How Baoding, China became the world's first "carbon positive" city.
(by Tyler Burton, crossposted from The Breakthrough Blog)
100 miles southwest of Beijing, a green revolution is underway; and it began, as Peter Ford of the Christian Science Monitor reports, with a "bad case of smelly fish".
Yu Qun (pictured) had only recently been elected mayor of Baoding, China when fish in the region's largest lake began to die by the thousands. In his mind, this could only be the direct result of pollution from the several hundred factories which lined the river's banks. So Mr. Yu took a drastic but, in the long run, incredibly fortuitous step: he closed the factories.
This move cost his city large points at first with the Central Government. His annual economic growth was down almost two percentage points; but Mr. Yu had a plan:
"Polluting first and cleaning up later is very expensive," says the boyish-looking mayor, a former college math teacher. "So we chose renewable energy to replace traditional industry."
In three years, Yu has transformed Baoding from an automobile and textile town into the fastest-growing hub of solar, wind, and biomass energy-equipmentmakers in China. Baoding now has the highest growth rate of any city in Hebei Province. Its "Electricity Valley" industrial cluster - consciously modeled on Silicon Valley - has quadrupled its business.
Of course, Mr. Yu met large resistance at first. Many officials in the provincial and central governments thought he was "impractical", that "renewable energy was 30 or 40 years away..." (Sound familiar?) But Yu persisted, and his persistence paid off.
Such has been the success of his perseverance, and of the advantages that Baoding offered new "green-tech" investors, that the city now houses nearly 200 renewable energy companies. One of them makes blades for wind farms in Texas. Another is providing the solar panels for the largest solar power station in the world, in Portugal.As America struggles to retool its aging manufacturing sector, perhaps one city's success at sloughing off its own burden of pollution can offer inspiration. A word to city planners far and wide: we might do well to look towards our own pragmatic Mr. Yu's. If we dare to make bold choices with a slant towards the future, what can we accomplish in 3 years?
"New energy has become a pillar industry in our city," the mayor says. Within two years, he forecasts, it will have overtaken the auto and textile sectors as the most important mainstay of the local economy.
And what's good for Baoding may be good for the world. By one reckoning, the city is the world's first to go "carbon positive": The carbon saved annually worldwide through the use of equipment made here outweighs the city's own emissions.