Christoph Rehage's China hike

Christoph Rehage walked through China for a year, on foot, while letting his hair and beard grow. The total distance walked was 4,646 km. He took photos of himself along the way, then put them together in a wonderful time lapse video which you can see below. He also kept a travel log, which he’s been posting to his website.

I bookmarked his video a few weeks back and meant to blog it. Now it’s already making the rounds. If I hadn’t procrastinated, I wouldn’t be in the me-too group…

It’s a great video, and a great achievement. It’s amazing to see Christoph’s face change through his trip. He emerges a changed man at the end, and exclaims as he puts up a photo of himself at the start of the trip, “Who was this man? Was it really me?” Good question.

The Longest Way 1.0 – one year walk/beard grow time lapse from Christoph Rehage on Vimeo.


Dumping on the Poor: see the video

I wrote about the problem with e-waste and pollution in China back in April, but this topic is worth harping on every chance I get. It’s very serious, and it will affect us as well, in the very near future. The Earth is smaller than we think, and its ecosystem is fragile enough already.

Please watch the video entitled “E-Waste: Dumping on the Poor” (4 min 35 sec). It’s available on YouTube, and it was put together by a journalist called Michael Zhao, who took a trip to China and filmed what’s going on there. I found out about the video from an article in Time Magazine, entitled “Your Laptop’s Dirty Little Secret“. Michael has a website as well, called eDump. The full documentary he made is available here (20 min).


Scary stuff is happening in China

As I look at these truly scary images of pollution in China, I realize how big a problem pollution really is over there. For most of us, China’s this big country over there in Asia, sort of communist but not really, with plenty of human rights abuses under its belt, but still more decent than other communist countries like North Korea. We also know it as the place our products (toys, computers, clothes, etc.) come from. Well, it’s high time we got to know as the place where incredible pollution exists, and it’s as much our fault as it is theirs.

As consumers, we’ve happily accepted the lower-priced products made over there, because we can buy more of them, more often. As companies, we’ve happily moved our factories over there, because the labor was cheaper and the environmental laws were almost non-existent. China itself was only too happy to receive our business. They got an incredibly influx of money, expanded their economies and gross national product through the roof, got a middle class and a very wealthy upper class, and started walking out of the darker stages of communism toward something that might be called “capitalism light”.

Along the way, people all around easily closed their eyes or winked at the horrible pollution that was accumulating around them, poisoning China’s air and water and earth and cities. They reasoned that it was the price to pay for progress. They chalked it up to growing pains.

Well, it’s hard to close our eyes any more. Not after you see those photos. Don’t worry, they’re not the only photos available. There is plenty of proof of the damage that’s occurred there. And it’s scary. Very scary.

China is a very sick country. It’s very polluted. It’s incredibly polluted. I don’t know if it’ll ever fully recover. The damage has been done, irreversibly. Yet we all keep on going ahead, full steam, in a mindless race toward certain disaster, motivated by corporate greed and consumer lust for more shiny toys.

It has to stop. This will come back to bite us, right here in the US. It’s guaranteed.

Part of the solution is willing to live with “upgradeable” products. Instead of buying a new computer, send the old one in to get new, faster parts put in the old enclosure. Instead of throwing away a toy, donate it if it can still be used. Same with clothes. Don’t throw them away, give them away. Furthermore, Truly gigantic recycling efforts must be put forth, like the Japanese are doing. Every kind of plastic must be recycled. All metals must be reclaimed and reused. Poisonous chemicals must be contained. This is serious stuff.

Recycling efforts in the US are half-assed at best. Let’s face it, if the best stuff we can come up with from recycled plastic is park benches, then we’re screwed. If our answer to reducing environmental pollution is sending our used computer equipment to China, where it piles up by the mountains, we’re screwed. If companies’ answer to societal needs is to create crappy designs that age in months and practically scream “throw me away”, then we’re screwed. If we do nothing, we’re all screwed.


China's growing energy problem, and the US policy quandary

Just read an article written by someone at AP and published on MSNBC, entitled “World feels China’s growing thirst for oil“. I wish they’d publish author names as well! This was a very well-written article, and full of insights into the issue.

If you thought China’s energy demands are small still compared to the US, you’d be right, but what you may not know is that they’re growing at a much larger rate than US demands. What this means is that oil companies in China, a country short of energy reserves of any kind other than coal, have been busy bees for the last decade, striking deals all over the world to meet demands.

China is now competing directly with Japan for energy, and indirectly with the US. All of this leads to tension, especially when China tries to strike up deals that lock the oil reserves only for its use, and when they support abusive regimes in countries like Iran and Sudan, undermining US foreign policy.

If you think this isn’t serious, think again. Here’s a quote from president Bush: “Oil — the dependence upon oil is a national security problem, and an economic security problem.” To back up his words, the US has built a strong naval presence in the Malacca straits, the narrow passage through which most of the traffic from the Middle East and Africa moves on its way to East Asia. This concern isn’t partisan. Democrats – Joe Lieberman being one of them – agree with Bush’s characterization.

I recently read through a World Bank report that I can’t share here, which said that China’s energy demands will only grow. They’re exploring many routes, one of which is hydroenergy, most of their energy still comes from coal, and oil needs will continue to increase.

My take on it is this: the problem is that they’re the biggest manufacturing center in the world. Companies everywhere have shifted their production facilities to China because of its cheap labor costs and lax environmental standards. So it’s a bit hypocritical to expect China to regulate its energy use while they’re making most of the products for the Western world.

The point is, the industrial portion of the global economy has to reside somewhere, and China’s the place right now. I don’t foresee a decrease in that sort of energy consumption as a whole – the world population’s increasing, not decreasing. If China decreases its production, factories will have to be built somewhere else to meet demand.

To see how truly complex this problem is, you have to look at the relationship between China and the US. They’re propping up the US economy by investing heavily in our bonds and economy. We also depend on them for various of our manufacturing needs, whether we like it or not. China could easily hurt our economy by withholding investment. We’ve got a Communist country propping up a capitalist country. Do you see the irony in this? We have to plead with them to regulate their currency price in order to add more value to our dollar, and we threaten them with military force (very subtly, but effectively) in the Malacca Straits and other places, like Taiwan, which is another hot button issue. Isn’t it a messed up world?

While all of this is happening, we aren’t getting our act together when it comes to reducing our energy needs and investing in renewable energy. We complain when the price at the pump goes to $3, when we should think about conserving energy, especially when it comes to automobile use. We are still privileged in the US. We enjoy low prices for energy while the rest of the world pays $5 to $7 per gallon. We, the general public, keep blaming the oil companies and calling them our enemies, when they’re trying to help meet growing demand with dwindling supplies. We expect oil to be there when we fuel up at the pump, yet we don’t realize how volatile oil markets can be, for many reasons, political and environmental ones ranking at the top of the list.

We should wake up and thank God we’re so privileged in the US. Most of us don’t realize it. I’m writing this from Romania, where oil prices are around $6 per gallon, and most people make about $200 per month. Do the math and see if you could live with that! It’s time we woke up and started conserving, and it’s also time automobile manufacturers and other equipment manufacturers started making products that are more energy efficient. It’s also time city planners started building cities that are more pedestrian-friendly, with broad sidewalks and short walks to shops and other public attractions. We should do all this before we get into real trouble because of our thirst for oil. I don’t think any of us want global conflict on this issue.