On Monday May 31 I spent a delightful day in Beijing with the staff of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Beijing office. We hiked around Tao Ran Ting Park south of Beijing and rented paddle boats. After a wonderful lunch at a local restaurant, where the NRDC staff dutifully demanded reusable chopsticks, I returned to my hotel to check out and relocate to Renmin University’s hotel. There I met Wang Jing, a former student of mine, who helped finish the Chinese translation of the slides for my presentation at the International Forum on Legislation of Climate Change and Low Carbon Economy. On Monday night Alex Wang, director of NRDC’s Beijing Office took me to the Bia Jia Da Yuan Restaurant for a farewell dinner for one of the NRDC staffers who is moving back to New York. I am so grateful to Alex and the rest of the NRDC staff for their terrific hospitality while I was in Beijing.
On Tuesday morning I gave one of the initial presentations at the International Forum on Legislation of Climate Change and Low Carbon Economy at Renmin University. The conference featured a who’s who of Chinese environmental law scholars, as well as government officials, students, and some businessmen. My presentation focused on what the U.S. is doing to respond to global warming and climate change. I was very impressed with how the tone in China on climate change issues has changed dramatically in the last year. A year ago when I did my lecture tour of China for the State Department I frequently encountered skepticism about whether climate change is real and strong opposition to China taking measures to control the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. While my sample size may be too narrow to be an accurate index of current thinking in China since the conference featured so many environmental law professors, now there was broad acceptance not only of the reality of climate change, but also of the need for legislation in China to combat it.
On Wednesday I was asked to give the closing summary of the conference and then I headed to downtown Beijing. As my taxi passed Tiananmen Square, just two days before the 21st anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre, I noticed that the Chinese government had erected giant TV screens on the site that were showing beautiful movies of China. On Friday June 4, the anniversary of the massacre, 150,000 Chinese held a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong in remembrance. Photos of my time in Beijing, including the NRDC Tort Law Conference, Tao Ran Ting Park, and the Climate Change Forum, can be viewed online at: http://gallery.me.com/rperci/100692.
When I arrived at the Hyatt in downtown Beijing on Tuesday noon, I was in an ebulient mood and I remember thinking that my life was just about perfect. I made a reservation to have a late lunch at one of Beijing’s hottest new restaurants and was looking forward to a final day in China and dinner with an old friend. It’s often said that one’s life can be totally changed in the blink of an eye, but this was the first time I ever experienced that. I received the shocking news that my wife Barbara had just been diagnosed with a rare and deadly form of cancer - peritoneal cancer. I immediately headed to the Beijing Airport to return to the U.S. a day early. I was so distraught that when I got to the airport I discovered that I had forgotten to remove my valuables from the hotel safe. Fortunately a friend in Beijing subsequently was able to retrieve them for me.
Barbara and I spent Thursday and Friday trying to adjust to the reality of her situation before telling anyone else the news. On Saturday we informed our children, something we had been dreading, but their reaction was so awesome that it really picked us up and made me feel better for the first time since I had heard the news. We then informed our extended families. Barbara will have surgery on June 15 and then start chemotherapy. We will not know more about the prognosis until after the surgery which will determine exactly where the cancer is and how far it has spread. Our family had been planning to leave for the World Cup in South Africa on June 21 to watch matches with the teams from each of our birth countries -- the U.S., Chile and Paraguay -- and then spend four days in Kruger National Park. We are now donating our trip to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. I will be unable to teach the summer U.S.-Chine Environmental Law course at Vermont Law School with the subsequent field trip to China. Instead I will be spending the summer with my wife as she recuperates from the surgery and undergoes the chemotherapy. We are really grateful for the support of our family and friends and I hope everyone whose emails I have not been able to reply to in the last week now understands why.