WorldWideFuture Weblog

the future of education, politics, science and art

Can China lift the Olympic sized smog?

I was blown away by the dark cityscape imagery in Bladerunner, the 1982 movie by Ridley Scott (and one of my favorite movies of all time). It’s one vision of the future world, notably the constant rain and fog and sea of humanity bumping into each other as floating advertisements blare out to the city below. The imagery was brought back home to me when I saw a picture in the Ottawa Citizen newspaper of a couple of people standing a few meters away from the Birds Nest and the Water Cube. The problem was, you could barely see the two normally stunning buildings through the smog. (See a similar picture at Australia’s ABC or at the BBC, also see most recent article on BBC).

Cajoling merchants on my trip to China 2003

Cajoling merchants on my trip to China 2003

Now, smog and air pollution is not just a Beijing phenomenon of course, I remember coming home to my hometown of Windsor Ontario one year and noting the unique electric purple haze at sunset over the cities of Detroit/Windsor. Many city dwellers can relate I am sure. Of course, with the upcoming Olympics in Beijing, a city notorious for its traffic jams of over a million cars a day, we will be deluged with endless reports on air quaility. (I think we will also be amazed at the herculean efforts to curb air pollution the Chinese will be demonstrating). The important lesson for us is: what will the world wide future bring if we can’t breathe the air (or have potable water for that matter), in our spreading urban centers? And, why does the media rarely comment on the real reason for our burgeoning problems of pollution and climate change: an ever increasing and rising population of humans stressing the ecosystem beyond sustainability? How can we adapt to the rising population/shrinking biodiversity systems?

I know the issue is being brought up that “why should the rest of the world have to reduce their footprint when the West has brazenly used up theirs?” Interesting problem. How can we in the West call for others to forgo the trappings of wealth when we have done little to reduce our own? How can we also teach our students to forgo the collecting of material possessions when the previous generation thought little or none about that concept? What do we teach students beyond the usual ‘recycle garbage and turn out the lights’ gig? Can we turn things around and act locally/think globally?

I don’t think it will happen overnight, and I don’t see the hard choices even discussed within the curriculum. Our outdated Industrial Age education system is slow to respond to the acceleration of change so ably described by Alvin Toffler as the future crashing into the present. I haven’t really seen the hard lessons taught yet, though they are trying to tell students to forgo the fries and consider the healthy choices (yet they still offer the fries).

Pretty soon all the talk of climate change and doing piddly little things like recycling and turning out the lights and turning down the thermostat will irritate rather than resonate and just like in the 1970s we will go back to our material consumption ways. Maybe. Maybe disruptive change will force the issue. Who knows? I will be watching the summer Olympics in Beijing with my big screen TV in my air conditioned house while sipping on Mexican beer and cherries from Malaysia.

In the world wide future, we need to talk and teach in every curriculum area about consumption and footprint. Now.

July 28, 2008 Posted by | education | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The dragon has awoken

I was invited to go to the People’s Republic of China in 2003 on behalf of the Shandong Press to talk about their proposed textbooks on technology and computer education. It was, to say the least, a life altering experience. China is all about an incredible history, and a story of the future of the world. What happens in China will ripple through the world in unimagined ways. I had told students in my talks on their future, that to take note of the China in the unfolding of the 2008 Olympics, as after many years and decades essentially hidden from western society, the dragon will awaken, and will take it’s place as THE world power of the 21st century.

The Great Wall at Badaling, north of Beijing

The Great Wall at Badaling, north of Beijing

A country of 1.3 billion people, 20% of the world’s population, which has been steadily tooling up as the world’s manufacturer, now will be demanding a huge share of the world’s wealth as it takes its place on the world stage. I read that by 2012, China will need 110% of today’s oil production just for its own use. Wired Magazine has an interesting article on power requirements for China. Imagine quite a different world wide future than we live in today (only a few years into the 21st century).

The problem with understanding China from here in the West and what it means for the future lies in having our perceptions altered by decades of cold war propaganda. Predictably, every time the media does a story on China they have to invariably mention the events of Tianamen Square of 1989, or their human rights record, etc. etc.. It is a broken record, the same old story endlessly and tiredly repeated. Trouble is, when I was in China in 2003, I got a much different view of an amazing people, with the same ideas and hopes and dreams as we all do. And while yes, China has its own history of human rights abuse (do we talk much about our own work with aboriginals?) it is time to give China a break and really begin to understand the dynamics of this land where everything is of epic proportions. Our understanding of the future relies on understanding the dragon that is China (and the elephant of India which is not far behind).

Locks for good luck at Confucious Temple at Mount Tiashan
Good luck locks at Confucius Temple at Mount Tiashan

I had to endure another report from Beijing on the CBC National TV report last night which got my ire up. Of course they had to interview the public in Tianamen Square and ask them about human rights yet again. This ever so dreary man-on-the-street interview report made me write this to them:


Give China the benefit of doubt

It is getting very tiresome and predictable to have to listen to yet another commentary about China’s human rights history in a report about the upcoming Olympics (CBC National July 21, 2008). I hope that CBC, like other media, grow up and give us a more modern view of this long-hidden corner of the globe without resorting to the same old rhetoric too often seen through the blinders of western propaganda. Do you dredge up stories of Kent State or Abu Ghraib every time you do a story in Washington? The people of China have been working hard to showcase their amazing history, stunning present and unpredictable future to the rest of the world. As I have witnessed firsthand myself (in 2003), and as your street interviews so clearly illustrate, the Chinese people are among the most friendly, apolitical and eager to please people one can encounter anywhere.

One can only imagine the difficulties of ruling a billion plus people in an area the size of the continental US, or the difficulties of providing a life of freedom and hope for all citizens after so many years of deadly dictatorship. One can also imagine if the results of 1989 Tianamen Square would be much different if it happened instead on the Washington Mall. Mistakes and missteps have happened, and will happen, but it is time to give China what it deserves…time to treat the country with respect and objectivity and perhaps their governing body will be more willing to work with the rest of the world on the issues facing all humanity in the future.

I fervently hope that the Olympics in Beijing runs its course without a hitch, and that the world comes away in awe of this incredible country of 1.3 billion people who collectively have the same hopes and dreams we all do. I also hope that the western media, who come from countries of glass houses, put down their stones and give the People’s Republic of China the chance for respect they deserve without resorting to the same rhetoric of propaganda we have had to put up with for far too long.


I hope we can get a clearer picture of this incredible country while they put on the quad-annual showcase called the Olympics, though I am not holding my breath for the media to drop its propaganda none too soon. The key to understanding the global future is to understand this part of the world, and the general public needs to have a fair and unbiased view. I have my own little travelogue through some of China in 2003 on my website at Enjoy!

July 22, 2008 Posted by | education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments