Posted by: Jason | December 15, 2009


The Chinese don’t call the river Yangtze – here, it’s the Changjiang.  We boarded at Chongqing and rode the Changjiang all the way through the gorges and to the dam, which is the length of the new reservoir created by the Three Gorges Project.  With one exception (which deserves a separate post), it wasn’t a straightforward academic activity in the same way our other meetings and discussions have been.  Rather, it was a chance to make the Yangtze management policies feel more concrete – to reinforce the readings, speakers and discussions with kilometers and kilometers and kilometers of water.  Professor Troy described the trip as three days of Stendhal Syndrome – so much exposure to beauty that your mind loses the ability to process it. 


Posted by: Jason | December 14, 2009


We missed our shot to see a Yangtze River Dolphin (Baiji) by two and a half years – they were officially declared extinct in the summer of 2007.  The river has changed fundamentally in the last decade, and not just in a dolphin-related way.  In 1996, for example, the Three Gorges Dam was just beginning to fill its 400-km reservoir, and the water level upstream from the dam had risen only 10 meters (about 30 feet) above the previous, non-dam year.  Because of a drought this year, the water is a little lower than the Chinese government would like it to be – but that lower-than-they’d-like level is still 170 meters above 1995 levels.  That’s over 500 feet deeper than fourteen years ago.  Five hundred.  So when I post pictures later and they make you ooh and aah, think about what 500 less feet of water would do to those photos.

Posted by: Jason | December 14, 2009


For the last three days, we’ve been on board the Century Star ship, making our way down the Yangtze River from Chongqing to the Three Gorges Dam.  We’re at the dam hotel now, with internet access for the first time since Friday.  It was foggy at the dam this morning, unfortunately, but I think we got the basic thrust of it – e.g., it’s big.  No, bigger than that.

Posted by: Jason | December 11, 2009

Transfer 3

Guiyang >>>>>>>>>>>> Chongqing

We had a couple free hours in Guiyang before our bus to Chongqing rolled out, so a few of us walked to Qianling Park.  The commitment of elderly Chinese men and women to their physical fitness is, frankly, astonishing.  I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say there were 100,000 people walking, running, doing tai chi, swimming, playing badminton, line dancing and doing group aerobics.

Tony – our tour guide and national escort – said that most groups who visit this region of China opt to fly into Chongqing instead of making the six-hour drive or chartering a bus.   I’m so, so glad we didn’t, because the views from the road were spectacular.  I’m trying to finish Infinite Jest before the end of the trip, but I couldn’t make myself look away from the window to read.

Chongqing is a massive, massive metropolitan area.  It has about 31 million residents – many of them relocated here after the Three Gorges Reservoir began filling – and recently became the fourth Provincial-level city in China.  It’s located within the boundaries of Sichuan province, but administratively, is independent and equivalent to all the other provinces. We’re only here for one full day – Thursday evening through Friday evening, when we board the ship for our trip down the Yangtze.

The city is known for a dish called Hot Pot, which is something similar to fondue.  We’d heard over and over that Hot Pot is incredibly spicy, so a handful of folks opted for noodles instead.  Man, did they miss out on a fantastic meal.  For about $9 each, we ate like emperors.  Byron – if you’re reading this, will you e-mail me the pictures of our table?  My vocabulary is too small to describe it.

Traffic took an hour to get through the checkpoint into Sichuan Province, and people from the village just down the hill took advantage of the standstill to sell fruit.

Posted by: Jason | December 11, 2009

International Conflict and Tibet’s Water

One of the topics I mentioned in my talk at the Geochemistry Institute was a Chinese plan to divert water from rivers like the Indus and the Brahmaputra (international rivers that have their headwaters in Tibet) into the Yangtze and the Yellow rivers.  It’s called the Great Western Route, and it’s the third of a three-stage canal project by the Chinese government (the first, and only so far, is the Grand Canal, which diverts water from the Yangtze 1100 miles north, to Beijing).  Politically, I have no doubt it would be a disaster, and I’m fascinated by the implications for conflict in South and Southeast Asia.

There’s a book about the Great Western Route I’ve been looking for on this trip – translated, it’s titled Water From Tibet Will Save China. It’s a report by the Ministry of Water Resources, and it’s only distributed here (and not online – that would have made the search too simple).  I read about it in 2007, in this NYT article about water conflict in Asia, so this is a two-and-a-half year search –

Having extensively contaminated its own major rivers through unbridled industrialization, China now threatens the ecological viability of river systems tied to South and Southeast Asia in its bid to meet its thirst for water and energy.

The idea of a Great South-North Water Transfer Project diverting river Tibetan waters has the backing of President Hu Jintao, a hydrologist. The first phase of this project calls for building 300 kilometers of tunnels and channels to draw waters from the Jinsha, Yalong and Dadu rivers, on the eastern rim of the Tibetan plateau.

In the second phase, the Brahmaputra waters may be rerouted northward, in what be tantamount to the declaration of water war on lower-riparian India and Bangladesh. In fact, Beijing has identified the bend where the Brahmaputra forms the world’s longest and deepest canyon just before entering India as holding the largest untapped reserves for meeting its water and energy needs.

