Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Canary in the Coalmine

An abbreviated, *heavily-edited* version of this article appeared in the November 2007 issue of Gobar Times, a youth magazine published by the Centre for Science and Environment.

As George Bush’s escapades in the Middle East continue to sour and petrol prices rise ever higher for the American citizen-consumer, more and more voices are clamoring for “energy independence” and “freedom” from foreign oil. While U.S. environmentalists have long called for a strong emphasis on efficiency and increased investment in renewable energy technologies, their demands are being diluted and sidetracked as big business interests and their political cronies join the bandwagon. Their goal: massive government subsidies to the fossil fuel industry in hopes of developing a technological fix which will preserve the (wasteful) “American way of life.” So-called “advanced” coal technologies, such as coal-to-liquid and coal-to-gas, are prime examples of such hopeful techno-fixes. Actually both of these technologies have been around for some time, but have not been utilized extensively because of their inefficiencies and/or high costs. It is important that we understand the full implications of these technologies before they become more widely implemented.


The gasification process used for coal is essentially the same as that used for other carbon-based “feedstocks” such as biomass and waste materials. The coal is subjected to carefully-controlled chemical processes under high temperature and pressure, ultimately resulting in a gaseous mixture. The contents of this mixture, consisting of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and other compounds, can then be used for fuel or other commercial products. A new generation of U.S. power-plants, with two already on-line and a few dozen more proposed as of 2007, will utilize this coal gasification process and are known as Integrated Gasification Combined-Cycle, or IGCC.

While proponents of these plants promise higher levels of efficiency and better reduction/capture of pollutants, to-date the significantly higher capital costs of IGCC plants means that they can only function with large government subsidies. The U.S. state of Minnesota has already rejected one proposed IGCC plant because of its high costs and relatively low guarantee of pollution reduction as compared to standard coal-fired power plants updated with the latest pollution control technologies. Additionally, some researchers have raised concerns about increased wastewater and mercury pollution using IGCC technology.


If coal gasification is questionable, coal-to-liquid is downright shady. In order to liquefy coal, it is first gasified, as in the process described above. The gaseous mixture is then converted, via a chemical process known as “Fischer-Tropsch” (FT) into a number of liquids such as ammonia, naphtha (petroleum ether), methanol, and diesel. As with gasification, the FT process can be used with a wide variety of feedstocks. Proponents of this technology argue that by ramping up the U.S.’s consumption of coal and converting this coal into liquid fuel for transport, the U.S. could eliminate its current importation of >10,000,000 barrels of oil/day.

The problems with this approach are many. For one thing, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that to replace U.S. oil needs, coal consumption would have to increase several-fold. Meanwhile, the National Coal Council has stated that even a doubling of domestic coal production would require “major investment and effort” and could not be accomplished for another twenty years. Not to mention the estimated 132 massive new power plants which would be required to manufacture this fuel, with each plant taking in between 40,000-80,000 tons of coal/day (depending on the quality of coal used) and churning out 80,000 barrels of oil/day. Each of these plants would cost approximately four times as much to build as an equivalent petroleum refinery.

Coal-to-liquid is a losing proposition for the climate as well, producing nearly twice the CO2 as the petroleum refining process; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warns that replacing petroleum with liquefied coal would lead to a 119% increase in greenhouse gas emissions—an increase the planet can hardly afford given the U.S.’s already record-high emissions. The sizable investments required and low payback make this technology uneconomical without massive government subsidy, which is why to-date it has only been used on a large scale in Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa, two regimes which were cut off from international oil supplies and hence had no other options.

Coal woes

Indeed, these proposed technologies spell bad news for our global environment all-around, since their underlying purpose is to replace part of the U.S.’s petroleum and natural gas use with increased coal consumption. A resource that is relatively cheap and plentiful within North America, coal consumption increased nearly 11% between 1996 and 2006. Under these schemes proposed by coal interests, coal consumption would rise even more dramatically. Already, the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates 139 GW of new coal-based generating capacity will be added to U.S. energy grids by 2030.

As with any potential energy source, we must evaluate the entire life-cycle costs of coal: these include mining, transportation, and processing of coal as well as power plant and pipeline construction, the air/soil/water pollution and greenhouse gases emitted through burning coal, and the disposal of the coal waste that remains after it has been burned. On all these fronts, coal gets extremely low marks and has been deemed “the dirtiest of all fuels” by the U.S.-based Clean Air Task Force. Worldwatch estimates that coal-fired power plants cause >40% of the U.S.’s annual mercury emissions, and that Americans spend more than $160 billion/year in medical expenses resulting from power plant-generated air pollution. In addition, coal is the most CO2-intensive of any fossil fuel, emitting approximately three pounds of CO2 for every pound of coal burned. Coal currently supplies more than half of the U.S.’s electricity and accounts for 40% of its overall CO2 emissions.

The U.S.’s “energy sacrifice zones”

As is often the case when examining the full costs of environmental degradation, we find that these costs have not been distributed equitably. For instance, one report which examined the how the effects of coal combustion are distributed found that African Americans are significantly more likely than white Americans to live near coal-fired power plants and power plant waste sites, and a likely result of that proximity is that African Americans suffer from higher rates of asthma and other air quality-related health problems. Similarly, the nation’s first proposed coal-to-oil facility is to be sited nearby a prison in a poverty-stricken area in eastern Pennsylvania.

Residents of the Appalachian coalfields, another community which has been disproportionately affected by U.S. coal consumption, have good reason for concern when they hear of schemes that would increase coal mining in the region several-fold. Appalachia is named for the ancient mountain range that defines the region’s geography; it includes parts of 13 U.S. states and is roughly the same size as the United Kingdom. Originally inhabited by Native Americans, the area was re-settled by immigrants of largely Scottish, Irish, German, and English descent in the 18th century. Due to the mountainous terrain and relative isolation of the region that resulted, much of these immigrants’ culture remained relatively intact. Today however Appalachia is home to over 20 million people and is undergoing rapid economic, cultural, and demographic changes.

The region is also known as the home to some of the richest coal seams in the world, and has for generations supplied that fuel to the U.S. and other nations, too often at great ecological and social costs. Teri Blanton, a native of Appalachia and a long-time anti-mining activist, has stated: “Harlan County [a coal mining county in Appalachian eastern Kentucky], my home county, has produced over 1 billion tons of coal in the past century, yet…coal has left us with polluted water, a corrupted political system, poor schools, too many unhealthy people, and a disappearing heritage. And today the destruction is increasing.”

