, the impact of the drought is prevailing and severe. It deprived millions of people and livestock of their drinking water, flora and fauna of their bloodlines, ecosystems of their contents and basic services.    

Causes of the Drought: Anthropogenic and Natural

While government officials and peasants all grieve over the sustained drought, they disagree on the probable causes and corresponding mitigation measures of the drought. The difference in their causal analyses also seems to have induced political sensitivity over the issue.

As our field research in Yunnan has revealed, local NGOs and academicians tended to point to failed governmental policies and ill management of natural resources as a major, if not the only, cause of recent climatic anomalies. Quite the opposite, relevant government officials whom we interviewed attributed the decrease in rainfall and delayed rainy seasons as extreme weathers of the historical distribution. “Climatic disaster is nothing new to Yunnan. As the saying goes ‘no climatic disaster does not constitute a year’,” jokes Chen Jian, the deputy director of Yunnan Water Resource Department (Henceforth abbreviated as Yunnan WRD). 

Deforestation

Large-scale clearance of tropic forest and plantation of commercial trees upset regional microclimate.16, 24 “Natural forests are the key regulator of climate and hydrological processes,” says Xu, China’s representative at the World Agroforestry Centre.1 The deforestation in mountainous Yunnan weakened the region’s ability to retain moisture during rainy seasons and to sustain a myriad of flora and faunas during dry seasons. 

Dr. Liu of Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden (XTBG) also expressed similar concerns with large-scale deforestation, suggesting that forest clearance results in soil erosion, landslides and flash floods. It also “removes the valuable ecological services natural forests provide”1. The impact of deforestation is the most acute during prolonged droughts, whereas, in wetter monsoon seasons there are more floods.

The removal of forest’s ecological services is then compounded with the plantation of water-thirsty commercial trees, namely rubber trees and eucalyptuses.16, 23 By 2010, rubber trees, also locally known as water pumps, cover 20% of Xishuangbanna’s land.1 In Ailao Mountains, where climatically prohibit rubber plantation, fast growing eucalyptus are replacing primary forest to feed the paper industry.1  

Chen at Yunnan Water Resource Department believes Yunnan’s mountainous topography and uneven distribution of water resources make the region vulnerable to drought. He prides Yunnan (~52%) being the third in forest coverage right after Fujian (62%) and Jiangxi (61%). 15,18 Chen argues the negligible percentage of commercial forest in comparison with the overall provincial forest cover does little, if any, damage to the local ecology.

On the other hand, however, experts and NGOs alike depict a quite different picture when it comes to local forestry coverage. They point out forest coverage may remain the same, but the ecological function has severely downgraded. Feng (2007) shared similar concerns with forestry coverage in Fujian and Jiangxi. The large-scale replacement of natural forest with commercial ones does not change the overall coverage, but loses many ecological services, thus Feng (2007) refers to large commercial forest coverage that does little to conserve the ecosystem as “Green Desert” phenomenon. 

Dr. Ou of Yunnan University explains that it is the overemphasis of economic value and negligence of ecological values of trees that have lead to large-scale conversion of tropical rain forest to commercial forest (i.e., rubber and eucalyptus).

The Time Weekly’s senior columnist Yin Hongwei points out that the causes of and corresponding solutions to Yunnan’s persisting drought cannot be sought and prescribed in Yunnan alone. He believes we have to broaden our scope of analysis, look at what is happening in Yunnan’s neighbouring countries and provinces. According to Yin, western countries’ demand for luxury woodwork is a major stimulus for the continued deforestation in Yunnan’s neighbouring places and thus indirectly contributes to the climatic anomalies in Yunnan and beyond. 

Water Management

Poor water management is yet another culprit of inducing regional climate anomalies. Yunnan’s reservoirs are aged and ill-used. Many of Yunnan’s natural lakes are severely polluted and cannot be utilized.1 & 16

Some argue that Yunnan’s drought is as much of a natural drought as it is mismanagement of water resources.16 & 23 Local experts point out water shortage in Yunnan as infrastructural and water quality-relevant.

In the absence of effective water infrastructure, Yunnan’s rich water resource does little to alleviate droughts like the recent one through 2009 to Present. Government’s interpretation of water infrastructure seems rather simplistic, which is to develop reservoirs to store water in rainy seasons to meet water needs during the dry months, and to introduce pipelines to promote irrigation water use efficiency.15 However, as mentioned earlier in the report, experts and farmers alike argue such token measures only address urban drinking water and commercial farming (i.e., tobacco and flower industries), and do little to alleviate water shortage among impoverished farmers scattered over a large mountainous region, nor suffice the ecosystems water needs.

Drought is severe, because Yunnan’s waters suffer from high level of anthropogenic pollution. Among Yunnan’s nine major lakes, only four are useable. Only 40% of all river water in the region is drinkable.16 Chen Jian of Yunnan Provincial Water Resource Department acknowledges the challenges imposed with increasing wastewater from a rapid Urbanization, and sustained reduction in Rainfall in the region.

The government’s mitigation measures, as Chen introduced it, include protection of water resources’ environments, improvement of wastewater treatment, and promotion of water-saving technologies and consumers’ behaviours. However, as he delved into the actual implementations of such measures, he mainly focused on the treatment plants in Kunming.