The future of the Tibetan plateau’s water reserves is tied to ecological conservation. As China’s hunger for primary commodities has grown, so too has its exploitation of Tibet’s resources.

And as water woes have intensified in several major Chinese cities, a group of ex-officials have championed the northward rerouting of the Brahmaputra waters in a book titled, “Tibet’s Waters Will Save China.”

This article, from, is a good summary of the report’s origins and history (it’s also the hard copy I’ve been carrying everywhere, so I can show people the title in Mandarin)

With its estimated investment of over 200 billion yuan (US$25.1 billion), the Great Western Route project is revealed in great detail in Save China Through Water From Tibet, a book published by Li Ling in November 2005, after having worked on it for 17 years. The book met with immediate success, with 10,000 copies having been ordered by various central government ministries and commissions, among which the Ministry of Water Resources alone bought 100 copies at a time.

Since it’s a government report, it’s not the kind of book that’s sold in bookstores, so I’ve been asking everyone we meet whether they can help me find a copy.   If you ask the students from Lawrence, I was getting a little desperate – maybe verging on pathetic.  They’ve started laughing and rolling their eyes (good-naturedly, I assume) when I say, “Do you mind if I ask you a quick question?  There’s this book…”  because they know I’m fighting a lost battle.  I even put a photo of the cover in my presentation at the Geochemistry Institute, and told the 40 Chinese faculty and grad students about my hunt.

And one of them came through!  He had a digital copy on his laptop!  Success!! All of the Lawrence students who laughed at my desperation are hereby invited to apologize for doubting my resourcefulness.  Well, not so much “resourcefulness” as “stubborn willingness to keep asking, even when it’s pretty clear no one has any idea what I’m talking about”.  But they’re invited to apologize nevertheless.

Unfortunately, the report is written in Mandarin and, to my knowledge, has never been translated into English.  That means my next step is to find a Lawrence student who speaks the language, has an interest in international environmental politics, and wants to do a senior project or an independent study.  “Professor Brozek, you are a scholar and a gentleman, and only my own failure to acknowledge your dedication kept me from believing you would be successful.  Please accept my deepest apologies, and also this venti caramel latte,” would be a good start, if you’re a student looking to apologize for giggling at my quest.

Posted by: Jason | December 10, 2009

Guiyang Day 2

Our second day in Guiyang was, hands down, the highlight of the trip so far.

We started at the Karst Institute, an interdisciplinary graduate program at Guizhou Normal University that focuses on rural development and environmental sustainability in Guizhou province.  The setup was simple – just a presentation of the work they do, plus some time for questions – but it resonated with me in a way similar meetings at Hong Kong Polytechnic, Chinese University-Hong Kong and Sun Yat-Sen University didn’t come close to doing.  For lack of a better phrase, the Karst Institute really gets it

Although maybe it seems that way to me because the Karst Institute takes an interdisciplinary, liberal arts-esque approach to the problems in their province.  Technology alone, we were told, can’t solve such complex problems.  Instead, they must be met with a combination of economics, political science, hydrology, geology, sociology, anthropology, and history.  They had various names to describe their approach – integrated systems management, the ecosystems approach, community-based conversation, participatory rural appraisal, and a handful of others.  The point is that they believe the the balance environmental sustainability and economic development can be best achieved through local, grassroots, bottom-up programs, rather than top-down directives.  It’s similar to the argument Bill Easterly makes in The White Man’s Burden.  We continued the discussion at the nearby Scholars’ Temple, which is a 600 year-old structure that one of the Karst professors only-a-little-jokingly called “China’s oldest university”.

One of the hopes of the trip is to establish a connection with a Chinese university – something that might generate collaborative research, student exchanges, and a long-term relationship.  Lawrence and the Karst Institute seem like a natural fit, and the connection was definitely there.  I’d love to send my students to Guiyang and rural Guizhou province for a term, and I really hope our two institutions can create a program of collaboration.  There’s a two-day lag between when things happen and I when I can write about them, and two days later, I’m still pretty giddy about the prospect of Lawrence and the Karst Institute working together. 

Our second meeting was at the State Key Laboratory of Environmental Geochemistry at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Professor Feng, the Vice Director of the program, is China’s leading expert on mercury pollution, and we were honored to meet with him and his graduate students.   In the spirit of interdisciplinarity, Professor Feng had invited Professor Finkler and I to give presentations on our research to their lab.  I focused on the politics of freshwater resources that cross international boundaries, particularly international rivers.  China has five, all of which originate from the Tibetan glaciers (as do the Yangtze and the Yellow rivers, although they stay contained within China’s borders).  Professor Finkler discussed the economic incentives for water conservation, including a relatively successful water metering program in Chongqing.  Water that isn’t priced appropriately, he argued, is treated as a worthless resources.  (We’ll be meeting with the head of the Chongqing Development and Reform Commission’s International Projects Management Office when we’re in Chongqing.  He’s the author of a case study on the Chongqing water program, which is available through the World Bank website.)  Sarah, the post-doc researcher I’ve been mentioning a lot, presented her work on mercury in rice, and then invited a few of her students to tell us about their research. 