Among the many unfavorable consequences resulting from coal mining in the region, perhaps the most striking is the proliferation of a destructive form of surface or strip mining known locally as “mountaintop removal.” Mountaintop removal uses heavy machinery and high-powered explosives to literally destroy the part of the mountain which covers the coal seam, dumping the resulting “waste” into nearby valleys and streams. Seen as a labor and money-saving method of mining by the coal companies, strip mining and other technological advances have been replacing underground mining for a few decades now. In the past 50 years, the mining workforce has decreased from 335,000 coal miners working in 7,200 mines to 104,824 miners working in less than 2,000 mines. This declining workforce has occurred despite an 83% increase in production over the past 30 years.

In addition to a decline in some of the best-paying jobs the region has to offer, Worldwatch estimates that mountaintop removal has already “buried or polluted more than 1,200 miles [>1900 kilometers] of streams, destroyed more than 7 percent of Appalachia’s forests, and eliminated entire communities. If current trends continue over the next decade, affected land will cover 2,200 square miles [nearly 5,700 square kilometers]...” These “affected lands” of Appalachia include people’s homes, farms, places of worship, and family cemeteries, lands that the current residents are not willing to give up without a fight.

Already hard-hit by coal mining and supplying up to 1/3 of the U.S.’s coal consumption per year, Appalachia obviously has a huge stake in any proposals which would increase that consumption, especially given that the “most accessible” coal seams have largely already been mined out. While coal companies pay off local politicians to do their bidding and try to seduce citizens with promises of jobs and wealth, residents of these sacrifice zones know better and have started organizing against increased coal mining. In the words of one resident of the coalfields, “…coal has been dominant in Appalachian economies for a hundred years now and they are still some of the poorest counties in the U.S.

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC), one group of concerned citizens, has founded a statewide “Canary Project,” the aim of which is to move their communities beyond the long-standing domination of the coal industry. Explains KFTC, “For years, coal miners would take canaries into the mines to warn of dangerous gases. When the canaries died, the miners knew it was time to get out of the mine. Now, we are the canaries, warning everyone about the dangers of coal before it is too late. We no longer believe the big lie that coal is a cheap source of energy, and we are no longer willing to have our homes and lives sacrificed for coal company profits.”

To raise awareness of their concerns, coalfield inhabitants have also created a virtual “memorial for the mountains." This website uses Google Earth software to tell the stories of coalfield residents and more than 470 mountains destroyed by mountaintop-removal through photos, stories, and interviews; stories such as those of the students at Marsh Fork Elementary School in Sundial, West Virginia, whose school is located directly downhill from an impoundment holding back 2.8 billion gallons of coal sludge. If this impoundment were to become breached, the students would have only a few minutes to evacuate before being buried under several feet of coal sludge.

As in India and throughout the world, the livelihood of one group of people is being sacrificed so that others can enjoy wasteful lifestyles and outsource the consequences. But the citizens of Appalachia have had enough and are busy opposing the implementation of any technologies that will lead to increased coal consumption and increased destruction of their communities. Instead, they have joined forces with other environmentalists in calling for environmental justice and a clean energy future for the U.S. and the planet.

*KFTC’s website & newsletters, Balancing the Scales

*EIA (http://www.eia.doe.gov/neic/quickfacts/quickoil.html as well as stats on coal consumption)

*DOE (http://www.fossil.energy.gov/programs/powersystems/gasification/index.html)




*EPA (http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/coal.htm)

*“Cradle to Grave: The Environmental Impacts of Coal.” Clean Air Task Force, June 2001 (also has a great graphic, “Figure 1 illustrates the numerous ways that contaminants from coal end up in the environment”)

*“Air of Injustice: African Americans and Power Plant Pollution,” Black Leadership Forum et al, Oct. 2002

*“American Energy: The Renewable Path to Energy Security,” Worldwatch Institute & Center for American Progress, Sept. 2006

*Wikipedia “Appalachia”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appalachia

Friday, October 19, 2007

India & Burma: “Look East” or look the other way?

This article was originally published in the November 2007 issue of the Industrial Worker, my union's newspaper.

On October 6, 2007 people in dozens of cities around the world took to the streets in solidarity with activists inside Myanmar/Burma. The aim of these actions was to both call attention to 45 years of harsh military rule and to put an immediate global spotlight on the upsurge of protest within Burma in recent weeks. Dubbed the “Saffron Revolution,” these are the largest and most vociferous demonstrations that have taken place inside the country since the protests of August 1988, which ended in a military coup and the massacre of thousands of civilians.

As in ’88, the current protests within Burma were catalyzed by increased economic austerities imposed by the Burmese government, but quickly assumed a pro-democracy character given the harsh suppression of any form of public dissent. Organizers are now demanding, in addition to economic relief, national reconciliation and the release of movement leaders such as May Win Myint, Dr. Than Nyein, and Aung San Suu Kyi. Myint and Nyein have been imprisoned without a trial since October of ‘97, while Suu Kyi has spent more than 11 of the last 17 years under house arrest.

Predictably, the Than Shwe regime’s response to the protests has been violent, resulting in hundreds of injuries and at least nine deaths. Many activists are calling for immediate intervention by the international community. In particular, organizers have implicated Burma’s main ally, China, as well as multinational corporations doing business in Burma. October 9th was an international day of action against Chevron for its ties to the Burmese government, and a global advertising campaign has targeted the Chinese Communist Party for its support via “investment, imports, and armaments.” Somewhat overlooked in this focus is the important role of Burma’s other major neighbor, India.

In addition to long-standing cultural ties, India and Burma have a shared political history, dating back to their former integration under the British Empire. Sizable numbers of ethnic Indians continue to reside in Burma, and vice versa, again owing to the upheavals of colonialism and its aftermath. Burma also served as a headquarters for the Indian revolutionary Subhash Chandra Bose and his anti-colonial Indian National Army from 1943-5, thus playing a significant role in India’s struggle for independence. Yet what role will an independent, democratic India play in the modern-day struggles of the Burmese people?

While India’s response to the Burmese government’s crackdown in ‘88 was decidedly pro-democracy, in recent years New Delhi has become much more pragmatic in its relations. Cooperation with Burma is in fact a central facet of India’s important “Look East” policy, and India continues to increase its military, diplomatic, and financial ties to the Than Shwe regime, often at the expense of the Burmese democracy movement. High-level diplomatic relations have grown significantly between the two countries, and India’s former Minister of External Affairs Natwar Singh declared India’s desire for a “long-term partnership” with Burma in 2005. India is currently seeking to expand its bilateral trade with the country, has extended millions of dollars in grants and loans, and is engaged in several joint development projects. Indian oil and natural gas companies also continue their explorations in Burma unabated.

