Sunday, September 23, 2018

Somewhere, a Tiger Yawns

"Simple, scalable, and shovel ready. China is moving negative emissions from laboratory to field trial to massive industrial scale."

Oldest known agricultural village, Jianping China
It's no secret that The Paris Agreement, humanity’s best attempt to date to thwart our own extinction, is inadequate to the task, although it provided some mechanisms by which to raise ambitions as we collectively arrive at that realization. 

As it is now, the Earth will likely be between 3.6 and 7 degrees Celsius warmer by the end of this century (continued expansion of fracking, which releases massive stores of methane to the atmosphere, could accelerate that to mid-century), and we would soon thereafter go extinct. A 7°C change would induce hyperthermia in humans and other mammals, as dissipation of metabolic heat becomes impossible.

Tipping points for positive feedback mechanisms triggered by the Anthropocene anomaly assure that the already warming condition will persist for thousands of years, placing the entire experiment of life on this third planet from the Sun at risk. Earth’s orbit is already at the innermost edge of a habitable range, and a small nudge like Hothouse Earth could push it inside the arc, to a climate resembling Venus.

Before this recent trip to China there was a path out of our climate catastrophe that had become clear to me, as it was to the scientists advising the Paris negotiators. We merely (wry smile) need to promptly curtail fossil emissions (something we are not doing — they are growing at a quickening pace, with renewable energy only adding to the rate of growth of energy use, ie.: consumerism); and we will need to deploy negative emissions technologies as quickly as humanly possible; akin to the Manhattan or Apollo programs, or Moore’s Law. My own Global Ecovillage Network’s nuanced approach to that solution involves adding ecovillages into the blend, as models of graceful de-consumerism, carrier media for the transition, and a more palatable carrot to the stick of draconian, government-imposed degrowth. Ecovillages shield degrowth from cultural blowback with a force field of iconic fashion memes.

The nascent negawatts industry was given a shot in the arm by Paris. With the world in serious need of a fix, all the wanna-be fixers got going. This past May the Stockholm Resilience Center — at present the world’s Manhattan Project for reversing climate change — hosted the First International Conference on Negative CO2 Emissions with 11 keynote speakers, 150 powerpoint presentations, 231 abstracts and 30 poster presentations. Presentations were provided on BECCS, DAC, Enhanced Mineralization, Carbon Farming, Marine Macroflora and Climate Ecoforestry. These are subjects I have been discussing in this space since at least 2009, with our first Carbon Farming course at The Farm, and before that, pre-blog, in articles and books since the early 1980s. Nonetheless, the Goteborg conference was a watershed, and it changed my mind about the practicability of several of these schemes.

Still, I have been advocating, and continue to advocate, for a “least pain” strategy that could stand a better chance of overcoming the main obstacle: social inertia. My strategy, first laid out in a proposal to the MacArthur Foundation in their 100 Million and Change competition two years ago and then more elegantly in a forthcoming book from Chelsea Green with Kathleen Draper, is a combination of natural climate solutions, cool farms, ecovillages, and microenterprise hubs called “cool labs.”

In China I discovered we are not the only ones thinking of this. In many ways, the Chinese have taken it much farther, much faster. After teaching an ecology module for a month-long ecovillage design course provided by the Global Ecovillage Network at the UNESCO-China Dujiangyang Training Center, I flew to Nanjing and then traveled by train to Jianping, in Western Liaoning Province, far in the Northeastern part of China near the Korean border, to attend the International Biomass/Biochar Green Technology Conference for Rural Revitalization sponsored by Nanjing Agricultural University.

A massive birds' nest dome shelters the birthplace of Chinese argiculture
 Jianping is known for being the archaeological epicenter for explorations of the origins of Chinese agriculture 7700 years ago. It is therefore very fitting that this should also be the site of China’s new agricultural revolution. After walking through one of the huge museum domes erected to protect a 4500 BCE village site, we went to Xiaopingfang, sometimes called China’s “first village.” Xiaopingfang is now in the process of becoming an ecological village, called a “Dream Village” by President Xi Jinping, “according to the overall requirements of building a new socialist countryside; a new rural construction road of relying on resources to strengthen industry, relying on industry to feed agriculture.” I reported two years ago about China’s plan to construct 100 new ecovillages in 5 years. Now I was looking at one of those.

There are altogether seven natural villages in Xiaopingfang, thirteen villagers’groups, 3167 people, 881 households, covering an area of 28,000 mu (4613 acres). While the co-housing arrangement of the streets, and the provision of garden space to each home seemed to make the lives of the elderly farmers better, I had a hard time seeing how this fancy new village would support itself in this remote rural region, but then I got the second half of the tour.


