sustainaBLISSt

To care as ONE, to act as ONE, to protect as ONE, to be ONE

Free Press for the “Sign Guy”

Hi everybody,

I wanted to share a short film and an article with you.

Some students shot this documentary about my exploits as Sign Guy at Colby over the last four years!

http://web.colby.edu/digitalshort-formstorytelling/sign-guy/

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Also, here’s a short article about me from the School Magazine.

http://www.insidecolby.com/article.php?articleid=441

kindest regards,

BR

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Senior Year Signs Part II

The last signs of senior year.

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Bigger is Better is Bonkers Part II: Can’t Go Without Looking Within

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We left off saying how our self-interest is at the heart of the problem as it causes the environmental crisis. Yet, on the flip-side of the self-interest coin lies the solution. Self-interest is inherent and ensures that we take care of our biological selves, finding adequate food, water and shelter, and avoiding life-threatening situations. To avoid suffering and return to a state of inner well-being is our most fundamental self-interest – the true bottom line against which we measure all our actions.

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We are rather like Nasrudhin, the “wise-fool” of Sufi tales, who has lost his key somewhere in his house. But he is searching for it out in the street “because,” he says, “there is more light outside.” We too look for the key to fulfillment in an illusory world around because that is the world we know best. We know how to change that world which is predicated on gathering possessions, making people and things behave the way we want and satisfying our ego through the material world but there seems to be “much less light inside” so we shun looking from within for answers.  This is why we consume so much more than we physically need. Most of what we consume we consume in the belief that it will make us happier. If only we had enough, we tell ourselves, we would be happy. We have become addicted to the material world like a person with a chemical addiction, we want to feel good inside. So we gather for ourselves whatever we believe will make us feel better. But because no ‘thing’ can ever satisfy that inner need, the ‘high’ soon wears off, and we go off in search of another ‘fix’. This addiction to things is one of the prime reasons we resist the very changes that we most need to make if we are to create a sustainable civilization.

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Peter Russell says, “this is another reason our economic system has become so wedded to growth. We believe that material prosperity equates with inner peace. This may be true for a person who lacks the basics to survive, but the majority of people in developed nations who have far surpassed attaining the basics seem to know when to stop consuming. Our mindset revolves around the idea “If only I had more wealth or opportunities I would be happier,” yet craving only leads to more craving. Our fear of transforming this mindset arises because the resulting mindset does not pursue the same experiences and does so with a different orientation of consciousness. In the ‘get more’ mind-set, we are dogs chasing a stick and arriving is not an option. Our only freedom of choice in this mindset exists as the freedom to choose between one brand and another, one job or another. Meaningful work and a meaningful life have been severed from our supposed needs of survival within our system.

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It no longer works for the individual, as Wendel Berry makes clear in his book, The Unsettling of America:

An American is probably the most unhappy citizen in the history of the world. . . . He suspects that his love life is not as fulfilling as other people’s. He wishes that he had be been born sooner, or later. He does not know why his children are the way they are. He does not understand what they say. He does not care much and does not know why he does not care. He does not know what his wife wants or what he wants. Certain advertisements and pictures in magazines make him suspect that he is basically unattractive. He feels that all his possessions are under threat of pillage. He does not know what he would do if he lost his job, if the economy failed, if the utility companies failed, if the police went on strike, if the truckers went on strike, if his wife left him, if his children ran away, if he should be found to be incurably ill. And for these anxieties, of course, he consults certified experts who, in turn, consult certified experts about their anxieties.

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Our system does not work for the planet as a whole.  Our unsustainable consciousness about our western way of live is the first thing that’s going to have to undergo a rapid change. It leads to short-term needs that are intrinsically incompatible with the long-term needs of future generations. Changing our behaviors is not enough; we have to reorient the mode of consciousness that underlies them.

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Accomplishing this consciousness shift appears to be a herculean effort but once a threshold level is crossed in understanding, real change will happen. Catalyzing the momentum for this shift will be our way of accelerating the natural process of maturation. The wisdom we need for this maturation has been the goal of all the great spiritual traditions. They have each uniquely been trying to help us move beyond our material attachments; to find within ourselves the peace of mind that we eternally seek; and to nourish the wisdom we each carry in our hearts so that it may become the basis of our words and more importantly our actions.

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Peter Russell suggests that we need the psychological equivalent of the Apollo Project for human consciousness expansion.  Kennedy set the challenge of getting to the moon in ten years. The resources were there, the knowledge was being gained, the technology had to be developed. Dedication to the mission brought fruition, and nine years later the first human being was standing on the moon.  For Russell, “The new frontier we now urgently need to master is not outer space but inner space.” In this case, the monetary resources are there, considering all of the trillions spent each year defending ourselves against each others greed and jealousy. The knowledge is being gained. Seeds of it are to be found in the great spiritual teachings, in many philosophies, in various psychotherapies, and in the emerging fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology. The real need is a dedicated research and development effort to explore how we can most easily release our minds from this materialist mindset and move into a more mature mode of functioning. The technology on how to expedite this more mature mode of consciousness will be the subject of future posts.

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Rubbing our eyes and seeing our authentic self without the materialistic conditioning is just not something we have applied ourselves to.  The payoffs from shifting from the ego-centric view to a more sustainable mode would be priceless! With less attachment to material goods we now believe our so important, the worth we place on relationships, personal health and spiritual endeavors increases. Inner-development is not an isolated solution but it is the underlying root cause that should be addressed rather than preoccupying ourselves with short-term fixes for the symptoms of the global crisis. The road ahead is one of miraculous self-discovery that will only serve to unite humankind into a larger self. Embrace the changing tides that cause this to arise! As Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Enlightenment for a wave, is the moment the wave realizes it is water.” When humanity has the same collective revelation, there will be an enduring peace.

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The happy trails are traveled together!

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“Bigger is Better” is Bonkers Part I: The Leviathan of Economic Growth

Many have bandied about the word “sustainability,” from green philosophers to but what does it really mean? Amidst the hundreds of definitions though, the pervading idea is that we should leave earth in as good a state we found it, which is possible, just not the direction we are headed in.  ‘Development that meets the need of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ is a tall order when greed has caused short-term desire to trump long-term practicality. Obviously, it is an imperative to change our course to repair the damage done the planet’s biosystem, but the problem is that the steps necessary to bring it about are not in our immediate interest and this results in planetary procrastination.

The first assumption we need to investigate about sustainable development is whether it is compatible with the model of growth for both population and industry. The average Westerner today consumes over 100 times the resources of a person living 200 years ago at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Over the same period, the population has increased by a factor of ten. Combine these two growths together and the result is a 1000-fold increase in consumption, and with it a corresponding increase in waste and pollution. As the human population most likely doubles over the next three decades, the industrial production will exponentially increase as the basic resources we need to survive are exacerbated. Our visible consumer culture is so extreme that the storage-locker industry is growing quickly in the U.S. despite the simultaneous increase in the size of our homes. Philosopher Peter Russell opines, “Corporate rates of growth are planned to be even higher. Many major US corporations, including some of the greener ones, have committed themselves to growth rates of between 10% and 15% At that rate, companies currently turning over $10 billion will be in the trillion dollar range in thirty years. How can that be sustainable in the long-term?” Shifting from manufacturing to information processing will lessen the rate at which our consumption of grows, but slowing the rate of growth does not eliminate the problem; it merely moves the crisis point a few years into the future.

With this mounting problem, we need to turn away from isolationism and realize not helping the third world will only contribute to furthering their instances of deforestation, over-grazing, soil erosion and water contamination. Yet, in the U.S. and other developed nations, our neo-Keynesian model is fixated on economic growth at the expense of societal well-being. The success of our growing economy is the mistaken object of worship as if we believe that the pursuit of happiness can be quantified on the New York Stock Exchange. The pundits cheer the headlines boasting increases in industrial outputs without any pause for what it means in the long-term. There is a way to calculate “Green GDP” where the environmental costs of growth are factored in. Yet Pundits ignore this when they advocate projects like the Keystone XL pipeline by saying it will create jobs and grow the economy. Ironically, it would only create temporary jobs for the construction and not much else, but besides this, it is just another instance of kowtowing toward big oil and putting ourselves further down the fossil-fuel road to nowhere.