“There are ten wastewater treatment plants in Kunming,” said Chen, “90% of the city’s wastewater are fully treated.”16 However, Chen’s statement was later fully rejected by academicians at both Yunnan University and Kunming Institute of Geo-botany.

“An illustrative example of such wastewater treatment is the Dianchi Project,” said Dr. Ou of Yunnan University, “repeated water tests show that Dianchi’s water quality is way below any usability, not even for industrial use. It was tested positive for carcinogens.”23 Dr. Ou finds it incomprehensible that the government is considering Dianchi’ water can be purified with some immature treatments. He voices concerns for the population’ s wellbeing over such irrational government measures. 

Climate Change

As leading climatic scientist like James Hansen, director of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, confessed that he had been too optimistic to think climate change is a steady process. He wrote he had “failed to fully explore how quickly that average rise [of global average temperature] would drive an increase in extreme weather.”19 

The impact of global climate change is no longer a distant theory or a future phenomenon for residents in Yunnan.   Human induced climate change has been identified as a major cause of the drought across different socio-political sectors.15, 16, 17, 22, 23 Shu at Green Kunming believes that it is perturbed changes in global climate that stress regional climate. Pich Dun, secretary-general of the Cambodian National Mekong Commission, told Xinhua News “the drought in Southwest China including Yunnan province was caused by climate change, or climatic cycles.”8  

Based on the monthly precipitation and temperature data of Yunnan’s 122 stations from 1961-2006, the evolution of Yunnan’s annual average temperature anomaly shares a similar upward trend as the global average temperature. While Yunnan’s microclimate has undergone a 0.2°C/10a rise, the global average temperature has been warming by 0.1°C/10a.13

With the warming trend, Yunnan’s annual utilizable precipitation average has been decreased by -0.8mm. According to Tao et al.’s study (2010), the utilizable precipitation decreased in summer (-1.3mm/a), autumn (-0.3mm/a) and winter (-0.02mm/a).13 Therefore, the decrease was especially severe in summer. As Figure 2 shows, Yunnan’s annual utilizable precipitation has  been decreasing consistently for the last nearly 50 years13.

 

 

Figure 2 Temporal Evolution of annual average temperature anomaly over (a) the globe and (b) Yunnan Province from 1961 to 2006 (Tao et al., 2010)

While local researchers, NGOs, and residents point their fingers to the government, the latter direct its finger to the global climate and nature as the causes of the great drought in Yunnan.16 As we put forward the question of potential causes of the drought, Chen Jian of Yunnan WRD referenced back to the pages he was holding. “Drought is not new to Yunnan. Looking at last hundred-year’s temperature and rainfall data, Yunnan had six sustained droughts, two of which went on for five consecutive years. Drought is not surprise to anyone in Yunnan.”16 However, the drought in past three years can be attributed to “atmospheric pressure irregularities and strong El Nino,” concludes Chen.15

Similarly, according to Wang Gao from the Chinese Academy of Engineering, Yunnan’s drought is caused by atmospheric pressure. “Dry and warm airflows from India and Pakistan have controlled the province. The streams are so strong that they prevent the humid currents from the Indian Ocean and South China Sea entering. The two air streams meet over the sky in Thailand and Cambodia, so these regions have plenty rainfalls, while Yunnan always suffers drought.”9

Mitigation and Adaptation of the Drought

Different interpretations of causal analyses have directly resulted in different proposals of mitigation measures to combat drought. Chen of Yunnan WRD prides on the large sum of money the Chinese central government has allocated to accelerate water infrastructure developments in Yunnan. NGOs and researchers, however, criticize such drought mitigation measure as being myopic. Dr. Xu, the director of Kunming Institute of Geo-botany, points out that the construction of reservoirs and big dams can only supply address urban drinking water. It neither guarantees water supply for populations scattered over a large area, nor suffices the need of ecological systems’ water needs.

Senior columnist Yin Hongwei of the Time Weekly questions the actual application of government funds to proposed infrastructure projects. “The central government’s allocation is one thing, but the actual delivery of the proposed project is quite a different animal,” says Yin.

Yin’s suspicion seems to resonate among local peasants in two of the villages we visited. In Jizi village, we have visited a reservoir that was built in 1958. Since then it has received a series of repairs, but no additional reservoirs were built in the area. Villagers were also very reluctant to disclose any info at the present of governmental officials.

Despite such distrust and criticism from the general public, the central government has allocated 20 billion yuan to support Yunnan’s water infrastructure development since 2011.15

Government’s other drought mitigation measures include conversion of monoculture to intercropping,1 employment of artificial precipitation,8 and drilling wells.1 The most severely impacted regions have also promoted temporary population relocation in the form of immigrant workers.7

According to Zhu, president of Yunnan Agricultural University, in 2010, 80% of the farmland in Yunnan adopted intercropping.1 Large-scale hillside farmlands were converted into terraced cropland to mitigate soil erosion and landslide.