Might these deepening economic ties somehow compromise India’s purported interests in supporting the growth of democracy in the country? Mani Shankar Aiyer, Minister in-charge of Development of India’s North Eastern Region, thinks not: “We have long been champions of democracy. We haven't compromised on that, but ground realities are ground realities.'' India's Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Murli Deora, who paid a visit to the Than Shwe government within days of it opening fire on nonviolent protestors, was even more straightforward: "We have a good understanding with the military junta and we are confident that our companies will do big business there in the direction of seeking energy security for the country."

Military relations with Burma have also grown, and serve multiple purposes for India, including securing both countries’ borders and counteracting China’s increasing influence in the region. Earlier this year India’s Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee promised a continued flow of military equipment to Burma. The two countries have also conducted joint military operations along the Indo-Burma border with the aim of neutralizing separatist groups that have been troubling India on its northeastern frontier. Yet these actions not only lend legitimacy to Than Shwe’s government, they also subvert U.S. and E.U. bans on the importation of military items into the country, with India acting as a middleman for the transfer of Western technologies and expertise. Further, India’s military aid (along with the handful of other nations which continue to arm Burma) undermines both armed and nonviolent resistance movements within the country, thereby prolonging the lifespan of the Than Shwe government.

Not surprisingly, there is no evidence of any October 6 protests in China, but India’s rich civil society has begun to step up to the plate. Activists in at least three Indian cities have staged solidarity demonstrations. A small protest march and rally took place October 6th in central Delhi, followed by a candlelight vigil that evening at nearby India Gate. The recent tumult in Burma is receiving significant media attention, and numerous Indian opinion leaders are calling on the country to increase diplomatic pressure and pay attention to more than just its own short-term interests. In response, Indian leaders are attempting to negotiate a tricky middle way which will encourage reform in Burma without jeopardizing India’s own economic and security goals.

Whether Burma’s Saffron Revolution will indeed bring about substantive change in the country, or give way to business as usual, remains to be seen. What is imperative however is that we not give Burma the Las Vegas treatment; despite Than Shwe’s attempts to quash Burmese civil society and isolate it from the outside world, what happens in Rangoon will not stay in Rangoon. The international community must act in solidarity with the people of Burma, and any actions that solidify Than Shwe’s grip on power are a crime against humanity.





-“Burmese army opens fire in monks' clash” Bangkok Post, 9/7/07

-“India’s Untold War of Independence” Amitav Ghosh, The New Yorker, June 23 & 30, 1997

-“Protests against Myanmar junta go global” AP, Sunday Times of India, New Delhi, 10/7/07

-Amnesty International

-“Candlelight protest in Delhi against Myanmar junta” Headlines India, 10/7/07 http://www.delhi.headlinesindia.com/index1.jsp?news_code=58767

-“Indian oil PSUs jittery over Burma unrest” Syed Ali Mujtaba, Mizzima News (www.mizzima.com).

September 29, 2007

-ONGC Videsh, the International Petroleum Company of India, http://www.ongcvidesh.com/index.asp

-“Indian govt: Business as usual with Myanmar” October 9, 2007 (NDTV News), posted on http://www.indoburmanews.net/

-“India opposes sanctions against Myanmar” October 9, 2007 (Zee News), posted on http://www.indoburmanews.net/

-“Indian envoy met Suu Kyi, Delhi backs talks with junta” October 10, 2007 (Indian Express) posted on http://www.indoburmanews.net/

-“Burma visit highlights India’s “Look East” strategy” Sarath Kumara, 6 April 2005, published on the World Socialist Website: http://www.wsws.org/articles/2005/apr2005/indi-a06.shtml

-“Look Immediate East” Sanjoy Hazarika October 07, 2007, Hindustan Times

Special Economic Zones in India

Special Economic Zones in India, or Hey, They Worked Great in China, Right?

This article was originally published in the October 2007 issue of the Industrial Worker, my union's newspaper.

In one of his recent works, How Much Should a Person Consume?, noted Indian historian Ramachandra Guha points out that developing nations currently on the rise, such as India and China, do not have the same opportunities for colonial plunder that were available to the West. While these budding economic superpowers are increasingly pursuing stronger "relationships" with other developing nations, to date they have relied largely on plundering their own human and natural resources in the name of development. Indeed, to quote Gandhi, "the blood of the villages is the cement with which the edifice of the cities is built."

Immediately upon arriving in India in March of this year, I found such sentiments underscored by events in the village of Nandigram in the state of West Bengal. According to official accounts, open warfare erupted between as many as 5,000 enraged villagers and paramilitary police aided by supporters of the ruling Communist Party of India. The conflict, which resulted in hundreds of injuries and the deaths of more than a dozen protestors, captivated the nation and received wide-scale media coverage. The source of the conflict: the proposed creation of a “Special Economic Zone” (SEZ) in the region and resulting eviction of agriculturalists from land that they depend upon for their livelihoods.

This outbreak of violence was but a crescendo however to ongoing struggles in the region, and throughout the country, around SEZs. Less than two months prior, the IWW’s International Solidarity Commission had issued a letter in support of a rural workers’ union (the Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity, or PBKMS) in West Bengal. Yet it would be na├»ve to allege that India’s land struggles originated with the nascent SEZ approach to development. Rather SEZs are merely the newest public face to the liberalization of the Indian economy (dating back to the early 1960s, and intensifying in the 1990s), and to the politics of rich and poor going back much, much further. As noted by the PBKMS: “The legal mechanism for these land seizures—the Land Acquisition Act—derives from [British] colonial law.” Guha also points to an “imperial model of [natural resources] management” that runs throughout modern Indian history, the aim of which has been “…to legislate commercial exploitation of [natural resources] as the only legitimate use, thereby denying traditional subsistence use by locals. Such an approach inevitably resulted in ongoing breaches of policy and even open rebellion by locals.”

A far cry from the economies of the North, in India a vast proportion of the population still relies directly on the agricultural sector for their livelihood. While academics speculate as to whether the nation’s economy has entered a “new phase” of development, a whopping 60+% of Indians still rely upon natural resource-based livelihoods, declining only 15% over the past 50 years. Agriculture directly employs 234 million Indians, and these agriculturalists, again in contrast to those in the North, run predominantly small, subsistence-based operations, with 90% of landowners still tilling their own fields. In India, as in much of the global South, land is life. Contrast this economic reality with a brutal history of land-grabs and displacement and the outcome is not hard to imagine. Indeed, India’s poor have good reason to view “development” schemes with hostility; the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) estimates that since 1950, 40 million people (the majority of whom are tribal people and Dalits, or “untouchables”) have been displaced from their land due to large industrialization projects; at least 75% of them still await rehabilitation and resettlement. As reported in the pages of the Industrial Worker in recent months, similar State-sponsored land grabs, also in the name of development, have resulted in mass civil uprisings in Vietnam and in China.

