James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States, and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book, China Airborne, was published in early May. More
James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.
Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His two most recent books, Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009), are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book, China Airborne, was published in early May. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.
[Widespread Chinese ignorance of the "June 4 1989 episode"] reminded me of something another teacher told me. She had asked her students from China if they had heard about the death by starvation of 30 to 40 million people during the so-called "three years of natural disasters" in the early 1960s. Her students responded with stunned silence, as if she, a teacher in Hong Kong, was brazenly fabricating history to attack their mother country.
In the U.S., for every 10,000 live births, there are 7.5 infants with neural tube defects. In Shanxi province, that number is 18 times higher: 140 infants....
Over a 10-year period, the researchers gathered placentas from 80 stillborn or newborn infants in Shanxi with the disorder. Based on their analysis, they confirmed that those infants had been exposed in utero to significant levels of pesticides, industrial solvents, and especially polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are released into the air when fossil fuels are burned.
Chinese nuclear technology can be regarded as approaching global levels, with similar design, safety and operational standards. But to reduce costs, Chinese designs often cut back on safety. In the past, earthquake-resilience was lower than in Japan, for example. China also has much less experience of this sector than Japan.Qian Shaojun, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, has repeatedly said that nuclear safety relies on experience - you cannot claim something is safe until it has been operating for a certain number of reactor years. Japan has at least 10 times as many reactor-years of experience as China.
"Dead pigs have always ended up in Shanghai. This time they just went there by river, instead of by truck," said one Shaoxing pig farmer, pointing at a porcine corpse.Yes, of course, the pigs are by definition dead before they end up on a dinner table. But the story suggests that the cause for the riverine dumping is a crackdown on letting pigs who died from disease into the normal meat supply.
Point of the Mountain is a paragliding and hang-gliding site located on a ridge just a few miles south of Salt Lake City. More free-flight pilots have earned their wings there than any other site in the USA. It has been such a part of the culture there for decades that it was designated as a Flight Park years ago, but that apparently is of no concern to a mining corporation which-- with no warning-- began strip-mining the site a couple days ago....The bulldozers are just enormous. People woke up in the morning and saw the mountain had literally changed shape overnight. Hang-gliding and paragliding are still relatively unknown to the public. Imagine general aviation pilots losing Oshkosh, surfers losing Maui, climbers losing Yosemite, skiers losing Vail... much of the general public would grasp the significance. The Point is like that for free-flight pilots.To me it's another demoralizing example of "Capital don't give a sh*t". It's not that capitalism as we practice it immoral or evil, any more than a swarm of locusts is. It's just amoral and relentless, remorseless. I've come to think of capitol as being like Plutonium: incredibly powerful and useful, but it needs to be carefully managed and contained, and for God's sake don't allow madmen to get their hands on it.Well, as if you need me to tell you that. You've experienced what it's done to China's air, water, and soil.
Bonus diplomatic-leverage point: Chinese officials have long used U.S. inaction on climate and carbon-tax issues as a rationalization for not taking steps of their own. On average, we're still quite a poor country, the spokesmen would say. If the rich U.S. can't "afford" to deal with emissions, how could we? Now the country is taking this carbon-tax step for reasons of its own reasons -- as a way to deal with pollution and as another step in un-distorting the economy. But as a bonus it gets talking points to prod the US to do its part.
Next, the authorities stressed that Chinese organizations and individuals were a serious source of electronic threats--but far from the only one, or perhaps even the main one. You could take this as good news about U.S.-China relations, but it was usually meant as bad news about the problem as a whole. "The Chinese would be in the top three, maybe the top two, leading problems in cyberspace," James Lewis, a former diplomat who worked on security and intelligence issues and is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in Washington, told me. "They're not close to being the primary problem, and there is debate about whether they're even number two."If you'd like to see that kind of "well, how much can we really prove here?" analysis applied to the current NYT report see this post from Jeffrey Carr, and a related article in Business Insider.
Number one in his analysis is Russia, through a combination of state, organized-criminal, and unorganized-individual activity. Number two is Israel--and there are more on the list. "The French are notorious for looking for economic advantage through their intelligence system," I was told by Ed Giorgio, who has served as the chief code maker and chief code breaker for the National Security Agency. "The Israelis are notorious for looking for political advantage. We have seen Brazil emerge as a source of financial crime, to join Russia, which is guilty of all of the above." Interestingly, no one suggested that international terrorist groups--as opposed to governments, corporations, or "normal" criminals--are making significant use of electronic networks to inflict damage on Western targets, although some groups rely on the Internet for recruitment, organization, and propagandizing.
