Archive for the ‘consumer & environment issues’ Category

The cultural gap in biking: China versus Europe

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

How many times was I told: “Gilbert, it’s a loss of face to go to an official meeting or a 5-star hotel on a bike. You are a boss, you cannot do this”.
So, why not? Many Chinese still have this attitude, brainwashed by their “loss-of-face” obsessions and the prestige to have a car. No thanks, we Europeans don’t think that way, leave the cars to the Americans with their automotive addiction. Now more and more European cities switch from cars to bikes and in many cities cars are the enemy – much like in my home town Ghent (Belgium). In several EU countries even ministers use a bike.
I also brought up this “loss of face” during my speech for the  Exclusive Dialogue with Vice Mayor of Beijing Ms. Cheng Hong, see http://blog.strategy4china.com/?p=5343

Our Swedish friends showed the example in China Daily:
“Swedish Minister for Health Care, Public Health and Sport Gabriel Wikstrom (second from left), along with Swedish Ambassador to China Lars Freden (first left) and World Health Organization Representative Bernhard Schwartlander (right), ride bikes to a meeting at the WHO offices in Beijing to promote good health and environmental protection. More than 80% of Chinese adolescents do not get enough physical activity, a major risk factor in obesity and the development of chronic diseases.”

In polluted and congested Beijing, biking is the solution to get somewhere on time and to unclog the traffic. Also, I can have my beer(s) and bike home. With a car, zero drinking, plus no parking etc. On the positive side, the city government is increasing the outlets for rental bikes and media such as The Beijinger promote it nicely, see also their explanation of Chinese terms.

Yes, biking is a hazard as Chinese respect nothing and traffic regulations are a joke. Traffic police does not exist so Chinese do whatever suits them. Cars and arrogant pedestrians occupy biking lanes, all while looking at their mobiles and/or smoking. One traffic rule seems to be that under no circumstances should a driver keep his eyes off the mobile.
Anyway, I always bike. Cold, hot, rain, snow, sunshine. I am happy to have found in a U.S. supermarket a great rain outfit. USA, the country of cars has this stuff, China no. Get that.
Of course I look like coming back from Ebola country but I could not care less. The set is super light and compact and I can put it over my shoes, trousers etc. And unlike the Chinese rubbish clothes, it does stop the water.
See the pics. With and without on 27 April. And my friends on WeChat showed massive support…

As for my little funny red bike, well, I have it nearly four years. Rather of poor quality I have persevered in repairing it, in the spirit of “Toxic Capitalism”. Many parts have been changed but I always return to the same bike shop on Dongdaqiao Lu where the more-than-retired staff serve me well and cheaply. Once they worked on it one hour and was billed … 25 RMB.

Beijing finally decides a new policy for e-cars, as I had suggested

Sunday, April 26th, 2015

In my reports to the Beijing mayor (at that time, Guo Jinlong) and vice mayor I urged the Beijing government to allow e-cars to drive every day in Beijing, unlike other cars that are taken off the roads one day in the week.
See: Exclusive Dialogue with Vice Mayor of Beijing Ms. Cheng Hong,
http://blog.strategy4china.com/?p=5343

Well, finally they did it and as for now the e-cars face no more restrictions as from 11 April 2015 till 10 April 2016. Hopefully they will extend that as in my opinion this could be a major factor to convince people to buy an e-car. Other incentives are that it is practically easy to get a license plate, while for normal cars the lottery is pretty hard to get one. Obviously there is still a lot to do to increase the amount of charging stations.
Indeed, the government goals for e-cars are 500,000 new energy vehicles on the road by the end of 2015 and 5 million by 2020, but sales in 2014 were well below the target: 74,800 all-electric and plug-in hybrids.
It will be interesting to see the impact on sales later this year.
Read the full story here:
http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/business/motoring/2015-04/13/content_20420375.htm