Though India first began experiments with free trade zones (under the rubric of “Export Processing Zones”) back in the 60s, the more recent rush to develop SEZs is frequently attributed to the “success” of this model in China. Yet as Shankar Gopalakrishnan points out in a recent re-assessment of Chinese SEZs, “The general impression that China’s special economic zones are a remarkable success is an incomplete one. Left out of the picture are inequities in development, arable land loss, real estate speculation and labour violence…What is happening in SEZs can be seen as progress, therefore, only insofar as aggregate investment is concerned; socially it is nothing but regression.” Further, he concludes that while Indian states are scrambling to emulate and even intensify the Chinese SEZ model, they have utterly failed to address the aspects of this model which have led to such regression.

Special Economic Zones in India, as in other countries, have been established with the ostensible goals of attracting greater foreign and domestic investment, improving productive capacity, and boosting employment and exports. This model typically involves a “streamlined” regulatory environment, enhanced infrastructure, tax breaks, government subsidies, and other forms of State support. And according to the Indian Ministry of Commerce and Industry, SEZs are yielding great results, with an increase of hundreds of thousands of new jobs and several billion dollars of private investment predicted by year’s end. Yet these rosy statistics leave many questions unanswered and gloss over a few important facts on the ground.

Already mentioned is the highly contentious issue of displacement of those dependent upon natural resources, such as the Mundra SEZ in Gujarat, whose development undermines the livelihoods of local fisher-folk and pastoralists, or the proposed Midnapur petrochemical SEZs in West Bengal, which would be built alongside and over top of the area’s freshwater supply and farmlands. In addition to dispossessing locals and the specter of environmental spillover, SEZs are also specifically designed to create “industrial townships” or “countries within a country,” thereby removing authority from local governments and even township residents and relaxing important labor, health and safety, and environmental legislation. If SEZs are truly being established to advance the common good, then they should obviously be beholden to citizens and to laws enacted to protect residents and the natural environment. In the words of one local NGO critical of the SEZ model, “…this is a new form of the East India Company establishment.”

Indeed, the SEZ debate epitomizes the competing interests of rich and poor so frequently glossed over in “development” schemes. By simply designating their project a SEZ, developers are able to (sometimes forcibly) acquire land at rock-bottom prices, fueling a highly-speculative real estate boom with powerful ripple effects for neighboring farmers struggling to hold on to their land as well as landless agricultural laborers. While the robber barons make a fortune, those most ill-prepared to adapt to the rapid economic, demographic, and ecological shifts accompanying the SEZ model of development are left behind. Further, since no more than 50% of the overall land area of the SEZ is required to be devoted to manufacturing, the rest can be used for “support infrastructure” such as housing developments, shopping malls, and other amenities aimed at India’s growing middle class—all subsidized at taxpayer expense. As with China’s SEZ experience, rapid development in a few privileged pockets will likely be exchanged for revenue shortfalls in the country’s poorest districts—a policy which can only exacerbate regional inequalities.

Critics of SEZ policies can be found even within the ranks of the Indian bureaucracy, with the Finance Ministry bemoaning an estimated 1,750 billion rupees (>$43 billion) in foregone tax revenues by 2011—a hefty price tag for a cash-strapped government unable to deliver basic services to much of its populace. To-date it has not even been adequately demonstrated that the private sector investment flowing into the SEZs is a direct result of the policy itself, as opposed to capital which would have been invested in the fast-growing Indian economy anyway but is simply being redirected towards the path of least resistance (as capital is wont to do). Sunita Narain of CSE points to Korean giant Posco's mega steel plant as a case in point: “It 'managed' to get categorized as an SEZ, well after it had already come into the country to set up shop.”

Given the high social costs and inequitably-distributed benefits of current models of development, citizens’ groups across India are agitating for alternatives. Sadly, scenes such as those witnessed at Nandigram are likely to reoccur. Today there are few regions of India which are not caught up in one way or another with contentious land disputes that pit the State and moneyed interests against the working poor, many of whom with little left to lose. In response to this public outcry, the government has taken a number of steps, including limiting the size of SEZs and stripping state governments of the power to acquire land on behalf of developers. The Ministry of Rural Development is also formulating a much-needed overhaul to the State’s approach to resettlement and rehabilitation, and political leaders have suggested that productive farmland should not be diverted to SEZ projects. Whether these reforms will address criticisms of SEZs without also undermining the professed goals of the program remains to be seen, but for the moment at least, the SEZ march continues largely unabated. As of this summer, a total of 339 SEZs had been formally approved by the central government, with another 170 projected approvals on the way.


-Guha, How Much Should a Person Consume?

- Guha chapter in Environmental Issues in India for commentary on how British colonialist policy/relations w/ rurals has continued under independent India (e.g., 1935 declaration re: State’s role in land acquisition)

-ISC solidarity letter re: West Bengal: http://lists.iww.org/private/isc/2007-January/000881.html

-IUF statement on violence/repression in West Bengal: http://www.iuf.org/cgi-bin/dbman/db.cgi?db=default&uid=default&ID=4017&view_records=1&ww=1&en=1

-“India: General strike called after 14 protesters killed” http://libcom.org/news/india-general-strike-called-after-14-protesters-killed-20032007

-“Special Economic Zones: Are They Good for the Country?” by Ram Krishna Ranjan, Centre for Civil Society

-Shri Kamal Nath, India’s Union Minister of Commerce and Industry, addresses University of Oxford (University College) re: the Doha round of the WTO negotiations. May 4, 2007. http://commerce.nic.in/pressrelease/pressrelease_detail.asp?id=2025

- March 2005, IMF Country Report No. 05/87. India: Selected Issues”

-Economic and Political Weekly May 26, 2007 “Nandigram and the Question of Development” MALINI BHATTACHARYA

- Economic and Political Weekly May 26, 2007 “Help the Rich, Hurt the Poor: Case of Special Economic Zones” E A S SARMA

-Shankar GOPALAKRISHNAN, “Negative Aspects of Special Economic Zones in China Economic and Political Weekly April 28, 2007.