In his recent book, The Growth Illusion, the economist Richard Douthwaite argues that the only truly sustainable economy is one with zero material growth. He shows how, despite all its promises, growth has done very little in recent years to raise the quality of life. The promise of more jobs has been offset by the unemployment generated by increased efficiency and productivity from new technologies, which the drive for growth has produced. Statistics show that “few people in the more developed countries are more fulfilled than they were thirty years ago. A study in 1955 showed that one third of U.S. population said they were happy with their lives. The same study repeated in 1992 found that exactly the same proportion of the people were happy with their lives – despite the fact that per capita productivity and consumption have both doubled over this time.The reality is that “continued economic growth has made a few people richer, and a lot of people poorer. In 1980 the average large company CEO earned 42 times as the average hourly paid worker. In 1992 he earned 157 times as much. The same pattern has happened over the world as a whole, resulting in a net flow of wealth from the Third World to the First World. During the 1980s incomes fell in more than 40 developing countries, in some cases by as much as 30 percent. Over the same period Third World debt has been increasing at 10% per year – that means a doubling every seven years.” Douthwaite concludes that ‘the sooner growth is dropped from our thinking and we revert to setting ourselves specific and finite objectives that lead towards our steady state the better our future will be.”

Herman Daly of the World Bank puts it more bluntly in his essay in the book The Sustainable Society: It is obvious that in a finite world nothing physical can grow forever. Yet our current policy seems to aim at increasing physical production indefinitely. But zero-growth is far too uncomfortable for most economists and politicians to accept as Western capitalism cannot survive without growth. National and corporate economies are compelled to expand if they are to avoid collapse. Herein lies a fundamental conflict. We want to ensure the future of humanity, and yet we also want to ensure the very system that is contributing to its downfall. As Willis Harman, one of the founders of the World Business Academy, points out, “this is rather like a patient who implores his physician to heal him, but subject to the conditions that the doctor not interfere with his drinking, smoking, eating or stress-producing attitudes. Yet we do something similar when we admit the seriousness of our unsustainable modern way of life, and insist that the cure be sought without disturbing our concepts of the necessity of technological progress and economic growth.” As a consequence most definitions of sustainable development do little more than make economic growth more equitable and environmentally careful. They seldom challenge the assumption that economic growth is beneficial.

Peter Russell states, “the hidden hand of self-interest invites people and corporations to get around the law, or do the minimum they can get away with; not to do the maximum possible. He mentions the CFC story as an example of this behavior. CFCs were created more than twenty five years ago as the result of a search for inert, non-toxic, inflammable, stable, compressible gases – gases that would, in other words be safe for human beings and for the environment. Only after their manufacture had begun did some people suspect that they might damage the ozone layer that shields the Earth’s surface from harmful ultraviolet light. The Montreal Protocol banned CFCs but they are stilled used today. The thinning of the ozone layer is cause for alarm but if the ozone hole continues growing, skin cancers and eye cataracts linked to it are likely to be the least of our worries. The increased UV light hitting the tips of plants, where they are most vulnerable destroys the DNA in these cells and the plant will not reach maturity, and will not seed. Microscopic phytoplankton in the sea which have no skin to protect them and are very vulnerable to ultraviolet radiation are also facing destruction which would crush the planet’s food chain will crash.

Another point Peter Russell makes is how “our economic system unintentionally exacerbates our global crisis through the charging of interest. Although we may take the charging of interest for granted, it is only relatively recently it has become a widely accepted practice. Usury – as the practice is often called – was originally out-lawed in Judaism; the Old Testament contains several warnings against it. The cultures of ancient Greece and Rome likewise denounced the practice. Aristotle called it the most unnatural and unjust of all trades. For centuries it was outlawed by the Church of Rome’s Canon Law. And it is forbidden by the Koran, and there are today several Islamic countries whose banks are forbidden to charge interest. Why have spiritual teachings and philosophers repeatedly argued against usury? There are several reasons – both moral and economic. First, the accumulation of compound interest is economically unsustainable in the long-term. A dollar invested at 10% compound interest would be worth $2.59 after ten years; $13,780 after a hundred years; and $2.473,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 after a thousand years – which is about ten trillion times the value of the Earth’s weight in gold. Second, it is those who have money who lend it and those without who need to borrow and pay the interest. This tends to make the rich richer, and the poor poorer. Third, usury is wanting something for nothing. The act of lending money involves no input of human labor – apart perhaps from the signing of an agreement and entering some data in a computer. The borrower may well use the money to do something useful, but the lender has done nothing. Yet he still expects to receive something in return. Its the time-old desire for a free lunch.

