Archive for the ‘Digital Politics’ Category

In my recent and frequent visits to the airport bookstore, I’ve been tempted to pick up the latest bestseller, “The Four Hour Work Week.” I opted to save trees and just visit author Timothy Ferris’s blog instead. Among the many topics this 21st century Renaissance man pontificates on is how to write and keep up a blog.  Tip #5:  The best posts are often right in front of you, or the ones you avoid.  With appreciation to Tim’s inspiration, I am finally going to comment on an article from the WSJ I’ve been carrying around for over six months.  

“Green Protests Derail Chinese Chemical Plan,’ reads the May 31, 2007 headline. Shai Oster reported how nearly a million online and cell phone text messages were sent expressing strong opposition to plans to build a chemical plant close to city center in Xiamen. Despite heavy pressure apparently from Beijing officials, a local mayor was quoted as saying, “the city government has listened to the opinions expressed and has decided after careful deliberation that the project must be re-evaluated.”   

Having visited China in the early ‘90s with a group of Capitol Hill staff, I was stunned by both the technological sophistication and open outrage expressed by opponents and equally shocked that the city official bucked authorities higher in the government food chain. This is simply not the China I remember seeing just 15 years ago. 

Of course, my government-sanctioned and highly-choreographed tour barely provided a peak behind the curtain of Chinese life. But my recollections do not include a strong sense of freedom of speech.  Nor do I remember hearing much about grassroots environmental concerns or seeing widespread use of modern technologies. I remember people in major metropolitan sleeping on dusty mats in front of their house to stay cool at night. What progress!     

Two colleagues just returned from Beijing, and I was sorry to hear confirmed what I’ve read.  The city is thick with pollution and bursting at the seams with commercialism.  It is a reminder that progress has a price tag. The freedom to speak also leads to the freedom to buy, which creates opportunity and challenges for sustainability of the environment and mankind.

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