-CSE’s Natural Resources Management and Livelihoods “Towards Green Villages” workshop materials

-Website, Indian Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Department of Commerce: http://sezindia.nic.in/HTMLS/about.htm

-“Prowling tiger: India pushes anew for special economic zones”

Jul 9th 2007, From the Economist Intelligence Unit ViewsWire: http://www.economist.com/agenda/displaystory.cfm?story_id=9462984

-“A peasant surprise: A scheme to provide land for industrial development hits the skids”

Jan 25th 2007 | GAR CHAKRABERIA, From The Economist print edition: http://www.economist.com/background/displaystory.cfm?story_id=8597150

-“Cash cows: They worked in China. But will India's zones boost investment, or just divert it?”

Oct 12th 2006 | DELHI, From The Economist print edition: http://www.economist.com/world/asia/displaystory.cfm?story_id=8031219

-Editorial Note: SEZ Policy “Ceiling on size will limit growth” by Savita Kulkarni

-website and research paper of Paryavaran Mitra http://paryavaranmitra.org.in/

-“A concession called SEZ, all for foreign exchange: Special Economic Zones barter away democracy” by MAHESH PANDYA AND HIRAL MEHTA; http://downtoearth.org.in/Full6.asp?FolderName=20061031&FileNAme=news&sid=30&sec_id=18

- Sunita Narain editorial in Down to Earth 10/25/06

-Gobar Times, 30/6/07 http://www.gobartimes.org

-Asian Development Bank, Asian Development Outlook 2007

-Down to Earth, “Freeze on special economic zones lifted” 4/30/07: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/full6.asp?foldername=20070430&filename=news&sec_id=4&sid=12

-“Background Paper: Land Acquisition and Displacement” Shri. Sanjay Upadhyay, Supreme Court Advocate, New Delhi

-“Land Sovereignty and Food Sovereignty the Key Issue in the Land Debate,” Dr. Vandana Shiva

-“Testimonies from Nandigram,” April 15, 2007, Down to Earth: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/full6.asp?foldername=20070415&filename=news&sec_id=4&sid=1

-“Mundra SEZ Spells Displacement for Fisherfolk” March 31, 2007, Down to Earth: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/full6.asp?foldername=20070331&filename=news&sec_id=50&sid=18

-“UP Farmers Continue Protest Over Land Acquisition by Reliance” February 15, 2007, Down to Earth: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/full6.asp?foldername=20070215&filename=news&sec_id=4&sid=6

-“Update” Dec. 31, 2006, Down to Earth: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/Full6.asp?FolderName=20061231&FileNAme=news&sid=60&sec_id=4

-“SEZ, How Special” November 15, 2006, Down to Earth: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/cover.asp?foldername=20061115&filename=news&sid=58&page=1&sec_id=9&p=1

-“Scratched record: Will SEZs succeed, where precursors failed?” November 15, 2006, Down to Earth: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/full6.asp?foldername=20061115&filename=news&sec_id=9&sid=59

-“Zones of conflict: Land acquisition has united farmers” November 15, 2006, Down to Earth: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/full6.asp?foldername=20061115&filename=news&sec_id=9&sid=61

-“Not wasted: New compromise excuse to grab” November 15, 2006, Down to Earth: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/full6.asp?foldername=20061115&filename=news&sec_id=9&sid=63

-“Windfall loss:Tax breaks: Public money for private gain” November 15, 2006, Down to Earth: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/full6.asp?foldername=20061115&filename=news&sec_id=9&sid=64

-“New nabobs” November 15, 2006, Down to Earth: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/full6.asp?foldername=20061115&filename=news&sid=66&page=2&sec_id=9

-“SEZs get a social face” Down to Earth, Oct. 31, 2006: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/full6.asp?foldername=20061031&filename=news&sec_id=4&sid=8

-“Union ministries clash over SEZ” September 30, 2006, Down to Earth: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/full6.asp?foldername=20060930&filename=news&sec_id=4&sid=8

-“Gujarat NGOs demand separate environment court” July 15, 2006 Down to Earth: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/full6.asp?foldername=20060715&filename=news&sec_id=49&sid=51

-“SEZ who?: No industrial revolution this“ March 15, 2006, Down to Earth: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/full6.asp?foldername=20060315&filename=news&sec_id=4&sid=17

-“Protests against land acquisitions in India intensify“ 8/22/07, http://southasia.oneworld.net/article/view/152479/1/

-“Medha Patkar criticises Indian govt's new SEZ policy” April 9, 2007, http://southasia.oneworld.net/article/view/148030/1/

-“Nandigram bloodbath puts WB’s land acquisition policy on hold” March 20, 2007 http://southasia.oneworld.net/article/view/147295/1/

-“India:Special Economic Zones on the Backburner” Feb. 12, 2007, http://southasia.oneworld.net/article/view/146035/1/

-“Indian economic zones 'hitting the poor'” http://uk.oneworld.net/article/view/145038/1/ 1/21/2007

-“Modhwadia smells foul play in land allotment to DLF” September 6, 2007 http://cities.expressindia.com/fullstory.php?newsid=254904

-Shoma Chaudhury interview with Arundhati Roy, March 31, 2007, http://www.tehelka.com/story_main28.asp?filename=Ne310307Its_outright_CS.asp

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Final Watson report

I submitted this report to the Watson Foundation in early September, 2007:

When I leave Berea in a few more days headed south, it will officially begin my 14-month stretch of homelessness. My final two months in the U.S. will be a practice run of sorts for living out of a backpack, being perpetually on the move, and packing in as much life per square minute as possible. I enter this moment with prayerfulness and requests for guidance. More than anything else, I want to live well, to walk through this world with love and courage, and to find purpose and understanding. For my part, I promise to listen carefully, to tread lightly, to cultivate mindfulness and compassion, and to be strong.

I appreciate the opportunity to write this summary, as well as our presentations at the Scripps conference; both have provided me with a good excuse to go back through my journal and reflect more critically upon this incredible year I have just completed. My journal entries reflect a roller-coaster of emotion and experience; moments when I felt I could burst open, unable to contain my joy, and times when my heart was so heavy I thought I might sink. Since the first time I heard of the Watson Fellowship, I wanted this opportunity more than just about anything else I could think of; and yet, as a mentor chided me shortly after winning it: “God sometimes punishes us by answering our prayers.”

Some time later, a few days before I would leave the U.S. to begin my fellowship year, I was sitting on my roof with a friend, watching the stars and sharing some celebratory beers. He asked what I wished for now that I had been handed this fantastic opportunity. I answered that what I wanted most out of my life was simply to understand it, and to be in love. I realized in that moment that the true reason I had longed for the Watson experience was not primarily because of the prestige, the money, the travel, or honestly even the opportunity to devote my time and energies to a long-standing interest, it was because it offered me the chance to spend a year walking the Earth, unfettered by responsibility or personal connection, trying to understand my life and learning what it means to be in love. I got exactly what I prayed for.

