Monday, October 4, 2010

Tianjin at the Crossroads

Every morning, my taxi takes me past more than five coal plants as we head from the suburbs (near the port) to the downtown area. I had hoped to take the Metro, but there is only one line, and it doesn’t go to the convention center.  My taxi makes its way through the crowded traffic on the 8-lane roads, navigating through the other small cars, buses and trucks. In this city of 12 million, there is construction everywhere, and smog is a major problem.  Water’s a problem too – they don’t have enough of it. As a result, they have the largest desalination plant here in Tianjin.  Technically, it’s a week-long national holiday, but the ‘rush hour’ is super congested – witness the complete standstill about one mile from my hotel.
Despite the dreary morning commute and clogged afternoon traffic, Tianjin is looking to be the model city in a low-carbon future. They are very concerned with recycling, and they refer often to their “circulation economy.” And their actual economy is booming. In the past two years, their GNP growth rate is 16.5%, and the last nine months has been at 19%. The average per capita income in Tianjin is $9000/yr, ten times that of the poorer rural areas. The national average is about $3500/yr. They have large factories for electric cars, lithium batteries, and windmills. There are no fewer than four nature reserves which protect the wetlands. And finally, there is the model Eco-village they are just now building.

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