Contacted Monday, officials at the Chinese embassy in Washington again insisted that their government does not engage in computer hacking, and that such activity is illegal .... [JF note: pirate videos are also "illegal" in China. So is speeding, bribery, etc.]
''Making unfounded accusations based on preliminary results is both irresponsible and unprofessional, and is not helpful for the resolution of the relevant problem,'' said Hong Lei, a ministry spokesman. ''China resolutely opposes hacking actions and has established relevant laws and regulations and taken strict law enforcement measures to defend against online hacking activities.''
Mandiant [a security firm] discovered that two sets of I.P. addresses used in the attacks were registered in the same neighborhood as [the military's] Unit 61398's building....
"Either they are coming from inside Unit 61398," said Kevin Mandia, the founder and chief executive of Mandiant, in an interview last week, "or the people who run the most-controlled, most-monitored Internet networks in the world are clueless about thousands of people generating attacks from this one neighborhood."
I work in international adoption. One of the biggest changes in the last ten years is the precipitous drop in the number of infants with no identified medical needs available for adoption from China. This is a hugely contentious topic within the adoption community, and I'll spare you most of it.From another reader, this link to an article on the possible relationship between certain forms of pollution and autism. And from a technically trained reader who has been living and working in China:
However, along with the disappearance of children with no identified medical needs, we have seen a huge increase in the number of children with identified medical needs. Every month, I place children (from 9 months to 14 years) who have cleft lip and/or cleft palate; missing fingers, hands, toes, parts of arms or legs; malformed internal organs; genetic disorders; etc.
While any country with a population as large as China's will have some number of children born with birth defects, there are persistent rumors that the horrendous pollution in China has led to a huge increase such births in China. This, combined with the one-child policy, has led to orphanages being filled with special needs children, some of whom have very complex and difficult medical needs. In addition, children remaining in families often have less obvious medical issues that affect their ability to live full lives.
[I wonder what] effect that this is going to have on China as it continues to develop....
I lived in [a former Soviet bloc country] in the early 90s. Environmental degradation was a huge issue, and one that everyone I met, whatever their politics, agreed had contributed to the collapse of the communist system. I bet the party officials in Beijing know that very well.
I suspect that breathing and eating all that heavy metal as children growing up would definitely retard brain development....To be entirely clear here: I don't personally know whether heavy-metal and other pollutant burdens in China are in fact causing birth defects and cognitive disorders. I'm not in a position to judge the scientific literature. But I do know that the pollution level in China is terrible; that (even) the Chinese press is sounding the warning about the effects; and that in other parts of the world toxins have of course been shown to cause physical and mental defects and diseases. This is a very big problem in China, perhaps even bigger than people there yet know.
It is not hard to believe, if the vegetables they ate spent the entire season grown in soil and air laden with heavy metals, the water they drank is contaminated with metals and VOCs [Volatile Organic Compounds], and the air the breath is full of PM2.5 dust which can pass through the alveoli sacs into the blood stream, and through the blood/brain barrier, directly into their growing brains. Certainly, we are aware of how heavy metals retard brain development...
One must wonder, in addition to mild retardation, what other personality disorders can result from this disruption in normal development of the brain, from birth onward. Are they building a society where certain psychological disorders are the norm? Are we seeing this mass disorder and mis-diagnosing it as just the modern Chinese culture?
None of this is "new," but it is useful to have it all put together so concisely. I respond so strongly to this point because it's a central argument of my recent book and other dispatches for the Atlantic. Also Brubaker explains why it's "true," but meaningless, that every industrializing country has gone through its own stage of hellish rape-of-the-land-and-air. I grew up in the Southern California of the terrible-smog era of the 1960s, and have described what that bodes for possible improvements in Beijing. (Part one, two, and three.) Alexis Madrigal recently compared China's problems to those of Pittsburgh at its worst.
Brubaker's point, which I agree with, is: the comparisons don't matter. China's scale and speed are so different that its environmental problems constitute a unique emergency, for its own people and for the world.Happy New Year!
Possible choices for the rest of the paragraph are:"Americans are using more gadgets, televisions and air conditioners than ever before. But, oddly, their electricity use is barely growing, ..."
OK, you peeked, and know that the real answer is (d). No heavy-weather point here, and for the record I admire most of what is on the WSJ's news pages, even as I marvel at most of what is on its editorial pages. (And to be fair to the author of this story, several paragraphs down she works in a "to be sure" passage: "The slower pace of growth in electricity use may be helping the environment, since most of the nation's electricity still comes from burning fossil fuels. But it has power companies scrambling to trim spending or redirect capital investment...")(a) "... reflecting hard-won efficiencies in electric-power use by industries and utilities."(b) "... raising hopes that economic growth can coexist with reduced resource-use and greenhouse-gas emissions."(c) "... which together with increased shale-gas production may hasten the era of 'energy independence' for the United States."(d)"... posing a daunting challenge for the nation's utilities."