Fast-forward to a few weeks ago, only days before the Scripps conference, I was sharing a meal with a newfound friend who had herself undertaken a Watson fellowship a few years prior. She has kept up with several former Fellows, and noted with some irony how emotionally and spiritually jarring the experience had been for many of them, that some of her Watson friends seemed to be left in sort of a limbo they had not yet fully recovered from. And now here I sit, back in New Delhi in my rented flat, all the hubbub of the city just outside my window, going on about a life in this surreal environ which so overwhelmed my senses and sensibilities only one year ago. Contradictions still abound, more complicated questions arise each day, and yet I feel a much greater willingness to, as Rilke has suggested, live my way into the answers.

In a few more months I will likely leave India (though I doubt I will ever be finished with it), and I will return home to Florida to be near my family, become rooted in a community again, and slowly re-engage in some of the political-intellectual projects I left behind, albeit with new insights and motivations gained in this time abroad. In general, I feel much more at ease and almost aimless than at just about any other time in my life; I feel less self-imposed pressure to achieve, less certainty about what the world needs and what my place is in it, and am overall simply less optimistic of a favorable outcome for humankind. At the same time, I feel more adventurous, confident, grateful, and serene than I probably ever have. Contradictions abound.

It has been most interesting trying to explain to people I met on my travels, as well as to my working class family who had never even heard of a “fellowship,” what exactly I have been up to these past twelve months. Most of the time I would tell them that I was exploring a wide range of issues related to science, technology, environment, and development in an Asian context. “That seems like a lot,” was usually the response. Yes, indeed it was. Yet as I discussed in my presentation at Scripps, the aspect of the Watson experience I most appreciated was the opportunity to pursue my curiosities and instincts wherever they led me, to basically be an intellectual sponge and just soak in as much as possible. I also had the freedom, once I was properly saturated, to drop out for awhile and take some long, quiet walks, to be left alone with my thoughts and reflect upon what I had learned. This experience has profoundly influenced my thinking about the purpose of education and the processes of pedagogy.

What I learned about myself in the process is how much I value community, and public scholarship, and how fascinating I find the confluence of economics, ecology, politics, metaphysics, and epistemology in modern-day struggles related to development. Conflicts around what constitutes progress, around who wins, who loses, and who decides, are everywhere apparent throughout Asia as these nations industrialize in a much-compressed time frame and in a wholly different global context than the West underwent. In each of the diversity of situations I encountered, I witnessed some common themes, centered on the de/valuation of certain groups of people and certain ways of knowing, and on processes of ex/inclusion based upon these valuations. I learned how important it is that we ask the right questions in formulating development objectives, and how those questions are shaped by the processes employed and the interests involved.

Yet when I look back upon my original research proposal it is difficult not to feel as though I failed in some important ways. My proposed topic was not only overly-broad, it set me up to spend far too much time enmeshed in books and scholarly pursuits rather than the fantastic environs in which I found myself. I also misjudged the extent to which my diffidence would be magnified in such a foreign context, how time-consuming dealing with basic logistical issues would be, and how exhausting it would be to have to seek out not only mentors and resources, but also companions. Hence I struggled with feelings of purposelessness, irresponsibility, and alienation throughout my fellowship year. Especially after spending a few days with the other returning Watson fellows and hearing more about their projects, observing how easily they navigated social situations and how rooted they were in their research topics, I could not help but feel as though this opportunity had perhaps been wasted on me. But then, as I have realized most fully these past months, we are always simultaneously failing some challenges and overcoming others.

The extremes of poverty, oppression, and environmental degradation I witnessed during my travels were also unsettling, to say the least. What was equally unsettling, in some respects, was my ability to acclimate, to go on about my day in the midst of such affliction. Some days as I sat eating a meal that likely cost the equivalent of some worker’s full day’s wages, I tried to reason with myself as to why I should not just go empty my bank account and distribute my Watson funds to NGOs or even some random poor person on the streets. In the final analysis, reason had a lot less to do with my decision than the fact that I was thoroughly enjoying the meal; instead I moved on to pondering what invisible barrier was keeping people in situations of such desperate poverty from resolving matters violently. I harbor no illusions that they deserve their circumstance in life any more than I do.

Another issue I struggled with was being cut off from my community, and this experience more than perhaps any other confirmed the importance of that facet of my life. Despite the Foundation’s admonitions, from time to time I did find myself devoting significant energies to communicating with my people back home. I maintained a detailed travel log of my adventures (mostly focusing on the more cultural/touristy aspects of it which I thought they would find interesting) and tried to keep up with the happenings in the people’s lives that I love. These efforts were richly rewarded, and I am learning that the relationships in my life are more important than probably anything else—more than accomplishment, material gain, or even some sort of generalized sense of “saving the world.” Instead, I am finding that my relationships both encompass and transcend all these areas, as I look to the people that I love for intellectual stimulation, guidance, material as well as emotional support, and even a sense of community that propels me to want to make the world a better place. I feel that in some sense, several of my loved ones accompanied me on the trip, offering support and guidance, and, even if only virtually, engaging in this learning endeavor that I had undertaken. I am all the more thankful for their presence in my life now and do not feel that our semi-regular communications distracted significantly from my experiences.

All these lessons have led me to this present moment back in India, examining a variety of the country’s development objectives on the basis of processes of exclusion and inclusion, as well as the formulation of holistic, participatory indicators of progress. I am already seeing some ways in which this ongoing work will influence my pursuits once I return home in a few more months. As I alluded to earlier, I am not optimistic my efforts will be successful. In short, I have a more articulated vision now than ever before for the sort of world in which I would like to live; at the same time, I have less optimism that it will actually be realized, and to a degree, less of a sense of responsibility or attachment. But what I also realize more fully now is that it is the effort, the process, which is most important. At some point during my Watson year, one of the many friends I carried along in spirit shared the following quote with me: “I wake up every morning torn between a desire to savor the world and to save it. This makes it rather difficult to plan my day.” The tension between those two poles has truly frustrated me over the years, and yet I feel closer to resolving it now than ever before.