But where does this extra something come from? Most money-lenders are so concerned with their own gains they do not consider this question – or turn a blind-eye to it. In order that the interest on all these loans can be paid the amount of money in circulation has to increase. But this fuels inflation – more money chasing the same amount of goods decreases the value of the money. So governments strive to compensate as much as possible for the extra money by increasing real wealth. The result? The need for continued economic growth.”

Russell posits that sustainable development is not compatible with a democratic system in which leaders must pander to the interests of those who put them in power. Elected leaders need the popular vote, and the popular vote is strongly influenced by what people think politicians will give them in the short-term rather than the long-term. In most cases this is not what is required for sustainable development. Take, for instance, George Bush’s refusal to sign the Biodiversity Convention at the Earth Summit in Rio. He defended his position by arguing that it endangered company patent rights and was not in the interest of American business. Despite the fact that a number of scientists in the ‘”threatened” biotechnology industries lobbied the then president, trying to persuade him that his decision was short-sighted, and that the loss of biodiversity was a far greater threat than the protection of US business interests, he stuck to his position. Was it just a coincidence that Bush was up for re-election that year, and a major part of his political campaign funds came from the corporate world? Voters short-term, materialist interests are one reason why European Green parties have not fulfilled their initial promise. People began to realize that voting green was not just voting for a healthier environment; it was also, in the final analysis, voting for an end to growth, an end to unbridled consumption, and end to low taxation, and the loss of many personal comforts and conveniences. Who would vote for that? The fact that we may not be here in twenty years time if we do not is too distant a consideration.

 

Many of us have become so attached to our lifestyles that we would risk oblivion rather than let go of the things that we tell ourselves are so important. This leads to all manner of convoluted thinking where blame for the Environmental crisis is shifted or denied outright. Yet, we are all responsible. Almost everyone today is aware that automobiles are a major producer of carbon dioxide. But how many of us have stopped driving a car? Few. And of those of us who argue that they must have a car, how many have chosen to drive the most fuel-efficient car on the market? Again, very few. Why not? One reason is that most of us do not believe it would actually make any difference. Why make such personal sacrifices if the vast majority of people continue as before? They will make no measurable difference to the planet or the rest of humanity. The only difference will be a decrease in personal comfort and convenience. And this is not in our self-interest. In the words of Rusell, “One of our major impediments to sustainability is our greed, our love of power, our love of money, our attachment to our comforts, our unwillingness to inconvenience ourselves. In one way or another human self-interest is either creating the problem or preventing us from solving it.” Paradigm-shifting our self-interest is the goal and the subject of part II of this entry.

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The Future is Here: Model Environmental Communities in China!

Following the call for a “greener” community in China’s                                                                                12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), “sustainable architecture”                                                                           has become the latest fashion here to stay. Tianjin Eco-City                                                                             marks a new era in the way in which people will live!

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Construction began in 2008 on the Tianjin Eco-City, a 30 square kilometer                                                     development designed to showcase the newest green technologies and                                                                   to serve as a model for future developing Chinese cities.

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Designed by Surbana Urban Planning Group, the city is being built 10                                                                 minutes away from the business parks at the Tianjin Economic-Development                                                       Area, an easy commute with its advanced light rail transit system.

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The community’s expected 350,000 residents will be able to choose diferent landscapes                                  ranging from a sun-powered solarscape to a greenery-clad earthscape pictured above.

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Its strategic location makes the Tianjin Eco-City  poised to realize its                                                                       vision to be a center for eco-activities and businesses that will involve                                                                              companies that provide services in green financing, energy efficiency                                                                      consultancy and eco-solutions.

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The Taoyuan Model Eco-Community will develop around the Yuan River in Hunan Province.                                       The Yuan River is a lush zone of biodiversity, the natural habitat of thousands of native plants                                and animals, including the Qiusha Duck, a class-one endangered species. The Taoyuan MEC                                   will address the economic and social welfare of the community through: 1) formation of a chicken                              farming cooperative, 2) initiating an ecotourism program  3) establishment of a community center                               offering healthcare, environmental and life skills trainings and 4) rebuilding and education and                        healthcare facilities. The goal is to preserve the diverse natural habitat of the Yuan River while                                   at the same time empowering the rural community to become economically viable through                              sustainable means. Now that’s what I call SEEing Society, Environment and Economy as                                                 the triple bottom-line considering People, Planet and Profit!

