A few kilometers northeast of Shanghai, developers have been dreaming of a 400,000-citizen sister city. Rapid development is nothing new in China, as this recent cement-production graph shows. And, as the global community is more and more quick to point out, all those new factories, highways and residences do considerable damage to the whole world’s environment. But this new city comes with a catch — it will be powered entirely by renewable energy.
Ten wind turbines have already built on the boundaries of the future Shanghai Dongtan Eco-City, slated to take up about 30 square kilometers of what is currently marshland. Running not only on wind power but also solar energy and fuel extracted from municipal waste, the aim is for a carbon footprint 40 percent less than that of comparable developments. But since the project was blessed by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2005 it has hit a number of roadblocks.
Still, the ambitious plan has ever higher stakes as China seems to be turning more of its attention to the previously-neglected issues of environmental sustainability and global warming. With the Olympics looming, Beijing has been forced to confront massive air pollution problems, announcing yesterday that it would enact serious measures to limit the number of cars on the area’s roads, with the municipal government taking the lead: half of its cars will be barred from the streets between now and July 19. Proposals to bring that percentage to 70 and limit civilian traffic are also in the works.
Meanwhile, environmentalists are advocating more aggressive protection of the country’s greatest natural wonder, Mount Everest. A major clean-up operation and strict limits on visitor capacity are both slated for 2009, officials said yesterday.
But Dongtan faces some serious obstacles. Delays have already pushed the construction start date back from 2006 to 2009, with no end in sight until 2050. Skeptics raise a number of issues with the project, ranging from commuting trouble (40 minutes to Shanghai by ferry, with a tentative tunnel planned for 2009) to doubt that such a fantastic community could ever be replicated on a large scale. Another factor is the blunt truth that such a community will only be affordable for the uber-wealthy. With building costs 30 to 40 percent higher and the increased costs of eco-friendly energy generation, the price tag for the project, and for its residents, could be quite substantial. A local professor puts it more bluntly:
“‘Zero-emission’ city is pure commercial hype,” said Dai Xingyi, a professor at the department of environmental science and engineering at Shanghai’s Fudan University.
“You can’t expect some technology to both offer you a luxurious and comfortable life, and save energy at the same time. That’s just a dream,” he said.
But the project’s organizers counter that the long-term savings, financial and ecological, will quickly outweigh initial costs and thrust China into a new age of green development. Roger Wood, associate director of the project’s British design team, sees Dongtan as the beginning of a new era of Chinese eco-leadership, declaring “China is moving from an industrial age to an ecological age.”
Maybe so, but they’ll have to make sure none of the Beijing athletes collapse with asthma attacks first.
Photo from laughterwym