Dr. Vanessa Tyson, Political Science

Case Study on Chinese Environmental Policy

Our three-week trip to the Yunnan Province proved to be both rigorous and eye-opening. My hope had been to learn more about the use of hydroelectric power and the consequent displacement of villages populated with ethnic minorities.  The sheer size of the Chinese population—so many people, cars, scooters, buses, etc.—definitely left an impression, and notably, we didn’t visit the most densely populated areas of Beijing and Shang-Hai. While the government seems to be very supportive of solar energy, through the distribution of equipment throughout the province, the need for energy seems unparalleled given both the size of the population and the burgeoning growth of technology.  As such, the use of hydroelectric power seems necessary and problematic, given the impact on the freshwater ecology and displacement of indigenous groups. A move towards wind energy and biodiesel might well be utilized, as both methods offer a greater level of sustainability—neither is finite and both have a minimal impact on the regional ecology.  We were able to meet with a number of experts, including one who specifically worked with rural villages on biodiesel utilization.

Another important issue of note was that of sanitation, dealing with human waste as well as trash. In rural villages as well as some more developed areas, our group witnessed the burning of trash and inadequate facilities for waste management.  In all types of areas, we saw tremendous trash pollution (as compared to various areas of the United States) and detected rather fetid smells of sewage in the air. All of this would be useful to relate to students taking sustainability courses—when we consider the regulatory policies in place in the United States, we all benefit tremendously from an improved quality of life as a result.  Our investments in infrastructure, combined with continued efforts to reduce various forms of pollution in our air and waterways have been extremely effective. While avoiding fossil fuels remains extremely important, we can also incorporate statistics that demonstrate improvements over the last four decades or so, with the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the passage of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.