Over 2000 drought relief workers were reportedly deployed to drill wells around the clock in southwest China in 2010.1 Between Mar 22 and 28 in 2010, a dozen flights were made and nearly 10,000 artillery shells and 1,000 rockets were fired into the atmosphere over southwest China.2

Major water diversion projects were yet another drought adaption strategies mentioned time and again during our visit to Yunnan Water Resource Department. However, concerns over insufficient environmental assessment and associated ecological and social impacts of such large-scale water diversion projects are well registered among local experts, NGOs, and indigenous peasants. The continuation of such ecological alteration is most likely going to upset social and ecological stability in the long run.23  

Political Debate of the Drought

While dried riverbeds and failed crops forbid denial of the occurrence of a severe drought, its causal analyses and mitigation measures seem to become more of a political debate and thus subject to political sensitivity.

One of the top leaders at Tai’an Township, Yulong County in Yunnan, warned us not to talk to any farmers on the subject of drought. “I can tell you what’s happening, because I know it,” said Li, “I am telling you not to speak to any farmer about it, because they don’t know the whole story. If you insist on doing so, I am afraid I will have to call the security to escort you off the village” warned Li.

In response to our question of why drought was a sensitive topic, Li laughed and jokingly stated, “It relates to their survival, very livelihoods. Do you think it is sensitive?”

This level of nervousness seemed rather present among all levels of the relevant government departments. Our appointments with Lijiang Water Resource Department and Lijiang Civil’s Affairs were cancelled at the last minute. To their convenience, Naxi ethnic group’s Bonfire Festival was on same day as our visit. We were told officials from both departments had changes of plan and weren’t available to meet us.

Similarly, the head of Jizi reservoir in Jizi village also refused to speak to us. His presence even quieted otherwise very friendly peasants in the village. 

Such sensitivity begs the question what is there to hide?

The relevant governmental officials prided over the allocation of large sums of emergency aids and grand proposals of mega-water infrastructure projects. However, local farmers and experts alike mourned over the oxymoronic phenomenon, in which much was invested, but little had been achieved.  In Yin Hongwei’s words, “the central government’s allocation is one thing, but the actual delivery of the proposed project is quite a different animal.”

A clear dichotomy was also brought into being, when it came to the drought’s causal analyses. While the government attributed the causes of the great drought to global climate irregularity and the abstract concept of a nature, people uniformly directed their complains toward the government’s failed policies, ill management of natural resources, and preference of economic and political gains to ecological values and environmental protection.

Some even explained the government’s reactive attitude towards one of the worst drought in Yunnan’s recent history as a sign of its gratification in positive publicity and being portrayed as the ultimate savoir at times of natural disasters. “There is no alternative explanation for the government’s token measure employed to mitigate what is clearly a once-in-a-century disaster.”16

References:

  1.  Qiu, J. (2010). China drought highlights future climate threats. Nature, 465, 142-143. doi:10.1038/465142a
  2.  Xinhua. (2010, March 31). Science offers solutions to severe drought. Inkunming. Retrieved from http://en.kunming.cn/index/content/2010-03/31/content_2113535.htm
  3. 黄, 慧君. “2006年云南省盛夏高温干旱成因分析.” Yunnan Geographic Environment Research 21.4 (2009): 83-86.
  4. 刘, 瑜, 尔旭 赵, 玮 黄, 丹 孙, and 建华 琚. “2005 年初夏云南严重干旱的诊断分析.” Journal of Tropical Meteorology 23.1 (2007): 35-40.
  5. Horton, C. (2010, March 22). Yunnan’s drought woes continue. Gokunming. Retrieved from http://www.gokunming.com/en/blog/item/1421/yunnans_drought_woes_continue
  6. Qing, M. (2012, March 02). The great yunnan drought. The Epoch Times. Retrieved from http://www.gokunming.com/en/blog/item/1421/yunnans_drought_woes_continue
  7. Zhang, Z. (2012, July 18). Yunnan’s endless drought. Global Times. Retrieved from http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/721867.shtml
  8. China Daily. (2010, April 1). Reservoirs not cause of drought. China Daily. Retrieved from http://www.china.org.cn/environment/2010-04/01/content_19727336.htm
  9. CNC. (2012, March 19). Yunnan’s endless drought. CNC World. Retrieved from http://www.cncworld.tv/news/v_show/22945_Experts_on_Yunnan_drought.shtml
  10. Kuming Information Harbor. (2012, July 23). 云南全省降雨量比往年少320毫米 [Precipitation in Yunnan Has Reduced by 320mm in Comparison to Previous Years]. Www.km.gov.cn. Retrieved from http://www.km.gov.cn/structure/sylm/kmxwxx_200720_1.htm
  11. Yunnan Xinglong Information Net. (2012, February 27). 云南到底有多旱,监测数据来说话. [How severe is the Yunnan drought? Let the observed data speak.]Yunnan Xinglong Information Net. Retrieved from http://www.ynnw.gov.cn/Modules/Image/Imgtxt.aspx?kid=207972
  12. 云南省水文水资源局. “云南省水情简报.” 1(2012), 23 July 2012.
  13. Tao, Yun, Hua He, Qun He, Changchun Duan, and Juzhang Ren. “Evolutional Characteristics of Utilizable Precipitation over Yunnan Province Form 1961 to 2006.” Advances in Climate Change Research 6.1 (2010): 8-14. Web. 28 July 2012. <http://www.climatechange.cn/CN/abstract/abstract8614.shtml#>.
  14. People’s Net. (2010, March 23). 云南水资源总量全国第三 为何会干旱?[Yunnan’s water resource ranks national third, why the drought?]. Www.people.com.cn. Retrieved from http://society.people.com.cn/GB/1063/11202525.html
  15. Yunnan Water Resources Department, Personal Communication, August 8-9, 2012
  16. Local NGOs in Yunnan, Personal Communication, August 8-12, 2012
  17. Field trip to Tai’an Town and Jizi Village, August 13, 2012
  18. Feng, Y. F. (2007), Environmental Protection, Declare War Against Radical Developmentalism
  19. Hansen, J. E. (2012, August 03). Opinions climate change is here — and worse than we thought. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/climate-change-is-here–and-worse-than-we-thought/2012/08/03/6ae604c2-dd90-11e1-8e43-4a3c4375504a_story.html Jul. 22, 2012
  20.  UNESCO (2010,). Three parallel rivers of Yunnan protected areas. UNESCO.
  21. (2012, February 29). More emergency relief for drought-stricken Yunnan. China Bystander. Retrieved from http://chinabystander.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/more-emergency-relief-for-drought-stricken-yunnan/
  22. X. Ou, Personal communication, August 9, 2012
  23. J. Xu, Personal communication, August 10, 2012
  24. EU. (2012, March 14). China Europe water platform launched. Delegation Of The European Union To China. Retrieved from http://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/china/press_corner/all_news/news/2012/20120314_en.htm
  25.  (2012, May 21). China to allocate $79bn to prevent water pollution. Water-technology.net. Retrieved from http://www.water-technology.net/news/newschina-allocating-79bn-to-prevent-water-pollution/
  26. (2003, April 10). Uk firms seek iraq contracts. Water-technology.net. Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/2934233.stm

