Friday, August 9, 2013

BEN & BEER in the North Capital

One of the hotbeds of foreign expert activity in China is the Beijing Energy Network's (BEN) Beijing Energy & Environment Roundtable (BEER). The Beijing Energy Network (BEN) is a grassroots organization with a mission of promoting knowledge sharing, networking, and collaboration in understanding and tackling China’s energy and environmental challenges among individuals and organizations from diverse sectors such as government, finance, industry, media, advocacy, think tanks and academia.

This week I was able to attend a very interesting round-table along with about 80 other folks, the vast majority of whom were waiguoren (foreigners). The panel was featuring:

  • Jennifer Turner, Director, China Environment Forum, Woodrow Wilson Center
  • Keith Schneider, Senior Editor, Circle of Blue
  • Jia Shaofeng, Deputy Director of the Center for Water Resources Research at the Chinese Academy of Sciences
Keith Schneider is senior editor for Circle of Blue—the internationally recognized center for original front-line reporting, research, and analysis on resource issues, with a focus on the intersection between water, food, and energy. Keith manages multimedia story development, reporting, editing, and production for Circle of Blue. His personal site:
Jia Shaofeng is the Deputy Director of the Center for Water Resources Research at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Chair of the Department of Water & Land Resources Research of the Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources Research at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Vice Chair of Special Committee for Water Resources at the Hydraulic Engineering Society of China, board member of China Society of Territory Economists.
Jennifer Turner has been the director of the China Environment Forum at the Woodrow Wilson Center for 13 years. She has created meetings, exchanges and publications focusing on a variety of energy and environmental challenges facing China, particularly on water, energy and climate challenges, as well as environmental nongovernmental organizations, environmental journalism, and environmental governance in China. One of her current projects is Choke Point: China—a multimedia and convening initiative uncovering how energy is impacting water in China. 

BEN asks that their speaker's remarks remain off the record unless the speaker(s) otherwise grant permission so I will not offer a report on what I heard, but here some links to the handouts and an article written by Jennifer and Keith, with two others, for Vermont Law School's environmental journal (!):
It is impossible not to editorialize generally about the way that switching to natural gas was portrayed as a huge victory for the climate. In fact, America is an out-sized consumer of energy, relative to its population, and simply fuel switching is, as Ozzie Zehner's book points out, not enough. We need to do some walking away from burning energy for anthropogenic ends. Choosing the lesser of two evils will still wreak havoc on the environment.

We must find a way, especially in developing economies, to take the earnings from efficiency gains out of the system so that we can avoid the untoward results, described by Jevons' Paradox. Otherwise, we are just inducing higher levels of consumption...which, by the way, is the stated goal for China of everybody from Premier Li Keqiang to former Secretary of Treasury Hank Paulson to Nobel laureate Paul Krugman

There are other opinions and thoughtful analyses, like this rambling rant in The Nation by Richard MacGregor sort of reviewing a book by Karl Gerth, but the "powers-that-be" seem to have made up their mind that a nation of Chinese consumers is inevitable and should be the goal. I hope to offer a future BEN talk on how Project Laundry List and the Least Resource Design Initiative might help. 

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