Embassy of Canada: a view on the Arctic

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

On 18 March I had the privilege to attend an interesting overview on what Canada is doing and planning for this enormous region, called the Arctic.
Ambassador Guy Saint-Jacques invited us all you to a “Canada in Conversation event” featuring guest speaker, Dr. David Hik, Board of Directors Member, Canadian Polar Commission in conversation with moderator, Dr. Yang Huigen, Director General of Polar Research Institute of China on “Canada’s Arctic Science in an International Context: Innovations for a Changing Arctic in the 21st Century”
The new Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS) Act is expected to come into force soon, making it the focal federal government organization for coordinating Arctic research in Canada. This will present on a number of opportunities to strengthen international cooperation in Arctic scientific research, and specific possibilities for enhancing Canada-China collaboration. Science, technology and relevant knowledge underpins all four pillars of Canada’s Northern Strategy – environmental protection, social and economic development, governance, and sovereignty. In addition, given the devolution of some federal responsibilities to local governments and various land claims obligations, the way in which Arctic research is conducted is changing, including greater involvement of Northern communities in decision-making. As China is strongly commitment to Arctic research, though a variety of ongoing university, laboratory and institute activities, the conversation will examine the structure and plans for facilitating international collaboration within the new CHARS and the possibility of implementing joint Canada-China research focused on changes in Arctic sea ice conditions, as well as other areas of potential collaboration.
A networking reception followed the talk at the Official Residence.

The Arctic merits indeed a lot of attention for many reasons, due to Climate Change, Warming of the Planet, the melting of the ice cap, the impacts on fauna, flora, fishing, coastal lines, shipping and so on. China is very interested in the subjects and is looking forward to work with Canada on further research.
I had also the pleasure to hand over my book “Toxic Capitalism” to the ambassador. The book also mentions the issues affecting the arctic.
It had been quite some time since I visited the embassy. I particularly enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and cordiality.
See here the biography of the main speakers:

Dr. David Hik
Dr. David Hik was appointed to the Canadian Polar Commission’s Board of Directors in November 2010, and reappointed in November 2013. He has conducted research in Northern Canada since 1984, and his interests are focused on the ecology of tundra ecosystems in Arctic and mountain environments, social-ecological resilience, and the interface between science and policy. Dr. Hik is currently a Professor at the University of Alberta, and also a visiting guest professor at Polar Research Institute of China. He recently completed a four-year term as President of the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) where he championed engagement of early career researchers, international partnerships, data management, and long-term planning for research coordination.
Dr. Hik currently serves as Vice-Chair of the Arctic Council’s ‘Sustaining Arctic Observing Networks (SAON)’ initiative; Chair of the 3rd International Conference on Arctic Research Planning (ICARP III); and Co-Chair of the International Polar Partnership Initiative (IPPI). Previously, he held the Canada Research Chair in Northern Ecology (2002-2012) and was Executive Director of the Canadian International Polar Year (IPY) Secretariat (2004-2009). He is a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and was awarded the Society’s Martin Bergmann Medal for Excellence in Arctic Leadership and Science in 2013.

Dr. Yang Huigen
Huigen Yang is the Director General of the Polar Research Institute of China (PRIC). Over his career, he has spent significant time carrying out Aurora observations at Syowa and Zhongshan Station in the Antarctic and Yellow River Station on Svalbard. During the 2007-08 International Polar Year (IPY), he acted as Chief Scientist of the IPY China Program. Dedicated to international cooperation, he is the Vice-President of the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC), and the national representative and council member of both the Science Committee of Antarctic Research (SCAR) and International Council for Science (ICSU). Dr. Yang was the leader of the 25th Chinese National Antarctic Research Expedition, 2008- 2009, during which the Kunlun Station at the top of Dome A was established. He also led the 5th Chinese National Arctic Research Expedition to traverse the Northeast Passage. He has built up intensive cooperation with Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Iceland, Japan, Korea, Norway, United Kingdom, the United States, and other countries in the area of polar sciences, logistics cooperation, and education and outreach. Dr. Yang obtained his PhD in the field of the space physics in Wu Han University and completed a Post-Doctorate at National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR) in Tokyo.