We stopped at a vast expanse of grain fields where villagers were out harvesting millet, sorghum, maize and soybeans by hand. In 2007, the total output value of industry and agriculture of Xiaopingfang Village stood at 150 million yuan, 24 million yuan of taxes paid, 18 million yuan of collective economic income, and 7500 yuan of per capita net income of farmers. Today it is several times a multiple of that, thanks to biochar. Today a farmer can make 250 to 500 yuan more per day than before while paying little to nothing for fertilizer and getting a 15% or better yield from his farm.


Two years ago Kathleen Draper and I toured an experimental biorefinery near Nanjing where a prototype Beijing Sanju rotary kiln produced 1.5 megawatts of electricity while daily processing 30 or more tons of rice straw into biochar and wood vinegar. The biorefinery had discovered a 15% boost in fertilizer effect on rice and vegetable yield when it quenched the hot char with wood vinegar, comparable in many ways to quenching with urine. Another benefit of the new fertilizer was the water normally required in dry times of the year — with biochar no extra water was needed. Now, here in Jianping, one of the driest areas east of the Gobi, we saw that technique taken to scale with one of the 25 larger Beijing Sanju rotary kilns that had been plunked down around China to exploit Nanjing Agricultural University’s breakthrough.


In this dry region, the drought-proofing organic fertilizer business allowed farmers to plant 3000 mu of Nanguo pear, build a large-scale fresh storehouse and two water storage ponds. A grass-fed organic egg industry joined the organic green Nanguo pear industry. As we walked through earthen-walled shadehouses for tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, we could see a dramatic difference between test plots without biochar and test plots with. The vegetables grow faster and bigger, do not require water in the dry season, have fewer pests and can be harvested sooner. While not certified organic (macronutrients are still supplemented and some pesticides used) it is marketed as “Grade A Green Food.”

Taking advantage of Shuangwang Mountain’s rich historical legends and natural resource attractions, such as Wofoling, Shenxian Cave and Eighteen Arhats, a new eco-tourism draw, an asphalt road to the mountaintop Yuanzhao Temple has been built and the Tianxiu Mountain Forest Park in Chaijiaying has been developed. China’s rural revitalization investment for Jianping’s eco-tourism is now 5 million yuan.

Pan Genxing in earth-sheltered shadehouse
China has 200 more of these Cool Lab projects on its drawing boards, each shiny new $2 million Beijing Sanju reactor converting 100,000 tons of formerly burned crop wastes into biofertilizer custom blends for the particular plants, soils and climate of the region — every one a 66 megaton/year carbon sink. 

As I shifted my travel mode from tour bus to chauffeured limousine (occasionally in a cavalcade with black suited bodyguards in bulletproof SUVs) I was directed to the design studios of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and its Institute of Architecture Design and Research. Here, where all of China’s major construction projects must apply for approval, the same rapid process is moving biochar into buildings, roads and bridges. Simple, scalable, and shovel ready. China is moving negative emissions from laboratory to field trial to massive industrial scale.

China’s “ecological civilization” concept was first announced by Xi Jinping in 2007, in a report to the 17th National People’s Congress. At the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee in 2013, China mandated Eco-Civilization as a national goal in its Constitution. In April 2015, China began performing natural resources audits when local officials leave their posts, so as to force officials pay attention to environmental protection while in office, or be held to account when they leave. A pilot scheme or rural revitalization such as in Jianping is being carried out in five different locations, in three stages: launch in 2015, expansion in 2016, then in 2017 full audits in the trial locations, with regular audits every year from 2018.

Biodegradable plastic wares in department store
Treatment of crop residues has been an increasing challenge for China, as it is for India, Indonesia and many other populous countries. China placed a ban on burning these residues to try to alleviate the smog in Beijing and other cities. Introducing pyrolysis changed the issue from a liability to an asset. It gave China an indisputable lead in building soil carbon and developing “green agriculture.” Biochar from wastes has moved out of the laboratory and into commercial production in a mere 3 years. Soon it will be ubiquitous in Chinese agriculture, and then, as part of Xi Jinping’s New Silk Road, will spread to Africa, Latin America and other parts of the world. The same could happen for carbonized municipal wastes entombed in urban infrastructure. We are no longer talking about mere megatons of carbon dioxide removal. Now we are speaking of tens of gigatons.