Posted by: Jason | December 10, 2009

Guiyang Day 1

Over half of our first day in Guiyang was taken up with the flight and the bus ride to our hotel, but our hosts (Sarah, a postdoc at the Geochemistry Institute, as well as two students from the Karst Institute) wanted us to spend the afternoon at a restored 600 year-old village.  I think I speak for everyone in our group that we were also glad to get out into the poorer parts of China.  We’d spent almost a week in Hong Kong and Guangzhou, which are some of the wealthiest and most urban parts of China, and we were hankerin’ for some poverty.  And we got it – or at least we drove through it, and gaped at it through the windows.  It’s one thing to read statistics about per capita GDP and purchasing power – or even look at pictures and watch documentaries, for that matter – but it’s a whole different beast to watch people squatting in the ditch, sorting through electronics for pieces that can be melted down and sold.  (And it’s worth noting that we’re still one or two steps removed from the most desperate poverty – the outskirts of Guiyang are as different from Hong Kong as the rural villages are from the outskirts of Guiyang.) 

In any case, the restored village was quaint and strikingly beautiful, and our group injected a lot of yuan into the local economy.   Steve and I also made some Chinese teenagers giddy when we agreed to pose for pictures with them.  It was adorable that they asked, and we were happy to be their tall, bearded, American spectacle. 

Sarah and I also had a long conversation about education in China – particularly about the utter lack of a liberal arts tradition, and what that means for their approach to environmental problems.  The timing of these posts is a little wonky (I’m on a two-day lag for the main posts, but I’ve been posting a handful of things out of order), and I wrote more about our conversation yesterday morning.


Posted by: Jason | December 9, 2009

Transfer 2

Guangzhou >>>>>>>>> Guiyang

The plane ride from Guangzhou was mostly uneventful, although we did get a lot of wide-eyed looks while we boarded.  Actually, one woman was filming us on her camera filmed us as we filed back to our seats.  Our group is a spectacle in Guiyang – we didn’t even turn heads in Hong Kong or Guangzhou. 

Guiyang, actually, is one of the most interesting stops on our trip.  Part of that is the people we’ll be meeting with, but it’s also because Guiyang is well off the regular tourist route.  Guangzhou is in the wealthiest province in China, and Guiyang is in the poorest – it’s a difference of $5410 USD per capita GDP versus $1270.  Not a lot of international tour groups stop here – most fly right over on their way to Chongqing or Yichong.  It’s a good fit for our group, though.  New North, an economic group in Wisconsin with an interest in sustainable economic development, would like to cultivate a relationship with their counterparts in Guizhou province.  Similarly, Guizhou is interested in developing a sister-state relationship with Wisconsin, because we share a number of similiar economic and geographic features.   In addition, we’ll be meeting with faculty and students at two academic institutions – the Karst Institute at Guizhou Normal University, as well as the Geochemistry Institute at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.  There are a number of connections to be made and relationships to be cultivated in Guiyang, and I’m glad we could make the stop. 

Plus, there’s a park with wild monkeys and our bus is named the Dragon in Flight.  You can’t beat wild monkeys and a flying dragon-bus.


Posted by: Jason | December 9, 2009

Meanwhile in Wisconsin

It’s been colder than usual in this part of China – around 40 F, as opposed to 50-55 F  (the normal range for this season).  My wife just e-mailed pictures of the snowstorm that hit Appleton yesterday, and believe me, none of us are complaining about 40 F.


If I can take a second to plug a local Fox Cities business, Modern Sheet Metal HVAC is incredible.  Our furnace’s heat-exchanger cracked three days ago, and they replaced it with a high-efficiency unit this morning.  According to my wife, they’ve been fantastic at every turn.  In fact, the furnace would have gone in yesterday, but the owner said to her, “You know, I’m just not happy with your ductwork, and if you don’t mind waiting one more day, I’d really like to rebuild it for you.”  Of course that’s all included in the estimate I gave you.”  So if I can use this platform to send some business their direction, I’m happy to do it.  Plus, home energy use is a non-trivial environmental issue.  According to the Energy Star website, “Upgrading your furnace or boiler from 56% to 90% efficiency in an average cold-climate house will save 1.5 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year if you heat with gas, or 2.5 tons if you heat with oil.”  The furnace Modern Sheet Metal carried out of our basement was installed in 1991, so it was old enough to be reaching the end of its anticipated lifespan.  They replaced it with a 95% AFUE model with a high-efficiency, constantly-blowing fan.  So three cheers for home energy efficiency, and three cheers for Modern Sheet Metal HVAC.  Think Modern Sheet Metal HVAC for all your heating ventilation and air conditioning needs.  Modern Sheet Metal HVAC. 

Posted by: Jason | December 9, 2009

Letters Home

Dear Nico’s Mom and Steve’s Mom,

Nico and Steve told me you read the blog every day – awesome, thanks! Don’t worry about them – I’m making sure they eat 5 servings of vegetables, brushing their teeth, and not drinking tap water. Definitely, definitely not drinking tap water.

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