(information all provided by the Embassy)

The Bookwork Literary Festival: I took part!

Sunday, March 15th, 2015

Now in its 9th year, the Festival has become not only a tradition, it also has become … huge. From 13 to 29 March some 120 authors from anywhere in the world attend the events in the three locations: Beijing, Chengdu and Suzhou, all under the watchful eye of Peter who happens to be a Rotarian from the Chengdu club, see the pics when we first met at the upper deck of The Bookworm.
This year I attended the kickoff event on the evening of 13 March, for the talk “Celebrating Writers and Readers”. On the panel were: Chan Koonchung, Linda Jaivin, Sheng Keyi, Xu Xi and Lijia Zhang. A fully packed room. Followed by music and more drinks – one of our Rotaractors was at the piano…
For more on the Festival: http://bookwormfestival.com/

On Saturday 14 March I was fortunate to be at the following panel:

How does one reach beyond cliché to unearth the root causes of China’s environmental problems? Start by assembling a panel that rivals those you’d find at international summits: Ma Jun, possibly China’s preeminent environmentalist, selected by Time magazine as one of its 100 most influential people in 2006; Dr. Husayn Anwar, with more than three decades of experience, who founded the first private environmental services firm in China in 1992; Gilbert Van Kerckhove, author of the thought-provoking book Toxic Capitalism; and Xizhou Zhou, honored by Forbes in 2011 as one of the “30 Under 30” young leaders in energy. Moderated by Jonathan Fenby, who sits on the Board of Trustees of the environment-focused Chinadialogue.net. This event was in English and Chinese (thanks to a super translation…).
See the announcement: http://bookwormfestival.com/events/2015bw14c/

The debate was interesting and lively and the room was fully packed… Then some say the environment issue is “passé”? It was clear most agree the water problems are underestimated, the air pollution is indeed serious, implementation of the environmental laws are still a major challenge and we as consumers have to change our attitudes.
It was an honor to have Ma Jun on the panel, he is featured in my book and he is probably the most famous pioneer in environmetal issues here in China.

I mostly commented on the well-know documentary “Under The Dome” by Chai Jing. Somehow my book already addressed all the same issues and much more. She came at the right time and adds to more awareness on the environmental problems. And she is a former CCTV host, a lady who spent a lot of money on the documentary and – did it all in Chinese. I can‘t compete with that!
Seems all my books in stock at The bookworm were sold out…

Where is The Forbidden City? Can’t see a thing! Pollution nightmare and what to expect

Monday, January 26th, 2015

On 15 January, after leaving the Great Hall of the People I crossed Tiananmen Square. Pollution was horrendous, one of the worst days in months: well over AQI 500. See the pictures.

Beijing has a big big challenge really to clean that up.
As I explained to the European Chamber, the Beijing Government is under severe pressure to solve the pollution problems. Targets to reduce PM2.5 have not been met and the Central Government is starting to pressure Beijing: solve it, otherwise you will get in BIG trouble (won’t say here what they actually meant by that…)
Both SCMP and China Daily reported on the issue. In short, the only way to solve the problem:

-       reduce the population now estimated (officially) at 21.52 million (my estimate is much higher);
-       make Beijing an expensive city to live in: expensive subway, expensive housing, no relaxation of home ownership;
-       reduce polluting traffic;
-       remove as much industry that requires a lot of manpower and is polluting;
-       close down 36 large markets including wholesale markets for clothing (near Beijing Zoo);
-       increase green and agricultural belts around the city;
-       in short make the city unwelcoming for migrants, industry and “others”.

For a taste, read this:
24 January 2015 – Beijing to limit population growth this year
By ZHENG JINRAN/CAO YIN (China Daily)
http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2015-01/24/content_19394122.htm
There is more about that on China Daily.