Even as Neocon economists levied $200 billion in tariffs to keep Chinese goods out of US markets, we watched President Xi meeting with President Putin in Vladivostok and signing trade and technology exchange deals that could combine Russia’s science and manufacturing might with China’s to deploy negative emissions plants such as these everywhere in the world.

Except, well, you know where.

 
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Sunday, September 16, 2018

Cherry Blossom Soap

"China’s real wealth is not yuan but cherry blossoms."

No longer having a television at home I occasionally, stuck in a hotel room overnight, will turn to the luminous box to see who is speaking and listen to what the conversation is about.
In the USA the content is usually so banal and rote that I can only stay with it a few moments, flicking around the channels in search of something more enlightening. Most of it seems as though it were designed by Edward Bernays to addict some faceless, brainless masses and make them more easily controlled. It is no different in Russia or China, or anywhere else in this respect—a very inexpensive and relatively effective mental reform school or internment camp.
Nighttime fare in China can include Game of Thrones, Handmaid’s Tale and Peaky Blinders, same as in the West. You can also watch old episodes of Batman, Twin Peaks, China Beach or Star Trek. What was interesting to discover in China, however, is the soaps.
There are no daytime series that revolve around homosexuality and adultery. The gay-themed show Addicted was pulled by censors who said it exaggerated the dark side of society.
Chinese TV leans towards relatively few genres for their daytime dramas. Many have historical settings the way the US does with its westerns, colonials and WWII. In China these range from costumed set pieces of Medieval dynasties, with court intrigues, sword battles and steamy love affairs, to wartime novellas with Japs as the Nazis (at the same time, a few channels over on CCTV news, we can watch Li Xinping forging stronger ties with Shinzō Abe at the Asian Economic Summit). The Second Sino-Japanese war (1937-1945) still burns in the memories here, much the way the first 9/11 does for Chileans, or Fallujah will for Iraqis generations from now.
Most popular at the moment is the flying kung fu romance story, Three Lives Three Worlds, also called Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms. Number two is Dr. Qin: Medical Examiner. Crime dramas are also big. Doctors, lawyers and detectives are starting to pluck eyeball counts from sorcerers and princesses.
Clicking through the channels I stopped at one that had a lovely backdrop of cherry blossom time. I can’t tell you the name because it was all Chinese and so far Google images hasn’t helped locate it. As I came into the story I thought at first it was a movie because it was so well filmed. A somewhat plump woman was trying to land a job in an outdoor countryside restaurant, and after being told by the owner he had no work for her, she made some delicious food in her wok and took it around to the tables singing as she went and giving servings to each of the guests, who tasted and applauded her. Later, the owner collected the tips and brought them to her, offering her a job. Seeing how poor she and her three children appeared, he also gave them a bag of corn and some other food to take and then she and her young ones left and climbed the mountain back to their village in the rain, wearing her wok as a hat.
There we learn she is the main provider for her sister and her mother also, and every day she and her children work the fields before journeying to the restaurant to work. Where is dad? Cutaway to the city and here is dad, his hair starting to grey but his body still muscular as he shovels coal and digs ditches. He scrapes by and saves money, ignoring the easy temptations of the city. Then one day his young friend takes him downtown and as they wander a busy alley filled with shops he hears a familiar voice shouting angrily at a customer who did not pay.
He stops at the outside of a beauty parlor, really just an open alcove with a chair, mirror, and lights, and stares at the young woman cleaning up after the customer she has just ejected. He steps up into her light but she does not look up, she just tells him to take the seat, he is next.
Remember, I don’t actually speak Chinese. I am lip-syncing here, but the acting is good so I will risk it. Anyone familiar with this series, feel free to correct my version.
He obediently sits, expressionless, and she distractedly throws a towel around his chest, stirs some water and begins to shampoo his hair. It is only then she looks up into the mirror and sees his face. It is her father.
Fighting back tears, she continues to massage his scalp with shampoo and pretends she is someone else. He listens quietly and only when she is done speaking, he begins to speak, softly, of how much he and her mother have missed her, how they wondered how she is doing, and when she will return. Tears are now streaming down her face as we see them both in the mirror.
She now switches to her true identity and tells him that she has missed them also, but that her business is doing well, she is prospering, and that she will not return with him. He begs her. He is crying now too. Her fingers have stopped moving through his scalp. They both weep.
She gives him a roll of bills to take home to the mountain. He at first refuses, saying he only wants her to come back with him. She will not, so he takes the money and leaves.
Back in the mountain village, which is always stunningly beautiful, he returns to great rejoicing by his family who are eager to hear of his time in the city. He puts the money he earned on the table and his mother seems very proud. His wife says she has work now and he can remain if he wishes. Then he puts the second money wad on the table. They all stare.
When he says it is from the daughter, his wife becomes outraged at him for not bringing her home. He explains that he tried and failed, but that she is happy in her new life and sends her love. All weep.
Like any soap, this episode was preceded and succeeded by scores more episodes recounting the rural/city life of this one family. I had only stumbled into one vignette, but I thought it was so well scripted, well made and well acted it should be on Netflix or Amazon Prime.
The bigger backdrop, of course, is ongoing globalization that is just as traumatizing as was the Second Sino-Japanese war, the Great March or the Mongol conquest. Families that have lived in balance with nature in the same place for hundreds of generations are being cast off their lands, atomized, and assimilated into Charley Chaplin’s Modern Times.
Chaplin’s prophetic vision of this experience was explained by film critic Gregory Stephens:
The man-eating-machine theme came to Chaplin at age 12. Apprenticed to a printer, he found himself dwarfed by a huge printing press. “I thought [it] was going to devour me.” As an adult he reframed this view. Charlie is a trickster (playfulness is the essence of monkey-wrenching), and the machine has swallowed something indigestible, giving it indigestion. In the second lunch-time feeding, all but the mechanic’s mouth has been immobilized. If in the earlier scene, the machine-men had tried for force their workers to ingest progress, on this lunch break, Charlie has engineered a bit of humble pie. Work and the irascible mechanic’s mouth are brought to a standstill. Soon this scene devolves into something like a loving son feeding his invalid father. That he first attempts unsuccessfully to feed the mechanic through an oil funnel, and then successfully through the opening of a whole cooked chicken, seems to suggest the need for both mechanic and machine to be brought closer to natural processes.
And so we stand, like Chaplin, staring down the gullet of the all-devouring machine. It is hard to imagine how China can possibly back down off this perch and return to its Confucian and Taoist values, those Li Xinping has called its “Mountain of Gold.”
Eco-civilization lies up that winding mountain trail, not down in the grimy city. China’s real wealth is not dollars, rubles or yuan but in those cherry blossoms.
If soaps are a reflection of innermost desires, the Chinese people want this, and miss it, even if they cannot quite see how to get there yet.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Sustainablin…

