The China Challenge

(This is an article I wrote for Yes! magazine a couple of years ago. I am currently updating it for the China Business Review). 

After an initial rush of excitement over writing a piece about China for YES!, a slow creep of dread and unease replaced the thrill. With global oil prices spiking because of China’s rapacious growth in oil consumption and the country poised to replace the United States in the dubious role of world leader in carbon dioxide emissions, could I honestly write an article portraying as positive what is happening with China and fossil fuels?

My doubts were not erased, but amplified, after some initial phone calls to environmental leaders in China were met with long pauses when I asked for suggestions on positive stories.

But I was not deterred. China is important to me. I take what is happening there to heart. In many ways it is my home, and I am protective of it. I have spent nearly half of my life there, as a foreign correspondent and businessman from 1986 to 2002. During that time, I experienced what I consider to be one of the most dramatic periods of transformation in world history from the brief ecstasy of free expression in the late 1980s and the might of totalitarianism in snuffing it out, to a shift toward capital markets and the massive spiritual, economic, and social changes that came with that shift, including the beginnings of civil society. (When the United States industrialized, it had fewer than 80 million people, and it took around 40 years to do it. China has nearly 20 times that number of people, and it is industrializing at hyper-drive speed, manufacturing not only for itself but for the rest of the world.)

I believe it is essential that all of us not only understand what is going on in China, but that we become active agents for making it better. Unless we do something urgent, my two-year-old son will enter adulthood in a world neither he nor I want to contemplate.

When I first arrived in China, Beijing was one big bicycle lane, as was the rest of China. There were no private cars no one had the money and even if they had, private car ownership was prohibited by the government. The few cabs on the road catered to the few foreigners who paid in the equivalent of U.S. dollars.

Read more at Yes! magazine