Yes, the drought has really hurt the Platte and all the surface rivers in Nebraska and Midwest - I think around June the state restricted use for irrigation of surface streams and rivers but they could still pump water from the Ogallala Aquifer which sits right below Western Nebraska - It is also drying up but that mainly affects Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas since the underground reservoir of the aquifer is much smaller in those states.3) After a westbound trip last week, I mentioned that the center of America looked as if the rainfall line that separates well-watered farmland from arid rangeland and desert had been shifted dramatically to the east. Professor John Nielsen-Gammon of Texas A&M, who is the State Climatologist for Texas, writes in to confirm:
The change in vegetation you see from the plane also shows up from a higher altitude.4) On the same topic, a reader weighs in about a book I know and for which I share his high regard. The third sentence has bonus value on the "expand your vocabulary" front. (Maybe you had encountered "isohyetal" before. I hadn't.)
The view from space last year: scene 1, scene 2
The view from space this year: scene 1, scene 2
P.S. Select the 250m resolution option to zoom in so close you can see every individual irrigated field.
I highly recommend Wallace Stegner's book "Beyond The Hundredth Meridian." It is in large part a biography of John Wesley Powell, who is believed to be the first to run the Colorado River from Wyoming through the Grand Canyon (first in in 1869 and then again in 1871-2). The title refers to the isohyetal line of 20 inches of annual rainfall. The line moves by a couple of degrees, but is otherwise a pretty consistent marker of where un-irrigated crops cannot grow because 20 inches generally isn't enough. Powell was fascinated by the implications of aridity; among other things, he felt strongly that homestead laws that worked well in the East couldn't simply be transported to the West.5) Last night I referred to the numerous "windmills" you see through Nebraska and Iowa. A reader in the wind-energy business reminds me that the correct term is "wind turbines," a windmill implying something that pumps water or does other useful work, like grinding grain] rather than generating electricity. Good point. At 1:30 last night, when I was posting the item, I had that vague "this is not the mot juste" feeling -- but, hey, it was 1:30 am, I had started the day in central Nebraska, and it was time for a beer.
Powell became Director of the U.S. Geological Survey and then Director of Ethnology at the Smithsonian and later wrote a report for which he was roundly ridiculed called "Report on the Lands of the Arid Regions of the United States." In the report, he advocated that government boundaries in the West be organized by water basins so as to effectively manage scarce water resources and reduce disputes. Like Wallace Stegner, Powell was way ahead of his time in understanding the effect of aridity and scarce water supplies in the West.
Iowa is impressive - it reached its target of 20% of its electricity from wind, I think the most for any state. Also, over a one hour period, Excel Energy, a Colorado utility, reported that it provided more than 50% of its electricity from wind.A few more updates and elaborations have come in, on subjects from "trona" to airports in the Great Plains, but this will do for now. Thanks all around.
From some Google Maps sleuthing, I think that photo of the river full of sediment is the Platte River. If you put this address into Google Maps I think you'll find it matches your shot:
13802 Biels Dike Rd
Gretna Nebraska 68028
As you well understand, these storms [in Duluth, DC, wherever] have been forecast by climate scientists for many years. This is just the beginning. We are launched upon a weather adventure of our own making that may last for several hundred years, if not thousands. I recommend that people adopt the same philosophy used by bush Alaskans. Each household must become independent. Install a generator capable of operating the home and fuel for 10 days along with a water supply, cooking fuel, and food for the same period. Every home should have a larder, and the means to defend it.And -- why not? -- here is one more:
Given your neighborhood, an association of home owners (The rebirth of community?) could jointly finance a permanently installed and protected standby system that provided minimum electric power for several homes. Systems such as that are more economical, safe and dependable than smaller 'personal' devices.
With your DC blackout story, shouldn't the question be: Are we experiencing the beginning of a protracted battle to adapt to climate change? Protecting the electric/internet infrastructure from weather will become the first great effort to adapt to climate change - and it will fail as climate change outruns the efforts to repair increasing storm related wind and water damage.
I live in Westchester, a New York suburb. Our power was out for 4 days in August due to hurricane driven winds, and then worse, a 5 days outage from the October 30 snowstorm driven downed trees. The hurricane was perhaps a normal weather variation, the snowstorm was not.