Green Glossary

Adaptation Action that helps cope with the effects of climate change – for example construction of barriers to protect against rising sea levels, or conversion to crops capable of surviving high temperatures and drought.

Adaptation fund A fund for projects and programmes that help developing countries cope with the adverse effects of climate change. It is financed by a share of proceeds from emission-reduction programmes such as the Clean Development Mechanism.

Annex I countries The industrialised countries (and countries in transition to a market economy) which took on obligations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. Their combined emissions, averaged out during the 2008-2012 period, should be 5.2% below 1990 levels.

Annex II Countries which have a special obligation under the Kyoto Protocol to provide financial resources and transfer technology to developing countries. This group is a sub-section of the Annex I countries, excluding those that, in 1992, were in transition from centrally planned to a free market economy.

Anthropogenic climate change Man-made climate change – climate change caused by human activity as opposed to natural processes.

Aosis The Alliance of Small Island States comprises 42 island and coastal states mostly in the Pacific and Caribbean. Members of Aosis are some of the countries likely to be hit hardest by global warming. The very existence of low-lying islands, such as the Maldives and some of the Bahamas, is threatened by rising waters.

AR4 The Fourth Assessment Report produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published in 2007. The report assessed and summarised the climate change situation worldwide. It concluded that it was at least 90% likely that the increase of the global average temperature since the mid-20th Century was mainly due to man’s activity.

Atmospheric aerosols Microscopic particles suspended in the lower atmosphere that reflect sunlight back to space. These generally have a cooling affect on the planet and can mask global warming. They play a key role in the formation of clouds, fog, precipitation and ozone depletion in the atmosphere.

B

Bali action plan A plan drawn up at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, in December 2007, forming part of the Bali roadmap. The action plan established a working group to define a long-term global goal for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and a “shared vision for long-term co-operative action” in the areas of mitigation, adaptation, finance and technology.

Bali roadmap A plan drawn up at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, in December 2007, to pave the way for an agreement at Copenhagen in 2009 on further efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions after the expiry of the Kyoto Protocol. The roadmap gave deadlines to two working groups, one working on the Bali action plan, and another discussing proposed emission reductions by Annex I countries after 2012.

Baseline for cuts The year against which countries measure their target decrease of emissions. The Kyoto Protocol uses a baseline year of 1990. Some countries prefer to use later baselines. Climate change legislation in the United States, for example, uses a 2005 baseline.

Biofuel A fuel derived from renewable, biological sources, including crops such as maize and sugar cane, and some forms of waste.

Black carbon The soot that results from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biofuels, and biomass (wood, animal dung, etc.). It is the most potent climate-warming aerosol. Unlike greenhouse gases, which trap infrared radiation that is already in the Earth’s atmosphere, these particles absorb all wavelengths of sunlight and then re-emit this energy as infrared radiation.

Boxer-Kerry bill The Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, now in the US Senate, also known as Waxman-Markey from 2007-2009 as it passed through the House of Representatives. This bill aims to reduce emissions by about 20% from a 2005 baseline by 2020. The bill would create a US-wide carbon market, which in time would link up with other carbon markets, like the EU Emission Trading Scheme. The bill is not expected to get Senate approval until 2010.

