Urban sprawl works differently in China

October 27, 2015

Much of our flight to China we fond the ground, or ocean, obscured by clouds. About an hour out of Beijing, we caught glimpses of China’s countryside.

It’s different there.

If you’ve flown much over the U.S., you’re familiar with agricultural regions having identifiable features such as the large circles created by irrigation systems, or the grid-pattern fields laid out across much of the American Midwest. Those fields are punctuated, especially at night, by farmhouses, smaller crossroads featuring a few more buildings, small towns, and increasing urbanization along the highways going into bigger cities.

In China, north of Beijing, human habitations are much more dense than small U.S. farm towns, and the fields themselves appear almost wholly absent of human habitation.

Semi-rural area north of Beijing, from 30,000 feet or so. Note new, high-rise apartment buildings in the small town. Photo by Ed Darrell

Semi-rural area north of Beijing, from 30,000 feet or so. Note new, high-rise apartment buildings in the small town. Photo by Ed Darrell

Here’s a photo I took from our airplane window, looking to the west, over China at least 100 miles north of Beijing. ChinaCom’s system doesn’t identify locations to my iPhone as Verizon’s system does in the U.S.; I have not yet identified the river, though I think it may be the north-flowing Songhua-Amur Rivers complex.

Agricultural fields are neatly laid out. Notice there is no room left for wild lands, where wildlife might find a home.

Agricultural fields are neatly laid out. Notice there is no room left for wild lands, where wildlife might find a home.

I was struck by the lack of uncultivated, unplowed or undeveloped land. Fields abut each other tightly, without even hedgerows between them. We noticed a marked lack of wildlife on other parts of our trip; without even space for weeds to grow between the fields, wildlife habitat is reduced essentially to nil. Does that harm or benefit agricultural production, and other production?

Not a perfect comparison, but here is a nearly-randomly-selected USGS aerial photo of farmland in the U.S., near Jerseyville, Illinois (from much lower airplane elevation):

USGS photo of land near Jerseyville, Illinois, near the Illinois River. Hills are unplowed now (they may have been farmed in the past), and waterways have banks of brush and trees for some distance, partly to control erosion. Notice wild tree and shrub growth between some fields.

USGS photo of land near Jerseyville, Illinois, near the Illinois River. Hills are unplowed now (they may have been farmed in the past), and waterways have banks of brush and trees for some distance, partly to control erosion. Notice wild tree and shrub growth between some fields.

This photos are not an exact comparison, but you can get the idea that worries me.

China’s tightly-controlled development policies over the past five decades, coupled with a thousand years or so of continued, developed and intentional habitation on these lands, leaves little room for something that is not planned.

Little room for nature. Someone would argue China’s land use is required in order to feed a massive population. Is that so?

On the trip I ran into a fellow working for a company trying to figure out ways to bioremediate polluted rivers in China, since the government came to realize polluted water harms human health and agricultural and riparian production downstream. One way would be to establish buffer lands along the banks of rivers. Can China change policies to allow that to happen, in time?

Pretty from an airplane window. Reflective of wise land use policies? There’s a rich discussion.

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Trump says China? Let’s go see

October 26, 2015

Kenny sent an e-mail, with a link to Donald Trump, saying “China.”

So, we went to see.

Among other things, Kenny’s brother James, our younger son, was getting married in Beijing.  Good excuse to travel.  Keeping with the rule that one should spend at least a day in a destination for every hour of travel it takes to get there, we planned 13 days.

I don’t think Donald Trump knows China.

After 13 days and a few thousand miles, and perhaps a few hundred supreme dumplings and two Beijing ducks, fugu, and noodles of nearly endless variety, with gallons of stout vinegars you won’t find in a U.S. supermarket, I know I don’t know China.

(I don’t think Trump knows much of anything, a very little in any depth; this is funnier now than it was when Kenny sent the link before the trip.)

Following, not always consecutively, some reports on some of the things we saw. Please stay tuned.

Wikipedia photo, by the way:

We saw the ancient city of Pingyao, Shanxi Province, where wheelers and dealers have been mincing people like Donald Trump for millennia. I’ll bet Trump didn’t go there. (This is a Wikipedia photo, by the way: “Pingyao-oldtown” by Benzh – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pingyao-oldtown.jpg#/media/File:Pingyao-oldtown.jpg)

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Cats in Crete and China, and evolution

October 23, 2010

Cretan Cat - photo by Kenny Darrell

A cat Kenny Darrell photographed in Crete -- notice each eye is a different color.

Darwin wondered about the genetic reasons behind white cats being blind deaf (though, of course, he didn’t call it “genetics” then).  Evolution in action:  White cats today usually can see hear.