"Guided by an unquenchable passion for meaning and impact."

We are participating in a 4 week course in ecovillage design at the UNESCO rural development center in Chengdu, China and fortunately there is a VPN connection here that allows us to “spoof” the Chinese censors and reach into Medium, Blogger, Google, Facebook, Twitter and all the otherwise banned sites, so this week I can post.

Actually, I’m gonna cheat and repost from the blog of one of the Chinese students, Lin Fan. As Fan tells her followers, “From a telecom network engineer to a software product manager, from a Silicon Valley professional to a global traveller (with a bicycle in tow for 5 months), from China to the Silicon Valley then to the world then back to China, my life journey has been guided by an unquenchable passion for meaning and impact.”
In Jan 2017, after 8 months traveling in 15 countries in Europe and APAC region, I decided to return to China and put the inspiration I got on the road, and especially from Mother Nature, in a new life journey in China. After another 3 and a half months, 12-cities domestic tour to reconnect with the country, I settled in Hangzhou, a dynamic tech & startup hub fortunately with rich cultural and natural heritage.
I am devoting myself to researching, writing, advocating and facilitating sustainable practices in individual and society levels. Particularly I am interested in the movements of sustainable lifestyle, permaculture, organic farming, and community supported agriculture in China.


In the sixth and seventh installments of her daily blog from the Ecovillage Design Course, Lin Fan writes:

Day 6 @EDE class: Look Beyond Village & Stakeholder Mapping

sustainablin BlogSeptember 3, 2018, 7 Minutes

A VIP guest

We started our class 30 minutes earlier today because a Chinese official from UNESCO International Research and Training Center for Rural Education (INRULED) visited us and wanted to spend some time in the class before going to catch his flight in Chengdu. The INRULED center we are using here is largely due to his support, to this class and to ecovillage education in general. The center is free to EDE organizers, though non-volunteer students still paid for their boarding. (I paid ~$615 for food and boarding for 28 days). So organizers, i.e. Chinese Ecovillage Network and Sunshine Ecovillage Network, can use the saving to cover other costs, such as teaching service from GEN, international travel expenses of GEN teachers, provisions for dorm rooms and kitchen, etc.

In a 10-minutes, rapid-fire informative speech, the official traced the history of sustainable movements to two influential books: Silent Spring (Wiki, 1962) and The Limits to Growth (Wiki,1972). The model of our industrial civilization is basically consuming the resources of our planet and leave us trash eventually. This is not sustainable. In March, 2018, Chinese government added in constitution “the building of an ecological civilization” to the duties and powers of the State Council (1). It’s a new form of human civilization based on sustainable principles (Wiki).

How can we realize ecological civilization? He firmly believes that education and training are critical building blocks. He went on that UNESCO has laid the theory groundwork by a few profoundly influential reportsLearning to Be (1972)Learning, the Treasures within (1996), and Rethinking Education (2015) For people in the class who may become future designers or developers of ecovillages, you will have a lot of work, as one of his few ending points.

Just as Kosha was about to continue the class according to original agenda, Haichao, head of the organizers suggested that students share their feedback to the class, so that this official can hear students’ thoughts first hand. Kosha thought it a good idea too. So 5 or 6 outspoken students grabbed the opportunity. I took longer time to organize my thoughts. Just when I finally felt ready to talk and stood up, the official had to leave for the airport. The teacher and a few organizers walked out of the class to see him off. The class naturally took a break as it happened.


Look beyond a village

Putting ecovillage movement in the grand background of ecological civilization, highlighting the role of education and training, all helped me greatly in understanding the possible impact of my role as an independent writer and journalist. And my horizon is suddenly broadened. Though I learn to think about ecological villages in 4 dimensions holistically (social, economy, ecology and culture), often I still think of it at the scale of a village concerning immediate stakeholders. But as an observer and thinker (in journalist’s hat), I need to watch the society more broadly.

It’s great that Chinese government formalized the goal of building ecological civilization in constitution. HoweverI don’t know if we are already more advanced than western countries in sustainable development, until I see reliable data evidence. I feel that we are still behind in terms of public awareness, voluntary adoption of sustainability practices and contribution to initiatives, such as classifying household trash, recycling resources, maintaining the cleanliness of public places, reducing package, using fewer plastic bags when shopping, raising fund to support community sustainability initiatives, etc. Such observation is from comparing my years of experience living and traveling in western countries, to my recent one year living and traveling in China.


The power of “the grassroot”


Kosha Joubert
Many of my classmates commented that they had learned a lot from our EDE class about the 4-dimension model on ecovillage, from our extraordinary teacher Kosha (CEO of Global Ecovillage Network), and from other classmates’ knowledge and experience. But what can we learn from the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) as a mature and influential organization?
 Do we know of any Chinese NGO or NPO that has been in existence for two decades and now has presence in 5 continents and has involved itself in about 10,000 communities and related projects? I am making a reference to the profile of GEN here (2). What kind of powerful vision and values that unite people around the globe? What kind of organizational skills, domain expertises, and far-flung connections does it take to make such a global impact? And more importantly, grow that impact over decades?

What lessons has it learned? What struggles is it facing? GEN has generously authorized its Chinese partner to translate teaching materials. Organizations like Sunshine Ecovillage Network (Hangzhou, China) have started to offer similar but adapted classes in their region. I think what is very very hard to replicate is a mature organization and competent people.

As some speakers brought up in the 2018 Dujiangyan International Forum, bottom-up approaches, i.e. grassroot communities, should eventually take greater ownership in sustainability projects. This is music to my ear as I think this is another key area where we are behind western countries. It takes the training from a civil society (wiki) for citizens to practice taking ownership and responsibility for social wellbeing, to learn how to organize events professionally, how to raise fund legally and gracefully, how to reach out to stakeholders of different interest and maintain relationships, and how to build domain competence and sustain their organizations for years if not decades.


In a group exercise, one team member presented the stakeholder map of her existing project (illustrated by photo above), an ecological apartment complex about one-hour driving distance from our training center. The project now has a farm, two residential buildings with 80 apartments, and one separate community center building for events. The biggest challenge right now is that they don’t really have regular residents. That’s a tricky situation to be in. We are going to visit and explore the place tomorrow (on Day #7).


Stakeholder mapping

On a 4 quadrant by two dimensions: influence (high-low), impact (positive-negative), we looked into each possible stakeholder of our own projects and assign the stakeholders to a quadrant, and position them against the X and Y axis according to perceived influence and impact.
 Representatives from Sunshine Ecovillage Network and the still fledgling China Ecovillage Network (founded in Dec 2017) laid out their stakeholder cards on mat, so that the whole class can observe and analyze together. At the end, we found most cards in “positive impact” quadrants, either highly or low influential. Kosha asked a representative why a certain stakeholder was considered “highly influential and highly positive” while another is “highly influential but negative”. A few revelation from the exercise:
  1. Strengthen your support base: work to empower stakeholders in “lowinfluential but positive” zone, so that they can move to “highly influential and positive” zone.
  2. Face your enemies head on: don’t avoid or ignore stakeholders in “highly influential but negative” zone. Your great enemies can become your best friends, just as the opposite can happen because human interaction is largely based on emotional connection. Build that connection.
  3. Distinguish your wish and reality: if we don’t see many stakeholders in “negative” zone, i.e. most in “positive” zone, is it because we tend not to think of them? Is it because we wish most stakeholders to be positive and overlook their negative tendency in reality? 
I am devoting myself to researching, writing, advocating and facilitating sustainable practices in individual and society levels. Particularly I am interested in the movements of sustainable lifestyle, permaculture, organic farming, and community supported agriculture in China.



People of the day

Wen, independent event planner. Wen is the nice roommate who gave me her lower bunk bed so that I can sneak out of the dorm easily at 4ish in the morning to work on my blogs. Her hair is barely a quarter inch long, a style inspired by her father, and confused me that I might have carelessly stepped in a male dorm when I met her the first time. In her early 30s, she is bright, jovial and eager to learn. When we did stakeholder mapping exercise in a group, I learned about her project in detail, and more about her, for the first time. (I know I will eventually profile all three of my lovely roommates, slowly getting there.

She wants to revitalize the local community and protect the historical heritage of a small island in the Changjiang River near Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei province. She planned to build a museum of oral history, using it as a community hub and special tie to connect with residents originated from the island. However, this effort is facing many challenges. Property developers have cast their covetous eyes on the island. It has been rumored that they want to build water entertainment facilities, though theoretically any new construction should be banned because the island is significant to flood management of the area.

Wen has been active in protecting local environment for recent years. She organized events to raise public awareness, as well as participated in many workshops to study new subjects and develop herself. Early this year, she criticized a local government leader on her blog, asking him to “get out” of the city. She refused authority’s request to take down that post and was detained in a temporary detention house for a couple weeks. Then she was transferred to a prison for some more weeks before she was freed on bail, 39 days in total. [This was not her first time being jailed for her opinions, she seems to do it with some regularity.] After her jailings, she posted online, wrote and called authorities to suggest improving the food and environment of detention facilities. It is important to the health of staff there as well, she believes.



Life here

Halfway from Dujiangyan to Huadao, I was excited to see this nice, separate bike path along freeway. Though no public transportation stops at Huadao currently, it’s only 12 minutes by bike to get to the nearest town where there is public transportation.

I didn’t sleep on Friday night. I was seriously behind my target to blog daily. By the end of Day #5, I had posted blogs only up to Day #2. So I decided to sacrify one night sleep to catch up. I had some fine green tea, dry fruits and nuts to boost energy. My mind was clear and excited due to thinking and writing, but definitely a bit slower than usual. Finally I posted 3 new blogs for Day #3–5. But throughout Day #6, I felt quite sleepy in the class, only got better in late afternoon.

In the evening, we had a celebration for the first week. I taught the class a few basic steps of Bachata dance. Apparently many have not formally learned social dance and this felt fresh and interesting to them. It was really joyful to see the class having a great time together. But I had to leave early to make up some sleep. (I felt rested on Day #7. )


Day 7 @EDE Class: Field Trip to Huadao Ecological Community

sustainablin Blog, September 5, 2018, 6 Minutes


Sep 2, 2018. We made a field trip to Huadao Ecological Community, a two-year old community project managed by one of our classmates, Ms. Alice Wang. Among the typical three types of ecovillages: converted from an urban neighborhood, converted from a traditional rural village, built brand new based on consensus and commitment, Huadao falls in the third type.

“Enable a fulfilling life” (让生命满载而归), is the commitment to and of, community members. (photo by Lin Fan)

We participated in a ceremony in which we thanked the vegetable seeds (in the basket in the middle of the table). This has been an important ritual of the community. We made sure to arrive in the morning before the soil becomes too warm for the seeds. In this ritual, people feel connected to the seeds, soil, and nature. 

Recently I read this book: “Half Farming, Half X” by a Japanese author 盐见直纪. The idea is that people can live a healthier, happier and self-sufficient life by spending half time growing most of their own food, and the other half time working on things they truly like, i.e. the X. They find this X by what fits their unique talent, interest and skills.

In Huadao, the biggest challenges right now is to get people to live here regularly, so there is a real community! About 40 apartments were bought by member families but no family actually live here. These are the people who have already established life and career elsewhere, mostly in big cities, but who also loved the beautiful idea of an ecological community and were willing to put down then the upfront payment of $58,500 for one apartment. (The price has gone up by 50%). They don’t own the property but has the right of usage for 40 years.

Could “half farming, half X” be a solution for Huadao to attract regular tenants? I have been thinking that such new lifestyle can possibly help ME achieve financial sustainability SOONER, and at the same time I can gain hands-on experience in one of the most critical areas for a sustainable ecosystem, farming. To me as an independent writer/journalist, the X can be many: writing, event organizing, consulting, training, public speaking, and a newly added prospect, ecovillage design.

Huadao appears to be a promising location for the housing and farming part, assuming the rent is lower than that in a big city like Hangzhou and the nearby Chengdu. I like the comfortable inside of a modern apartment, the round building and quadyard that encourages interaction with community members, and the large organic farm (not yet certified). I could spend a few hours each day working in the farm, and the rest of the time reading and writing about sustainability.


But, imagine if I would move in in 3 months, I could be one of a handful, if not the only, warm bodies in the entire building
(They have a few regular staff who also live here), in case they couldn’t attract more life-tinkerers by then. How will I handle that? Not good for long term for sure. But hey! I am an event organizer / community developer too! Will it not be possible for me to help with organizing cultural events to attract urban visitors from the Chengdu, and gradually build a real community here?


That said, will half-farming-half-X here at Huadao work for other self-employed people like me? Before answering that, is Huadao really an ideal location to me? I will need to find out more. My return flight to Hangzhou is a few days after the end of the class. Originally I planned to spend those days in Dujiangyan or Chengdu just for vacation. Why not stay in Huadao and explore more? I immediately talked about this idea with Alice. She was very supportive and agreed to arrange a guest apartment for me. It happens that they will have a management team (founders) meeting on the same day when the EDE class ends. I may be able to meet their team members and learn more. Yay, I have a plan!

The eco-tourism resources nearby can be another attraction to prospective community members. A Party leader of the Qiquan town gave us a short speech to introduce the town and played a well-made introduction film. The area where Huadao is located is designated as an ecological reserve on the west side of the metropolitan Chengdu. It has good natural water and is big in rice production historically. From the film, it appears that local villages have developed good public facilities such as libraries, community activity centers, and remodeled bathrooms and kitchens to connect to sewage pipeline network, all aiming at bringing city-quality of life to rural residents. Many farmers now open their farmhouses, as bed-and-breakfast inns, to tourists who typically look for idyllic country life as a refreshing switch from their big city dwelling. The booming countryside tourism has created new income sources for farmers. They invest even more in their environment. This seems a virtuous cycle.


People of the day

Alice WANG. Alice hosted us in Huadao Ecological Community today. Finally I got to see this ambitious project that she has been working on and shared with us a lot for case study. There is no better time than today to write about her but she stood out from the beginning. She speaks fluent and beautiful English and is a brilliant communicator. Whenever talking about Huadao, she shows a lot of passion and is open to ideas and questions.

Back in 2014, she joined the Commission of Sustainability Development of Beijing International Exchange Association of China, a Beijing NGO specialized in fostering high level exchange between its members and foreign cultural and business parties. She was the secretary of the community. It was through the connections there, she came to know Huadao. Deeply concerning that city children lack connection with nature, she hoped that Huadao can become a safe and beautiful natural playground for children, as well as a new type of community that embraces low-carbon lifestyle. The same year, she became one of the earliest members of the community, through buying an apartment and becoming a limited partner(shareholder) of the company that developed the property. While she was still working full time for her own company, she gradually involved more and more in the development of Huadao, seeing it through hard times of stagnation, disagreement and fortunately re-alignment of vision. Now she is in charge of the entire operation, splitting her time between Beijing and Chengdu so that she can actually live in the community and grow it.


Life here

In the afternoon, some team members visited nearby tourist sites. They saw cute giant pandas.

photo by Kosha Joubert






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Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Eco-Civ 101

"We are the people who are eating the first crabs."



I have never been terribly fond of cities, but if you had to live in a Chinese megacity, you could do worse than Chengdu. It is the capital of Sichuan Province so you know the food is going to be good. It has been sobriqueted at one time or another as “The God-favored Land,” “Hibiscus City,” “Brocade City,” “Civilized City,” “Garden City,” “World Gastronomic Capital,” and “Model City for Environmental Protection,” whose biggest sightseer draws are the wild herds of pandas. It is also home to 16 million permanent residents, has 20 districts (former cities and towns it swallowed up somewhere along the millennia), is said by Forbes to be the fastest growing city on Earth, and is expected to remain on that blistering pace for at least the next decade. Apart from the pandas, those are not pluses.