Business as usual A scenario used for projections of future emissions assuming no action, or no new action, is taken to mitigate the problem. Some countries are pledging not to reduce their emissions but to make reductions compared to a business as usual scenario. Their emissions, therefore, would increase but less than they would have done.

C

Cap and trade An emission trading scheme whereby businesses or countries can buy or sell allowances to emit greenhouse gases via an exchange. The volume of allowances issued adds up to the limit, or cap, imposed by the authorities.

Carbon capture and storage The collection and transport of concentrated carbon dioxide gas from large emission sources, such as power plants. The gases are then injected into deep underground reservoirs. Carbon capture is sometimes referred to as geological sequestration.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) Carbon dioxide is a gas in the Earth’s atmosphere. It occurs naturally and is also a by-product of human activities such as burning fossil fuels. It is the principal greenhouse gas produced by human activity.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent Six greenhouse gases are limited by the Kyoto Protocol and each has a different global warming potential. The overall warming effect of this cocktail of gases is often expressed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent – the amount of CO2 that would cause the same amount of warming.

Carbon footprint The amount of carbon emitted by an individual or organisation in a given period of time, or the amount of carbon emitted during the manufacture of a product.

Carbon intensity A unit of measure. The amount of carbon emitted by a country per unit of Gross Domestic Product.

Carbon leakage A term used to refer to the problem whereby industry relocates to countries where emission regimes are weaker, or non-existent.

Carbon neutral A process where there is no net release of CO2. For example, growing biomass takes CO2 out of the atmosphere, while burning it releases the gas again. The process would be carbon neutral if the amount taken out and the amount released were identical. A company or country can also achieve carbon neutrality by means of carbon offsetting.

Carbon offsetting A way of compensating for emissions of CO2 by participating in, or funding, efforts to take CO2 out of the atmosphere. Offsetting often involves paying another party, somewhere else, to save emissions equivalent to those produced by your activity.

Carbon sequestration The process of storing carbon dioxide. This can happen naturally, as growing trees and plants turn CO2 into biomass (wood, leaves, and so on). It can also refer to the capture and storage of CO2 produced by industry. See Carbon capture and storage.

Carbon sink Any process, activity or mechanism that removes carbon from the atmosphere. The biggest carbon sinks are the world’s oceans and forests, which absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide from the Earth’s atmosphere.

Certified Emission Reduction (CER) A greenhouse gas trading credit, under the UN Clean Development Mechanism programme. A CER may be earned by participating in emission reduction programmes – installing green technology, or planting forests – in developing countries. Each CER is equivalent to one tonne of carbon dioxide.

CFCs The short name for chlorofluorocarbons – a family of gases that have contributed to stratospheric ozone depletion, but which are also potent greenhouse gases. Emissions of CFCs around the developed world are being phased out due to an international control agreement, the 1989 Montreal Protocol.

Clean coal technology Technology that enables coal to be burned without emitting CO2. Some systems currently being developed remove the CO2 before combustion, others remove it afterwards. Clean coal technology is unlikely to be widely available for at least a decade.

Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) A programme that enables developed countries or companies to earn credits by investing in greenhouse gas emission reduction or removal projects in developing countries. These credits can be used to offset emissions and bring the country or company below its mandatory target.

Climate change A pattern of change affecting global or regional climate, as measured by yardsticks such as average temperature and rainfall, or an alteration in frequency of extreme weather conditions. This variation may be caused by both natural processes and human activity. Global warming is one aspect of climate change.

CO2 See carbon dioxide.

Commitment period The time frame given to parties to the Kyoto Protocol to meet their emission reduction commitments. The first Kyoto commitment period runs from 2008-2012, during which industrialised countries are required collectively to reduce emissions to a level 5% below 1990 levels. Some countries would like the Copenhagen conference to prolong the effective life of the Kyoto Protocol by agreeing explicitly on a second commitment period.

COP17 The official title of the Durban conference. Alternatively, it can be called the 17th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Country in transition Broadly speaking, any ex-Soviet bloc state. At the time the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997, these countries were on the path from a Communist planned economy to a market economy. Many of them would now be categorised as market economies. Countries in transition to a market economy are grouped with industrialised countries in Annex I of the Kyoto Protocol, so they have emission reduction commitments to meet in the 2008-2012 period. In some cases their industrial base collapsed to such a degree in the early 1990s that they will have no difficulty meeting these commitments.

D

Dangerous climate change A term referring to severe climate change that will have a negative effect on societies, economies, and the environment as a whole. The phrase was introduced by the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which aims to prevent “dangerous” human interference with the climate system.

Deforestation The permanent removal of standing forests that can lead to significant levels of carbon dioxide emissions.

E

Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) A scheme set up to allow the trading of emissions permits between business and/or countries as part of a cap and trade approach to limiting greenhouse gas emissions. The best-developed example is the EU’s trading scheme, launched in 2005. See Cap and trade.

