Blog Post 4

Over the last two decades China experienced significant development in economy. In one perspective people’s living conditions were improved profoundly. China’s Gross Domestic Product has surpassed many competitive and powerful country and become the second place in the world.  But a nation function as a complex system, when it prospered in one field, other side effects were generated along the process. In fact the rapid growth of China has caused a lot of serious problems. Meadows pointed out that “Growth has costs as well as benefits and we don’t count the costs among which are poverty and hunger, environmental destruction.” [1] The cost we paid for economical development is detrimental, especially in environmental aspect. For a complex system, growth might not be a good thing. In some cases growth can be a bad condition for a complex system like country or city. We need to consider in broader time period and create a more sustainable system for the country. In Meadows words, sometimes we “need slower growth, no growth or negative growth.” [2]

During recent years some major cities in China have undergone serious air pollution. In my hometown, Shanghai, smog has effected many people’s daily life. There was one time last year when there was a heavy smog for nine days straight. Elementary and middle schools have to suspended classes in case of students’ health condition was impaired. Nothing could be seen 50 feet away. Hospitals were claiming a lot of patients with respiratory problems. The causes of this series of air pollution are complicated but they are concluded by scholars into the results of huge amount of coal using for heating in northern area and exhaust gas emission from cars. Another serious problem is that “biophilia’—“people’s love of outdoors” [3]has dropped significantly. More people were reported needing mental consulting due to the lack of sunlight and fresh air.

Atmosphere_composition_diagram

The problem for the environment system here is its long delay in feedback loop. Meadows has a strong statement here: “A system  just can’t respond to short-term changes when it has long-term delays.”[4] China has developed coal industry for heating and electricity a long time ago, but the negative effect of this energy sources wasn’t shown until recent years. The system keep heading in one direction and growth was accumulated. “Overlong delays in a system with a threshold, a danger point, a range past which irreversible damage can occur, cause overshoot and collapse.”[5]  Like in the Bay Game, if the Bay Regulator keep the longest time of crabbing and the maximum number of crabs individual could catch, each fisher will catch a lot of crabs and profit but in long term the population of crabs drops significantly and the future years’ market will be damaged.

When finding the solution to this already collapsed environmental system, city regulator of Shanghai looked upon previous situation in London in 1950s when the Great Smog stayed for five days caused all city systems’ shutting down and 12,000 people’s death. It took British people a long time to fix their city and industry systems. UK-wide Air Act was passed in the coming years which banned many smoke-emitting fuels, raised the minimum permissible heights of industry chimneys and relocated power station away from cities. But there is always the problem of large population in China that makes everything more difficult to deal with. Already established industry systems and city transportation systems will cost way too much to reorganize. As Meadows says, complex systems are usually counterintuitive. The first thought of solution tend to be wrong. If we choose to not drive to reduce exhaust gas emission, more people will stay at home and consume more heating and electricity energy which is also a major source of smog. We need to look deeper into the source of the problem, which is the structure of energy source in China. We rely heavily on coal industry and little on nuclear energy. By changing the proportion of the energy source, we cut off the source of the smog. The wise choice is to  “leave aside the old model of product-and-waste and its dour offspring “efficiency” and embrace the challenge of being not efficient but effective with respect to rich mix of considerations and desires.”[6] China always put emphasis one rapid development and wish to surpass everyone but now we need to slow down and think about what the future will be like if we keep going like this.

Citation:

[1][2] Meadows, Donella H., and Diana Wright. Thinking in Systems: A Primer. White River Junction, Vt.: Chelsea Green Pub., 2008. 146. Print.

[3]  McDonough, William, and Michael Braungart. Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. New York: North Point, 2002. 75. Print.

[4] Meadows, Donella H., and Diana Wright. Thinking in Systems: A Primer. White River Junction, Vt.: Chelsea Green Pub., 2008. 152. Print.

[5] Meadows, Donella H., and Diana Wright. Thinking in Systems: A Primer. White River Junction, Vt.: Chelsea Green Pub., 2008. 153. Print.

[6] McDonough, William, and Michael Braungart. Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. New York: North Point, 2002. 72. Print.

Resources:

http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/climate-guide/climate-change/impacts/four-degree-rise/map

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