Chengdu shared bikes are activated by the WeChat phone app.
The site and name have remained unchanged since at least the time Chengdu became the capital for the 9th Kaiming King of the Shu 2300 years ago. As recently as 2100 years ago it had its first school, called Shishi (“thank you”) built by Governor Wen Weng. According to legend, around the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25–220), Zhang Daoling, later known as Celestial Master Zhang Tianshi, cultivated and preached the way of the Tao on Mt. Qingcheng, now revered as the birthplace of Taoism.
I am here at the invitation of Mr. Wang Li, Deputy Director of the UNESCO Rural Development Center, to speak of ecovillages in the context of environmental education to the 9th annual meeting of the Dujiangyan International Forum. The theme of this year’s forum is “Harmonizing Urban-rural Education Development in the Context of Education 2030.” I honestly expected most of the speeches to be real snoozers (not a heavy lift after 20+ hours of air travel), given titles like “Let Education Be Implanted with the Green Heart and Share the Beautiful Earth,” but I was in for a real surprise. The first talk, by the deputy director of an academic committee of some Chinese university, had me hanging on every word.
To be fair, Wen Tiejun had every right to be outspoken. As a teenager at the time of the Cultural Revolution he was yanked from school and sent out to a gruesome life of menial labor on a remote collective farm, along with his parents, who were being punished for being intellectuals. Later in life he won a favored party position and as a policy developer gained a mastery of Maoist language and framing. This was how his 30-minute opening keynote at the forum could be so devastating.
Bear in mind that this is an event far into the interior of China, co-sponsored by a UN Agency and the Chinese government. I almost could not believe what I was hearing. I had to start scribbling notes. 

Wen Tiejun
One of the themes of this forum is equalizing the educational opportunities of rural and urban regions. Many of the presenters prepared talks on bringing rural students into the digital age, or using cyber enhancements to improve pedagogy. Wen called that moving from a colonial knowledge system to a neocolonial exploitive system. It is the old paradigm of “development-ism,” he said: “colonization, overproduction, overconsumption, capitalization of the economy.” Developed countries were going all over the world and paying vast sums in “foreign aid” to “propagate the crisis.” It was the same mentality that brought about World War II, he said. First you build massive arsenals so you can build massive industrial infrastructure, then you have to use it, destroy it, and build newer and bigger replacements. 
“We need a decolonial policy,” he demanded, taking indirect aim at Li Xaoping’s Belt and Road initiative. He told the assembly that if you want rural revitalization you need to put the culture back into agriculture. You need ecological agriculture, farmer rights, and a bottom-up love for environmental sustainability. 
The former author of Maoist slogans ticked off the list of recent Chinese government slogans:
· Integrate Urban and Rural (2002)
· Scientific Development (2004)
· A Harmony Society (2004)
· Multifunction Agriculture (2006)
· Eco-Civilization (2007)
· Inclusive Growth (2009)
If you want to put meaning into meaningless slogans, he said, think about an eco-civilization that means local resource sovereignty, multidiversity solidarity, and sustainable ecological safety. What China was doing instead, he complained, was adopting an Anglo-American model of very destructive neocolonialism. It destroys the fabric of culture, soils and health. “Modernization is a trap.” 
Giving an example, he said the East Asian Land Reform initiative went from ideals of Confucius (good governance arises from good-hearted people) and community stability to the largest percentage of the population becoming petty bourgeois and omni-destructive consumerists. What was cast as land reform ended up destabilizing Asia—most dramatically India—separating rich and poor, pushing a third of the population into landless, jobless poverty, threatening two thirds of the states with growing insurrections, and making 90 percent of those who counted themselves employed no more than slaves of an unstable grey economy, all the while accelerating pollution, land degradation and climate change. 
Wen shows strawbale houses being built by volunteers as an example of what rural China needs more of.
I was looking around the room and trying to see if anyone else was as dumbstruck as I was, but they applauded Wen’s candor. This is not your daddy’s China anymore.
In March 2018 China amended its constitution to include the advancement to Eco-civilization as a duty of government at all levels.
UNESCO Office Director of the International Training Center for Rural Education Zhao Yuchi, seated next to me, leaned over and said, “We are the people who are eating the first crabs.”
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