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The Germany-based company Knauf, a leading producer of gypsum boards, opened                                                 its fourth plant in Taicang, Jiangsu province this year!  The company contributed to 75                                              percent of the projects in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing and supplied plasterboard                                    products to 15 pavilions at the 2010 Shanghai Expo. As China becomes more and more                                 urbanized, people are ready to raise the standard of living. The use of plasterboard in                                              housing is increasing as construction companies move away from brick-framed buildings                                           to timber- and steel-framed buildings. Its raw material, gypsum, is a type of rock more                                              than 200 million years old that weighs little and is flexible!

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Sustainable Health & Fitness

Large-scale Tai Chi exercising and synchronized dancing are                                                                              common in Chinese cities! The practice of Tai Chi enables the                                                                            healthy flow of energy through the body. Enhanced by a calm                                                                              mind that Tai Chi brings to the body, the practice is renowned                                                                               for curing so many “incurable” diseases and conditions.

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People perform a gymnastics routine on August 08, 2011 in Chengdu,                                                              Sichuan Province to mark National Fitness Day.

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Olympian environmental advocacy: Yao Ming, who once played for the Shanghai                                              Sharks, has spoken out against the hunting of sharks for their fins, an expensive delicacy.

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 The powerful antioxidants in green tea, which originated                                                                                            in China, have many healthy affects for sufferers of heart                                                                               disease, arthritis and cancer.

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Chinese medicine has gained increasing worldwide popularity for treating                                                                   a variety of diseases, ailments and symptoms using over 6,000 herbs,                                                                 1,000 animal and mineral products, acupuncture, cupping and massage                                                                  to heal the inner and outside body.

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Businessman philanthropist Chen Guangbiao shows his moves on a                                                                       bicycle in Yuetan Stadium in Beijing. Chen provided 2,000 bikes free                                                                            of charge to schools and communities in a campaign to promote a                                                                       low-carbon lifestyle. Bike riding lowers pollution, which costs China                                                                        an estimated $100 billion in health costs associated with respiratory                                                                         ills, according to the World Bank.

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Ego vs. Nature   Lets turn the tide!

 

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Sustainable Air & Water Initiatives on the Rise in China

 

The average Chinese citizen is responsible for a fraction of the greenhouse emissions of the average American—and the country is not bound by any international treaty to reduce its emissions. While pollution is a massive problem, one collaborative, six-year study of carbon dioxide levels in Beijing and surrounding provinces suggests that combustion efficiency, a component of overall energy efficiency, is improving in the region.

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The Water purification business is growing as over 30 million residential water purification systems were sold last year in China. It created sales revenue of 30 billion yuan ($4.76 billion), according to data from the China Water Purification Association.

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Officials from the health and epidemic prevention station of Harbin municipal government exame a water purifier at a store Heilongjiang province. Chinese people’s increased awareness of the quality of the water they drink daily is stimulating demand for water purifying products.

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Launched in 1978, China’s massive tree-planting program covers 42% of China’s landmass and will be the biggest man-made carbon sponge on the planet by 2050. Chinese volunteers have planted about 58.9 billion trees across the country, increasing China’s forest cover from 12% to 18% in two decades. 

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Between 2009 and 2010, employees at Jiangmen Yi Xin Tanning Company Limited (“Yi Xin”) have planted nearly 2,000 larch seedlings on the mountain slopes surrounding their factory!

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Sustainable Food & China

There’s quite the list of benefits from eating right! “Diets have a decisive influence on health and more people have realized this,” says Tian Yongsheng, a food safety researcher. The number of people dying from heart disease will decrease if there’s more people opting for vegetarian food. The rising trend of vegetarian food in major cities show that more Chinese people are returning to a healthier way of living.”

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    Actress Gao Yuanyuan   “Let Vegetarianism Grow on you!”

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“Most vegetarian restaurants offer delicious food. Some of them taste even better than meat. I like to my spend afternoons here, where I can find peace,” says 30-year-old university research assistant Cui Xianglan, who became a vegetarian food advocate four years ago.”

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The Nanjing Global Organic Food Research & Consulting Center has established that organic farming is booming in China and can meet the demand of mega-food systems. To ensure this, environmental consciousness, ensuring high quality and price suitability are important for facilitating organic food consumption on a mass-scale. 

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Sustainable Energy & China

 

 

With ever increasing world demand and scarcity, China has become more dedicated to economic development and societal harmony dependent on renewable energy. Abundant and cheap energy is the engine of growth driving progress. The CCP’s promotion of wind and solar energy technologies has set a stunning example for other developing countries. The Chinese Government has worked out relevant policies while its business sector has developed relevant techniques. China has decisively steered towards cleaner and sustainable energy, and this tendency is likely to speed up.

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 Suntech is the world’s largest producer of solar panels with 1,800MW of annual production                                   capacity by the end of 2010. With offices or production facilities in every major market,                                     Suntech has delivered more than 13,000,000 solar panels to thousands of companies in                                         more than 80 countries around the world.

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China erects 36 wind turbines a day and is building a robust new electricity grid to send                                             this power thousands of miles across the country from the deserts of the west to the                                          cities of the east. It is part of a long-term plan to supply 15% of the country’s energy from                            alternative and renewable sources by 2020.

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The company, Whale Power, has redesigned the typically smooth                                                                       blades on a turbine, adding a series of ridges, based on tubercles,                                                                        the bumps on humpback whale fins. The company says this new                                                                  blade design can increase annual electrical production by 20% by                                                                  retrofitting existing wind farms.

This technology uses Constructal theory, an evolutionary principle                                                                       stating that we can design devices for human use based on the                                                                    occurrence of that design in nature! Breaking the traditional boundaries                                                                     between biology, physics, geology, it describes how flow systems like                                                          organisms, river basins and even Beijing changing through time.                                                                      Constructal theory says that for any of these flow systems to persist,                                                                  to sustain, or survive, they must be structured (architecturally designed)                                                                    in such a way that the things within that system increasingly get to where                                                            they need to go. This gives shape and structure to everything that evolves                                                           over time.

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According to the UNFCCC database, by November 2011,                                                                                          China was the leading host nation for Clean Development                                                                           Mechanisms (CDM) projects with 1661 projects (46.32%)                                                                                           of a total of 3586 registered project activities.

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Electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids will reach about                                                                                            10 percent of the Chinese new car market by 2020.                                                                                          Chinese BYD Auto has released the first mass-produced                                                                                   electric car model in the world!

While China still has many strides to make for sustainability,                                                                                     these are all encouraging signs that we can globally move                                                                                               toward embracing renewable resource and be optimistic about                                                                                         saving the planet!

 

 

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Sustainable Environment in China

People may have the misconception that China is its big cities, and while urban centers do comprise a large part of the population, the beauty of its countryside is unparalleled.

 

Dubbed as the “Soul of Guilin,” the Lijiang River is flanked by majestically shaped mountains on both its banks reminiscent of the floating islands from Avatar. The World Bank financed a project to protect the environment on both sides of the river, which will be completed in three years at a cost 61.3 million yuan (USD $7.39 million). Workers have already built protection facilities and planted trees along 5,922 meters of Lijiang River to conserve this highly popular eco-tourist destination.

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Jiuzhaigou is a breathtaking alpine valley discovered by lumberjacks in the 1970s. It is over 320 meters wide! On the World Natural Heritage List and the UNESCO list, it is a nature reserve with takins, snub-nosed monkeys and giant pandas.

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Founded in 1994, Friends of Nature (FON) is the oldest environmental NGO in China citizens. FON promotes environmental awareness and remains committed to helping its members proactively undertake their responsibilities and actions as green citizens and consumers. FON has its own Mountain Hiking Club, Birdwatching Club, Botany Club and even its own Choir Club to advocate living a low-carbon lifestyle!

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In Beijing, China Youth Climate Action Network cohosted the International Youth Summit on Energy and Climate Change in July in part to convince Chinese colleges to reduce their emissions by 20 percent by 2012! Pretty ambitious right!?

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