I spent my last evening in China having dinner with my dear friend Zhang Jingjing, the “Erin Brockovich of China,” who had wonderful news that she is about to be married to an American environmentalist who did pioneering work on levels of air pollution in Beijing. In the fall Jingjing plans to enroll in Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government to pursue a masters degree. During our final day in China, my son used the basketball he received from Ningo University Professor Cai XIanfeng to shoot hoops with Chinese kids at the Dandong Sports complex in Beijing. A gallery of photos of our trip to China and a video of the basketball workout are online at: http://gallery.me.com/rperci#100835 and http://gallery.me.com/rperci#100838.
We returned home from China last Wednesday night. On Thursday I participated in festivities honoring the 30 students graduating from the University of Maryland School of Law with certificates of concentration in environmental law. This graduating class represented our largest class of environmental law students ever. More than one-fifth of Maryland law students now regularly take environmental law and more than one-tenth elect to specialize in it in order to qualify for the certification of concentration. Brooksley Born, the former chair of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, was our graduation speaker on Friday.
During my time in China, for the first time I detected unusually high levels of concern among Chinese environmentalists about the government’s crackdown on NGOs who receive assistance from foreign sources, a product of the events in the Middle East. Ironically, some Chinese officials are displaying greater candor than ever about the country’s environmental problems. On May 19 CHina’s State Council released a statement approved by Premier Wen Jiaboa that acknowledged that the country’s $23 billion Three Gorges Dam has caused serious problems. In addition to pollution-fed algae blooms, islands of floating trash, and geological problems associated with the dam (see Josh Chin, Critics Hail Admission of Chinese Dam Flaws, Wall St. J., May 21-22, 2011, at A9), a severe drought has reduced power production from Chinese hydropower projects, threatening electrical shortages in some areas of China. Chinese environmentalists are hoping that the government’s new skepticism concerning large dam projects will bolster opposition to several projects planned for other rivers, including China’s Nu River. Chilean environmentalists are upset that their government has approved the construction of five dams on the Baker and Pascua Rivers in Patagonia that will require construction of a transmission line that would involve the largest clearcut of forests in the world. Keep Chilean Patagonia Wild, New York Times, May 22, 2011 (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/24/opinion/24tue3.html?_r=1).
On May 20 Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono issued a decree committing the government to a two-year moratorium on the issuance of permits to clear 159 million acres of virgin forest and peatland. The decree was designed to protect sinks for greenhouse gases as part of a $1 billion UN program for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD). Although touted by the government as a major advance in the fight against climate change, environmentalists were highly critical of the plan, arguing that it still allowed too much leeway for deforestation. Aubrey Belford, Environmentalists Criticize Indonesia’s Plan to Save Forests, N.Y. Times, May 20, 2011.
As tornado devastation in the U.S. adds to the toll of record-breaking natural disasters, Bill McKibben has published an op-ed noting that while it is impossible to tie any particular disaster to climate change, the overall pattern is entirely consistent with predictions by climate scientists. See Bill McKibben, See No Climate Change, Washington Post, May 24, 2011, at 21.
For anyone interested in an eco-friendly project to support environmental education efforts at the inner city school in Washington where my wife runs a garden-based curriculum, please visit: http://www.kickstarter.com/e/h9HlP/projects/547484901/build-the-foodprints-kitchen-at-watkins-elementary-0. If you are not able to contribute, please at least consider forwarding this link to your social networks.