EU Burden-sharing agreement A political agreement that was reached to help the EU reach its emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol (a reduction of 8% during the period 2008-2012, on average, compared with 1990 levels). The 1998 agreement divided the burden unequally amongst member states, taking into account national conditions, including greenhouse gas emissions at the time, the opportunity for reducing them, and countries’ levels of economic development.

F

Feedback loop In a feedback loop, rising temperatures on the Earth change the environment in ways that affect the rate of warming. Feedback loops can be positive (adding to the rate of warming), or negative (reducing it). The melting of Arctic ice provides an example of a positive feedback process. As the ice on the surface of the Arctic Ocean melts away, there is a smaller area of white ice to reflect the Sun’s heat back into space and more open, dark water to absorb it. The less ice there is, the more the water heats up, and the faster the remaining ice melts.

Flexible mechanism Instruments that help countries and companies meet emission reduction targets by paying others to reduce emissions for them. The mechanism in widest use is emissions trading, where companies or countries buy and sell permits to pollute. The Kyoto Protocol establishes two flexible mechanisms enabling rich countries to fund emission reduction projects in developing countries – Joint Implementation (JI) and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

Fossil fuels Natural resources, such as coal, oil and natural gas, containing hydrocarbons. These fuels are formed in the Earth over millions of years and produce carbon dioxide when burnt.

G

G77 The main negotiating bloc for developing countries, allied with China (G77+China). The G77 comprises 130 countries, including India and Brazil, most African countries, the grouping of small island states (Aosis), the Gulf states and many others, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

Geological sequestration The injection of carbon dioxide into underground geological formations. When CO2 is injected into declining oil fields it can help to recover more of the oil.

Global average temperature The mean surface temperature of the Earth measured from three main sources: satellites, monthly readings from a network of over 3,000 surface temperature observation stations and sea surface temperature measurements taken mainly from the fleet of merchant ships, naval ships and data buoys.

Global energy budget The balance between the Earth’s incoming and outgoing energy. The current global climate system must adjust to rising greenhouse gas levels and, in the very long term, the Earth must get rid of energy at the same rate at which it receives energy from the sun.

Global dimming An observed widespread reduction in sunlight at the surface of the Earth, which varies significantly between regions. The most likely cause of global dimming is an interaction between sunlight and microscopic aerosol particles from human activities. In some regions, such as Europe, global dimming no longer occurs, thanks to clean air regulations.

Global warming The steady rise in global average temperature in recent decades, which experts believe is largely caused by man-made greenhouse gas emissions. The long-term trend continues upwards, they suggest, even though the warmest year on record, according to the UK’s Met Office, is 1998.

Global Warming Potential (GWP) A measure of a greenhouse gas’s ability to absorb heat and warm the atmosphere over a given time period. It is measured relative to a similar mass of carbon dioxide, which has a GWP of 1.0. So, for example, methane has a GWP of 25 over 100 years, the metric used in the Kyoto Protocol. It is important to know the timescale, as gases are removed from the atmosphere at different rates.

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) Natural and industrial gases that trap heat from the Earth and warm the surface. The Kyoto Protocol restricts emissions of six greenhouse gases: natural (carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane) and industrial (perfluorocarbons, hydrofluorocarbons, and sulphur hexafluoride).

Greenhouse effect The insulating effect of certain gases in the atmosphere, which allow solar radiation to warm the earth and then prevent some of the heat from escaping. See also Natural greenhouse effect.

H

Hockey stick The name given to a graph published in 1998 plotting the average temperature in the Northern hemisphere over the last 1,000 years. The line remains roughly flat until the last 100 years, when it bends sharply upwards. The graph has been cited as evidence to support the idea that global warming is a man-made phenomenon, but some scientists have challenged the data and methodology used to estimate historical temperatures. (It is also known as MBH98 after its creators, Michael E. Mann, Raymond S. Bradley and Malcolm K. Hughes.)

I

IPCC The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a scientific body established by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization. It reviews and assesses the most recent scientific, technical, and socio-economic work relevant to climate change, but does not carry out its own research. The IPCC was honoured with the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

J

Joint implementation (JI) An agreement between two parties whereby one party struggling to meet its emission reductions under the Kyoto Protocol earns emission reduction units from another party’s emission removal project. The JI is a flexible and cost-efficient way of fulfilling Kyoto agreements while also encouraging foreign investment and technology transfer.

K

Kyoto Protocol A protocol attached to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which sets legally binding commitments on greenhouse gas emissions. Industrialised countries agreed to reduce their combined emissions to 5.2% below 1990 levels during the five-year period 2008-2012. It was agreed by governments at a 1997 UN conference in Kyoto, Japan, but did not legally come into force until 2005.

L

LDCs Least Developed Countries represent the poorest and weakest countries in the world. The current list of LDCs includes 49 countries – 33 in Africa, 15 in Asia and the Pacific, and one in Latin America.

LULUCF This refers to Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry. Activities in LULUCF provide a method of offsetting emissions, either by increasing the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere (i.e. by planting trees or managing forests), or by reducing emissions (i.e. by curbing deforestation and the associated burning of wood).

