As I mentioned in class last week, I recently returned from a two week trip to China which was part of a global business class in the McCombs School of Business. The goal of the trip was to understand how business is conducted in China as well as to get a better understanding of market/economic/environmental/etc dynamics that are currently happening in China. I had meant to put this posting up last week (I missed the deadline) - however, I still wanted to post my thoughts on issues related to topics we have covered in class.
One of the issues that you can’t help but notice in any major city in China is air pollution. We got lucky in our first days in both Beijing and Shanghai – it was windy both days which did a relatively decent job at clearing smog out of the sky. However, our other days in both cities were very smoggy – much worse than anything I’ve ever experienced in either LA or Houston. It wasn’t uncommon at all to see people walking around with masks on. It was pretty incredible to see the number and location of coal generating facilities – they were everywhere, even in residential areas. China’s air pollution isn’t going to get better anytime soon – it’s estimated that 1000 new cars are sold in Beijing each day. The answer of shutting down coal plants and taking cars off the road seems simple to help solve the environmental problems. However, both of these actions would directly impact the growth of the Chinese economy which the government values highly – growth and jobs/economic prosperity help social stability.
China is taking some drastic steps to improve air quality for the Olympics (temporarily shutting down coal plants and restricting driving). Some of these steps were in place when we visited and the air pollution is still horrible. These steps aren’t having the impact that is needed for Olympic events that will be held outdoors. The IOC president recently stated that pollution could delay or cancel some of the Olympic events.
While the situation seems grim, there may some reason for optimism. By hosting the Olympics, China, and more specifically the Chinese government, will be under a microscope of the global media. We have already seen some of the effects of this with the recent demonstrations in Tibet and surrounding areas. With the Olympics increasing the world’s awareness of the pollution issues in China, the Chinese government may be more inclined to make dramatic changes. One of the advantages of having a communist style government is that once the Chinese government decides to make a change, it doesn’t have to go through the normal time consuming political process that we have in the US. China, however, has a long way to go to even start thinking in green/renewable terms. After experiencing the environmental issues first hand, I can only hope that action is taken before irreparable damage is caused.