I will close with a few specific recommendations for the Watson Foundation, for whatever they are worth. As I have already mentioned, I struggled a lot with justifying this experience and these resources in light of all the pressing needs I encountered, and part of me would like to see the Foundation fundamentally alter its course and begin using its resources to more directly address those needs. I think of how many hungry mouths could be fed, how many degraded landscapes restored, with the resources that are instead being devoted to supporting globe-trotting, novel experiences for a mostly over-privileged group of youngsters. On the other hand, I clutched so greedily to my own Watson experiences that it seems profoundly hypocritical to even entertain such a suggestion. Provided that the Foundation continues in basically the same direction, here are a few other suggestions which I hope you will take into consideration:

Increased material support.
This issue came up at the conference. Of course, people’s experiences varied pretty dramatically depending upon where their fellowship took them, but whether or not the Foundation increases the actual amount of the stipend, it should definitely consider a variety of ways in which it might increase other forms of material support. For instance, since every fellow will have to pay taxes on their stipend and purchase health/travel insurance, and overlooking either of these might lead to significant detriment, the Foundation could simply agree at the outset to take care of these costs, similar to what it has done with our student loan expenses (much appreciated, by the way!). Alternately, the Foundation could provide fellows with a list of resources suggested by previous classes, such as couchsurfing, which might help stretch their resources further and/or provide valuable contacts.

Greater “fellowship.”
Though I can appreciate the Foundation’s emphasis on students immersing themselves in the cultures they choose to visit, I do not necessarily agree that walking into a situation with minimal familiarity is generally the best way to do so. When I passed through Mumbai for a few days, I think that my experience would have been enriched immensely by meeting up with another fellow who had been there for several months and could have helped me navigate my surroundings, recharge, and get to know parts of the city that I would likely miss otherwise. Similarly, when other fellows passed through Delhi, or Beijing, I was able to inform them based on my own experience whether or not they were being ripped off for accommodations, the easiest way to get around, etc. Such networking could be facilitated, and with little real distraction for the fellows, through the use of social networking websites such as Myspace, Facebook, or any number of online travel logs.

Even greater freedom of movement.
I do not know whether it is simply well-intentioned caretaking or some sort of legal/fiscal responsibility which leads the Foundation to limit their fellows’ choice of destinations, but I sincerely hope you will revisit this policy. We are all aware that significant threats to fellows’ safety and wellbeing exist everywhere, and that the U.S.’s designation of which countries are safe to visit has at least a little bit to do with politics. Some of the most so-called dangerous locales in the world today are also some of the most fascinating, and if the fellows can make a compelling case that they have adequately considered safety issues and have a sound plan of action, they should perhaps be allowed to proceed. Besides, denying fellows access to some places while simultaneously providing so little day-to-day oversight can too easily translate into them visiting these places surreptitiously, and with no foreknowledge or support from the Foundation.

And on that note I will close. My sincerest thanks to the staff at the Watson Foundation office. Though our contact was infrequent, I appreciated knowing that you were always only a phone call away, as well as the little things you did to enrich our year, such as the excellent feedback on our quarterly reports and well-wishes around the holidays and our birthdays. All the best with this year’s group of Fellows, and as an Australian tour guide once told me, “May you dream of places you’ve never been, and visit places you’ve never dreamed of.” A dubious benediction indeed.

People, like places, assigned borders and designations.
Governed by law?
Fragile yet enduring. Dynamic terrains acquire unique yet familiar contours, shaped by forces not entirely known to them.
Built layer upon layer, histories buried and unearthed. Futures uncertain and yet seemingly predestined.
Emergence, potentiality.
And we pass through these alien landscapes, sometimes as a ghost, sometimes with the force of a hurricane, but always, always taken with what we see.
An entire life’s devotion and I could still not fully know even one. And yet as I stare into the sea, the skies, another’s eyes, they sing back a song of myself.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

China's Environmental Challenges and the Next Generation of Green Leaders

This article was submitted to me by Zhang Dongli during my tenure at the Centre for Science and Environment. It was intended for publication in CSE's youth magazine, Gobar Times. However, I became impatient waiting for them to publish what I think is an excellent and inspiring article, so I decided to at least publish it here. If anyone is interested in being in touch with the author, let me know.

The world has watched in amazement in the last ten years as China has transformed its economic and social system to become the fourth-largest economy in the world. It has also become increasingly apparent, however, that this rapid growth has come at a severe price for China’s environment. Because of China’s high population and generally poor enforcement of environmental standards, pressure on natural resources and the resultant environmental problems have become acute. For example, one-third of China is affected by acid rain; 16 of the world’s twenty most polluted cities are in China; and over 300 million rural people lack access to clean drinking water. Some of the biggest threats to China’s environment, health, and future sustainable development include water pollution and scarcity, air pollution, and climate change.

China is facing a severe water crisis, with regard to both water quality and water supply. Continuous discharge of untreated sewage from major cities, as well as pollution from mining, paper-making, and other industries has taken a severe toll on China’s waterways. In 2006, 26% of the water flowing in China’s major watersheds was essentially dead, classified by the State Environmental Protection Administration as having lost all basic ecological functions. It is estimated that 660 of China’s cities are affected by serious groundwater pollution. Water supply is also a vital concern; China has 8% of the world’s fresh water but 22% of the world’s population. More than 130 cities in China, including Beijing, face severe water shortages. In order to deal with water shortages in the relatively arid north of China, China has embarked on the world’s largest water diversion project, which will take water from the Yangtze River in the south to northern China. This project involves the construction of 3 canals, totaling more than 3,000 km, and is expected to be completed around 2050 at a projected cost of more than US$60 billion. The full ecological consequences of this large-scale re-engineering of China’s major river systems remain unknown, but environmentalists doubt that it is sustainable to divert so much of the Yangtze’s water.

Air pollution is another serious problem, especially in China’s major cities. According to the World Bank, four of the world’s ten cities with the worst air pollution are in China. About 300,000 deaths each year are attributed to air pollution. Because of China’s huge coal resources, coal accounts for more than 60% of China’s primary energy supply, a much higher percentage than in developed nations like the United States. In cities like Beijing, increased automobile traffic and poor urban planning have also played a critical role in the air pollution problem. When the Chinese government ordered 800,000 cars off of the streets of Beijing to clear the air for the China-Africa summit in November 2006, a type of nitrogen oxide pollution decreased by 40%.

Finally, climate change has been recognized as an increasing threat to China’s environment. According to China’s National Climate Change Program, published by the central government in June, climate change is likely to cause a decrease in the yields of China’s main agricultural crops (corn, wheat, and rice), increased desertification, and sea level rise. Climate change will also make China’s water problems even more acute. Glacial water supplies 23% of China’s population, but it is estimated that China will lose two-thirds of its glaciers by 2050, putting at least 300 million people at risk.