M

Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate A forum established in 2009 by US President Barack Obama to discuss elements of the agreement that will be negotiated at Copenhagen. Its members – Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, the UK and the US – account for 80% of greenhouse gas emissions. The forum is a modification of the Major Economies Meeting started by the former President George Bush, which was seen by some countries as an attempt to undermine UN negotiations.

Methane Methane is the second most important man-made greenhouse gas. Sources include both the natural world (wetlands, termites, wildfires) and human activity (agriculture, waste dumps, leaks from coal mining).

Mitigation Action that will reduce man-made climate change. This includes action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or absorb greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

N

Nairobi work programme The Nairobi work programme on Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Change is a five year programme (2005-2010) under the UN Framework on Climate Change. Its objective is to assist all parties, in particular developing countries, to improve their understanding and assessment of impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change; and to make informed decisions on practical adaptation actions, on a sound scientific, technical and socio-economic basis.

Natural greenhouse effect The natural level of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, which keeps the planet about 30C warmer than it would otherwise be – essential for life as we know it. Water vapour is the most important component of the natural greenhouse effect.

Non-annex I countries The group of developing countries that have signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol. They do not have binding emission reduction targets.

O

Ocean acidification The ocean absorbs approximately one-fourth of man-made CO2 from the atmosphere, which helps to reduce adverse climate change effects. However, when the CO2 dissolves in seawater, carbonic acid is formed. Carbon emissions in the industrial era have already lowered the pH of seawater by 0.1. Ocean acidification can decrease the ability of marine organisms to build their shells and skeletal structures and kill off coral reefs, with serious effects for people who rely on them as fishing grounds.

P

Per-capita emissions The total amount of greenhouse gas emitted by a country per unit of population.

ppm (350/450) An abbreviation for parts per million, usually used as short for ppmv (parts per million by volume). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggested in 2007 that the world should aim to stabilise greenhouse gas levels at 450 ppm CO2 equivalent in order to avert dangerous climate change. Some scientists, and many of the countries most vulnerable to climate change, argue that the safe upper limit is 350ppm. Current levels of CO2 only are about 380ppm.

Pre-industrial levels of carbon dioxide The levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere prior to the start of the Industrial Revolution. These levels are estimated to be about 280 parts per million (by volume). The current level is around 380ppm.

R

Renewable energy Renewable energy is energy created from sources that can be replenished in a short period of time. The five renewable sources used most often are: biomass (such as wood and biogas), the movement of water, geothermal (heat from within the earth), wind, and solar.

REDD Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, a concept that would provide developing countries with a financial incentive to preserve forests. The Copenhagen conference is expected to finalise an international finance mechanism for the post-2012 global climate change framework.

S

Stern review A report on the economics of climate change led by Lord Nicholas Stern, a former World Bank economist. It was published on 30 October 2006 and argued that the cost of dealing with the consequences of climate change in the future would be higher than taking action to mitigate the problem now.

T

Technology transfer The process whereby technological advances are shared between different countries. Developed countries could, for example, share up-to-date renewable energy technologies with developing countries, in an effort to lower global greenhouse gas emissions.

Tipping point A tipping point is a threshold for change, which, when reached, results in a process that is difficult to reverse. Scientists say it is urgent that policy makers halve global carbon dioxide emissions over the next 50 years or risk triggering changes that could be irreversible.

Twenty-twenty-twenty (20-20-20) This refers to a pledge by the European Union to reach three targets by 2020: (a) a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels; (b) an increase in the use of renewable energy to 20% of all energy consumed; and (c) a 20% increase in energy efficiency. The EU says it will reduce emissions by 30%, by 2020, if other developed countries also pledge tough action.

U

UNFCCC The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is one of a series of international agreements on global environmental issues adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The UNFCCC aims to prevent “dangerous” human interference with the climate system. It entered into force on 21 March 1994 and has been ratified by 192 countries.

W

Waxman-Markey bill Another name for the Boxer-Kerry bill, which aims to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions. See Boxer-Kerry bill.

Weather The state of the atmosphere with regard to temperature, cloudiness, rainfall, wind and other meteorological conditions. It is not the same as climate which is the average weather over a much longer period.

 

Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11833685

Attitude & Performance

One’s writing skills depend more on attitude/mindset rather than linguistic talent. According to ICL&W, 70% of a person’s articulacy in writing comes from his confidence rather than any linguistic aptitude. Often times we mentally focus too much on producing quality work that by the time when we are actually ready to type up the work, fatigue has already claimed most of our energy. The end result is then a so-so work, and we often being judged or otherwise graded by such writing. However, the more I write, the more types of writing I engage in, the flow and the sense of ease I get from different writing seem to see eye to eye with ICL&W’s findings.

The quality of one’s writing also seems to depend on who one’s targeted audiences are. Composing an email to my colleague professors often takes a much longer period of time in comparison with putting together a longer blog on my personal website. In hindsight, it is the pressure we put on ourselves to produce quality work that interrupts our writing flow and negatively impact the overall quality of our writing. Therefore, it seems to be reasonable to conclude that placing too much pressure on producing good quality work can backfire and be counterproductive.

