Yesterday we were looking at how cold it is outdoors and in here in China. Today I want to get to the meat of the problem that lies just beyond that thought. Is it possible for China (or any country) to develop without destroying the fragile environment?
I’ll start with something I’m not so proud of; my wife and I are currently running 3 space heaters full blast, all the time. Not because we’re trying to recreate the climate of sunny Florida, or even temperate San Francisco, this is just what it takes to keep our apartment from feeling like winter in Minnesota. At the office we also have two heaters running non-stop, and still I have to pause between sentences to hold my hot cup of tea.
My other co-worker, Jasmine, told me the other day that it was only a few years ago that office workers would wear 4-5 layers and tough out the frigid days in the office. Now though everyone is starting to expect the office to be at least comfortable with only 2 layers. Oh the things I had taken for granted before coming to China.
The big problem is that heating is a new thing for most of the people living in southern China, since a long time ago the govt. decided that we didn’t need central heating. So it is common for people to still leave windows open while the heater is on. I also spend a good chunk of time every day getting up from my desk and closing the door behind the people who leave it flung wide open, or closing the bathroom windows that blow less than fresh air down the hall. I wonder how long it will be before fathers in China start carefully guarding the thermostat, and sarcastically ask their child, “Are you trying to heat the outdoors?”
So rising wealth in China is now allowing more people to buy heaters for their apartments, and we south of the Yangtze will no longer freeze each winter. I think we could agree generally that people not freezing to death is progress. At the same time, when I look at the high-rise apartment blocks and see all of the individual heating units whirring, I hate to think of the amount of energy and burning coal it takes to keep me and the rest of the middle class warm.