Government and NGO Actions

China’s environmental crisis is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. The central government has issued dozens of regulations designed to improve energy efficiency and crack down on polluters. The government’s targets for 2010 include a 10% reduction in air pollution and a 20% reduction in energy intensity of GDP. China has set ambitious targets for the development of wind and biomass electricity generation. In addition, the government has introduced fuel taxes to discourage the purchase of inefficient vehicles and a 5% tax on wooden disposable chopsticks (which consume 25 million trees each year). A new regulation issued in May requires all companies to disclose their environmental information to the public voluntarily or by force.

There has also been a rapid increase in the number of non-governmental organizations working on environmental issues. There are more than 3,000 registered environmental NGOs in China today, a rapid increase from less than 50 only five years ago. These NGOs are gradually becoming more sophisticated and effective. For example, one of the most innovative NGOs is the Institute for Public and Environmental Affairs, founded in 2006 by Ma Jun, author of the influential book “China’s Water Crisis.” Ma Jun was inspired to become an environmental activist because of his experiences as a journalist researching the Yellow River. His Institute has created an online map of water pollution in China, and is using this information to pressure multinational companies to green their supply chains and stop purchasing from polluting factories. Chinese NGOs have also started to pay more and more attention to the problem of climate change. Although NGOs generally lack experience in dealing with climate change, they are rising to the challenge, networking with foreign NGOs and building capacity to effectively address this problem.

The Student Environmental Movement

China’s youth are the ones who will have to deal with the future consequences of today’s environmental pollution. Fortunately, the last 10-15 years have seen a rise in environmental activism among Chinese youth and the rise of a new generation of leaders who are dedicated to solving China’s environmental problems.

Unlike their counterparts in developed countries, Chinese youth often face serious barriers to environmental activism. Since the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989, the Chinese government has actively discouraged any attempts at national-level campaigns by university groups. Student groups generally receive no funding from their university, and their ability to fundraise from outside sources is also restricted. All projects must be approved by the university, and it is easy for a university administration to shut down student organizations.

Despite these challenges, there is a tight-knit and growing community of Chinese students from campuses throughout the country working on environmental issues. Nearly every university in the country has an environmental club, many of which are linked into regional and sometimes national networks. It is almost impossible to describe a “typical” club, since the large regional differences across China lead to different environmental concerns, and government control prevents students from organizing nationally. In the words of Zhang Dongli, a leader in the national College Environmental Forum, “there is more and more diversity in the students' environmental activities now. They used to be more nature-focused, just working on issues of forest preservation, endangered species protection, etc. Now they are reaching out to many aspects of the environmental movement, such as urban rivers, green architecture, public transportation, [and] organic farming.” Here we profile a sample of some of the rising student environmental leaders and their organizations.

Li Li, the College Environmental Forum

Li Li is one of the leaders of the College Environmental Forum, the main national student environmental network in China. CEF provides an online forum for college activists to share news, advice, and success stories; it also organizes an annual conference which attracts leaders from the major regional networks and university environmental organizations. This year’s forum focused on climate and energy; students presented recent projects related to issues like on-campus energy conservation, carbon audits, and wind power. Li Li, a recent college graduate and former president of the regional network Green Henan, was heavily involved in organizing this year’s conference. He has also been involved in organizing tree-planting and bird-watching activities, planning student conferences, and developing summer environmental research projects for college students. His goal is “to inspire more people and bring them into environmental protection through my activism.”

Luo Rui, Peking University CDM Club and JIFF (Joint Initiative for the Future)

Luo Rui, a master’s student in environmental science at Peking University in Beijing, is a leader in the CDM Club, Peking University’s environmental club, and a founding member of a new network called JIFF (Joint Initiative for the Future). The CDM Club was founded in 2006 with the goal of promoting awareness and action on climate change at Peking University and beyond. Luo Rui is passionate about climate change, which he first became concerned about as an undergraduate student. In his opinion, this past year was a significant turning point for climate change activism in China: “climate change and related energy issues become the central discussion over one night.” He currently directs the green campus program of the CDM Club, which is working on a greenhouse gas inventory of Peking University and plans to use the results of the inventory to promote investments in energy efficiency on campus.

In 2007, Luo Rui worked with other Chinese and foreign youth leaders living in Beijing to create JIFF, which was designed to provide a bridge for communication between foreign and Chinese climate activists. JIFF aims to build on and adapt the knowledge and resources already developed by the American student climate movement to develop a platform for helping students run green campus projects in China.

Su Jianhua, Green Student Forum

Su Jianhua, a recent graduate of China Mining University, now works for Syntao, an NGO focusing on corporate social responsibility; she was previously a leader in the Green Student Forum, one of the oldest and best-known student environmental organizations in China. GSF runs leadership and capacity-building trainings for students, and publishes a quarterly newsletter featuring student activities from all over China. Su has been concerned about environmental issues since she was in elementary school, when she was shocked by the serious pollution of the river in her hometown. In college, she became involved in the Green Student Forum, and last year she also helped develop a project investigating energy waste on her campus.

Zhang Dongli, the College Environmental Forum

Zhang Dongli, another CEF leader, is currently a junior at Bryn Mawr College in the United States, where she majors in urban studies. She is using her unique position as a Chinese student environmental leader studying abroad to help bridge the American and Chinese environmental movements. She has organized Chinese students to translate campaign resources from American student environmental organizations into Chinese. She has also helped to initiate CEF’s new focus on climate change. Due in part to her leadership, CEF has formed a climate committee, which presented its “Declaration of Chinese Youth and College Student on Climate Action” to the Live Earth concert in Shanghai this past summer. CEF is planning to promote climate projects on university campuses, ranging from greenhouse gas emissions inventories to green building campaigns, and promote the integration of courses on climate change into the university education system. They hope to issue a guide to youth climate activism next year. Zhang Dongli believes that CEF’s leadership on climate change will help “raise the student environmental movement to another level.”

“A long way to go”

Despite the difficulty of organizing in China, the urgency of China’s environmental problems has inspired a new generation of students to take action. Although the student environmental movement in China is young, student leaders are excited that the movement is learning and growing rapidly. Today’s generation of student environmental leaders are increasingly sophisticated, learning from their counterparts in developed countries and creating a new brand of student environmental activism to fit within the Chinese system. Their work reaches from the campus to the national level and covers issues from biodiversity to climate change. Yet despite their passion and enthusiasm, the student leaders are under no illusions about the severity of the threats to China’s environment. As Su Jianhua put it, “we are not satisfied with China's progress on this issue and it is a long way to go to improve the [situation].”