With cautious steps let me take this argument bit further. A person’s performance is largely predetermined by attitude/mindset than it is by aptitude/talent. At a specific setting, with a particular individual, or during a certain period of time, one’s performance (i.e., articulacy, writing, sporting, etc.) may set a new record at either end of the spectrum. Often time we attribute such peak/trough in our performance to the concept of luck or level of our physical and mental energy. It is hard to deny that energy level does influence our performance. By putting attitude/mindset of the performer in the spotlight, I do not intend to downplay the importance of other factors. However, attitude does influence our performance at a maximum level that I wish to candle a lively discussion regarding both the role of attitude in our performance as well as how to best de/reconstruct the right set of mind that will allow us to be at our best.

Chad

09/28/2011

Where to Call Home

Emile Durkheim’s functional view of society suggests that the social environment we live in shapes our personality. Does it or does it not? I think it definitely influences, if not casts, one’s personality. My personal journey from a rural county in Tibet to world-class higher learning institutes in the US enables me to have a deeper level of understanding of the importance of where I call home.

Upon graduating from universities in the U.S, I often spaced out into long spins of deep contemplation: where to call home. Where should I pursue a career and start a family?

China? Regardless of all the debate about its total corruption, moral failure, political totalitarianism, leading role in energy consumption and carbon emission, it’s still where my childhood memories along with my beloved family members live. It’s hard to imagine distancing myself away from my parents when age deprives them of physical vitality and every additional month seems to deepen their wrinkles and harden their joints.

Yes, with the modern transit system and cutting edge technology we are fully wired. In theory, I can visit and contact my relatives at anytime and from anywhere. However, it is also this very notion of fully wired that excuses us from shouldering our responsibilities as a son/daughter and reduces the role of parents into a background voice, a clip of video and a holiday visit. So, should I call the great wall home and return to work in China?

If I do, am I failing the generations yet to come, who will address me us their father, grandfather and great-grandfather. Frankly speaking, the great wall is not necessarily a great place to live. It’s dirty. A short walk in any urbanized part of China, all senses are bound to fall victim to urbanization. The smell, the noise, the ever-jammed traffic gridlock, and the stuffed public transit hardly leave any healthy room for me to welcome my kids when everyone else is trying to immigrate to elsewhere.

It’s rude. A person is often judged and treated by his dress than qualifications. Hyper-frequent public spitting and toss of trash is nothing out of the ordinary. An increasing number of Chinese people are falling in love with pets. However, the difference between westerners and Chinese people walking their dogs is while the former bag up and get rid of dog drops, the latter rush their pets and walk away from the scene as soon as job is done.

It’s unfair. The disadvantaged ones are always trapped in a cycle of poverty. A poverty that is not situational but generational, which Dr. Ruby K. Payne describes as a cycle that passes from generation to generation. Opportunities are circulated within the social elites. It is even true with employment opportunities. Some work up from their bootstrap and successfully complete college degrees or even achieve higher credentials and only find themselves being sent to some rural villages to idle away the rest of their lives, while others don’t even need to complete high school degrees and are already promised with highly paid government jobs in the main town seats or cities. It’s beyond startling to witness the level of indifference and apathy government officials hold towards corruption and injustice. It is a system that operates on cash and connection.

The list goes on, but let me end it with one last comment about its lack of safety. Theoretically, everyone is equal in front of the rule of law. However, rule of law are made and operated by people. Therefore, corruption among people infects the system and distort rule of law. Lives are constantly lost at the hands of those who are supposed to safeguard people’s lives. Public facilities often claim lives due to their ill design and poor qualifications. There is also an increasing number of cases in which second-generation-elites, as it is often being called, sport with people’s lives. What is happening in China between the bourgeois and the proletariats is no less cruel than what has happened between the whites and the blacks in the history of U.S. Different level of lynching can be seen and read day in and day out. Therefore, if I call China home, I am depriving my kids of the freedom and safety they otherwise can enjoy elsewhere.

Where I call home is a generational concern. Should I take care of the ones ahead of me or should I prepare for the ones yet to come?

Now, U.S has often been described as the land of opportunity. Americans do enjoy, for the most part, a higher level of freedom that we all dream for. It’s reasonable to argue that the legal and educational systems in the U.S are far more advanced and better crafted than anywhere else. If I were to become American citizen, I can have my voice heard and opinions shared. As long as I don’t violate the rule of law, it’s a powerful defense weapon that can provide my family and me with security and justice. So, should I call U.S home?

In the eyes of westerners, Asians equal Chinese and Chinese are born cheap. For any cheap product and service, China town is the place to go to. Racial discrimination will always be there. Yes, U.S is working hard and has made amazing progress in shaking off all sorts of discriminations. However, a level of overdone often spells discriminatory residues in the activities day in and day out. Be it a joke, a random conversation, a flint of eye, a subtle gesture, discrimination is still omnipresent in the U.S. So, am I going to await my kids to fall prey to such discrimination?

What about Europe? What about an island? What about a village? Where is a home and where can I call home? Where would Emile Durkheim recommend anyone to live?

Clean Energy, Low-Carbon Development, Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation, Resiliency Planning, Water Conservation, Ecoliteracy, International Climate Negotiation