Seems like our leaders (and most other governments around the globe) have given up on stopping CO2 emissions shifting to a strategy of "adaptation" instead. With Obama's executive order 13514 the official policy of the US is "the inter-agency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, which is already engaged in developing the domestic and international dimensions of a U.S. strategy for adaptation to climate change." (See: Executive Order 13514--Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance and Climate Change Adaptation Task Force | The White House ). If this much damage is caused by a mere less than 1 degree centigrade rise in temperature worldwide, what will a 3 degrees rise do, or 6 degrees rise, both within the realm of possibility on our current path?
I know from your reporting on China that you are ... aware of the 450 parts per million [CO2] limitation scientists at the Goddard Institute have set beyond which we risk catastrophic climate change. We will reach that target possibly by 2030 or 2035 on our current path, just 28 years or so away. These infrastructure disruptions are warnings to avoid the consequences of ignoring the 450 ppm target. Adaptation is just another excuse to avoid cutting back ending our reliance on carbon based energy as well as an effort to ignore the 450 ppm target.
I surmise that Lang Lang has done more for soft power of China than the entire Chinese propaganda department or CCTV.Interestingly, even the gripe from the British pianist-reviewer -- who is mainly upset that there weren't more British performers on the Jubilee program -- is quite respectful of Lang Lang's talent and his overall charm and appeal. (For background of the improbable circumstances in which my wife ended up sitting next to Lang Lang at dinner, see this. And you can never go wrong with this video of him playing with Herbie Hancock at the White House last year.)
Here he is performing at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, and some sour grapes from a British pianist:
I suggest you ask readers and friends to come up with their three best examples of China's soft power.Finally, for some of the Chinese perspective on the PM 2.5 contretemps, see this item in Shanghaiist. I don't agree with everything it says*, but it does help explain why the Chinese officials are annoyed.
My three are:
1. Szechuan food
2. Kung Fu
Or maybe Tsingtao Beer. [JF note: No way on this last item.]
My point being that much of their soft power is the way they are becoming part of the fabric of everyday life in ways that are hardly worth noticing.
A few years ago I would have added Yao Ming and Wu Tang Klan. I will never forget the day I saw that a Chinese beer company was paying for the signage around the Rockets' scorer's table in Houston so that viewers in PRC would see their beer in American setting.
"According to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations ... foreign diplomats are required to respect and follow local laws and cannot interfere in internal affairs," Wu [told a news conference.The "foreign diplomats" they're talking about are those in the U.S. embassy in Beijing, who for the past few years have had a monitor on the roof of the embassy to measure levels of a pollutant very damaging to human health. This is so-called "PM 2.5" pollution, or very small particles that can go deep into the lungs. Every hour, that monitor sends out its readings via a Twitter feed, @BeijingAir. Here's how it looked this afternoon:
"China's air quality monitoring and information release involve the public interest and are up to the government. Foreign consulates in China taking it on themselves to monitor air quality and release the information online not only goes against the spirit of the Vienna Convention ... it also contravenes relevant environmental protection rules."
My mantra [on arrival in 2003] was that in China "nothing is certain, so everything is possible".You can read more at China Dialogue, and in Watts's book When a Billion Chinese Jump. I've written to similar effect lots of times on this site and in our magazine -- and in a new story I'm proud of in Popular Science, adapted from my forthcoming book. That's not my reason for writing this item: it's to direct you to Watts's speech on a topic that can't be emphasized enough.
This was true for the environment, which was horrible. I very quickly came to the conclusion that the situation was so appalling in China that this was the country most likely to make a change for the better. I told journalist friends at the time of my hopes for a green revolution here but they were more focused on politics and hopes for reform.
But when I look back at the past nine years, the environment and the economy have been bigger drivers of change....
Under president Hu Jintao and premier Wen Jiabao, there has been almost zero political reform. But there have been a number of very significant steps forward in terms of environmental policy: anti-desertification campaigns; tree planting; environmental transparency law; adoption of carbon targets; eco-services compensation; eco accounting; caps on water; lower economic growth targets; the 12th Five-Year Plan; debate and increased monitoring of PM 2.5 [fine particulate matter]; investments in renewables and clean tech...
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|Blind into Baghdad||Boiled-frog|
|Brave little USB||Budget|
|China Airborne||China Daily|
|China Menace||China Today|
|Copenhagen||Crisis of the press|
|Doing Business in China||Dreaming in Chinese|
|Going to hell|
|Ideas 2009||Ideas 2011|
|Obama||Obama in Asia|
|Occupy Wall Street||Olympics|
|Public health||Reader comment|
|Security Sanity||Security Theater|
|Self-pity and its discontents||Small Business|
|Volcano||Walk like an American|
|Wine||Year end pensee|
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