Kenny found this cat in Crete, and got a good shot of its eyes, each of a different color — though of course, as soon as the focus was set, the cat leaned forward for a pet.

Kenny’s in China right now.  I wonder if China has cats and dogs on the streets like Crete?

Below the fold:  Darwin on white cats.

Read the rest of this entry »


American corporations hide American heroes at Shanghai Expo

July 17, 2010

“Penny pinching” conservatives in Congress shamefully worked to guarantee America’s legacy of freedom would be buried at the current Shanghai Expo.  Architecture writer Fred A. Bernstein reports that the conservatives won, and that the current U.S. exhibit in Shanghai is shamed by exhibits from other nations highlighting American virtues that the U.S. pavilion should have shown:

Where are the examples of American democracy and freedom, of American know-how and imagination, and of American heroes?

Artist's rendering of U.S. pavilion at Shanghai Expo 2010

Artist's rendering of U.S. pavilion at Shanghai Expo 2010 - corporate sponsorship failed to replace government support prohibited by "money-saving" 1990s law

For those things, visitors have to search elsewhere at the Expo: for the statue of Rachel Carson, outside the Broad Air Conditioning pavilion; for a tribute to Frank Gehry, at an exhibit sponsored by the city of Bilbao, Spain (Gehry would have designed a great U.S. pavilion!); and for videos of an American girl, describing what makes cities livable, look to the Russian pavilion. (Incredibly, the Russians shot the video in front of the U.S. Capitol, smartly appropriating an American symbol of freedom.) Carson, Gehry and the girl are Americans worth celebrating.

What will the millions of Chinese who visit the Expo think of the United States? The most sophisticated of them, especially the 45,000 a day who get inside the U.S. pavilion, will see a country determined to promote its corporations rather than its people or its political system. The rest — and this is even scarier — may visit the Expo, a microcosm of the world in 2010, and not think about the U.S. at all.

What in the hell were we thinking?

Bernstein explained what happened:

Seeing a statue of Rachel Carson, the crusading American environmentalist, at the World Expo in Shanghai moved me almost to tears. After all, Carson is a symbol of independent thought and action, both vital U.S. exports.

Too bad the statue wasn’t at the U.S. pavilion. But that building, sponsored in part by Carson’s nemesis, Dow Chemical, was never going to be a celebration of the power of individuals. Indeed, the pavilion, with its bland tribute to “community,” says little about what makes America, and Americans, special.

Check out Bernstein’s piece, “A World Expo flop by the U.S.,” with the subhead:  “Our pavilion at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai is a huge disappointment, failing to showcase the best of the United States.”

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Kicking U.S. butt even when we’re trying to study their language

May 10, 2010

Who gets the most out of this exchange?

“This country doesn’t value teachers, and that upsets me,” she said. “Teachers don’t earn much, and this country worships making money. In China, teachers don’t earn a lot either, but it’s a very honorable career.”

Ms. Zheng said she spent time clearing up misconceptions about China.

“I want students to know that Chinese people are not crazy,” she said. For instance, one of her students, referring to China’s one-child-per-family population planning policy, asked whether the authorities would kill one of the babies if a Chinese couple were to have twins.

Some students were astonished to learn that Chinese people used cellphones, she said. Others thought Hong Kong was the capital.

Barry Beauchamp, the Lawton superintendent, said he was thrilled to have Ms. Zheng and two other Chinese instructors working in the district. But he said he believed that the guest teachers were learning the most from the cultural exchange.

“Guest Teaching Chinese and Learning America,”  Sam Dillon, New York Times, May 9, 2010, page A14.


Chinese government behind “climategate” hacking?

January 1, 2010

Conspiracy fans — a category which appears to include almost all climate change denialists — won’t like the news from Planet Green’s “Planet 100.”  This little news show claims evidence that China was the source of the hacking of the University of East Anglia’s climate related e-mails.

Why won’t the denialists like it?  They won’t like it because it makes sense:  Who stood to profit from embarrassing scientists just before the Copenhagen meetings?  China, who wished to avoid any binding agreements, would gain simply by sowing confusion.

Evidence is pretty thin, but for the first time since the hacked e-mails were published, there’s a plausible motive.   Also, the source is also not wholly pristine or reputable in science stuff — the Daily Mail of London, which specializes in gossipy tabloid news.  Watch that space.

P.S.  — Don’t miss the squid invasion story in the same newscast.

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“Isn’t that how the last depression started?”

September 25, 2008

Econ, government teachers:  Are you ready to explain this one?

China banks told to halt lending to U.S. banks

And then this one:

China denies shunning foreign banks

“Fasten your seatbelts; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”


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