I’ve been in Beijing for a few days, but in contrast to most of my previous trips here, my schedule thus far has been driven more by happenstance and serendipity than planning.
My first evening, I attended a free lecture organized by Columbia University at Studio X on the subject of ” Beijing: The Implications of Urban Aging in World Cities” with Michael Gusmano, Assistant Professor of Health Policy and Management at the Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. I hesitated before going to this session as it didn’t seem to be the sort of topic that would help me stay awake and fight jet lag, but Gusmano was excellent and shared much about the lethal side of social networks deficits of some elder citizens.
During the 2003 great heat wave in Europe for instance, Gusmano argues that there were 1200 “excess deaths” of older aged people in Paris — most probably due to the fact that their relations and much of the population had gone South and that these folks were not checked up on — in contrast to Rome which hired young people to bike around the city knocking on doors of older aged citizens and helping with water and other needs. I also learned that the world had 20 mega-cities today with populations greater than 20 million — but that in coming decades we will have 23 mega-cities, with populations on average significantly older than the case today.
About 50 people attended the meeting — a mix of mostly Chinese alums, some current Columbia undergrads in language programs here and some other notables including SIPA Professor Merit Janow and China expert Daniel Rosen.
On the second day in Beijing, I attended another networking gathering as the guest of a Beijing-based former New America Foundation research assistant Oliver Lough, an energy analyst.
One could just float from event to event in this city — every day, lunch and dinner, often hosted with beer, not so good wine, and light pick up food by leading NGOs and other organizations trying to drill down and fasten themselves into what China is becoming.
The meeting I attended with Ollie Lough and attended by about 80 folks was organized by the Beijing Energy Network and started with a short presentation on an interesting web-based resource called ChinaFAQs — an information network for climate-related and energy policy resources in China. The World Resources Institute is the sponsor of the site and had a few of its people comment on the legislative prospects for climate change legislation passing the US Congress this year.
Interesting material presented — though I think that WRI Legislative Affairs Director Christina Deconcini was far more optimistic than I would have been about the prospects for any — even utility industry focused — climate related legislation passing this year. I hope I’m wrong. She made an interesting point that WRI was working to see what was ‘achievable’ through executive order and regulatory approaches to carbon emissions controls that didn’t depend on legislative outcomes.
I asked DeConcini how far such an approach would get the US toward the climate goals Obama declared in Copenhagen — and she unfortunately responded that WRI was not going to announce those figures to the group that had assembled that evening at the Beijing Energy Network and that the results were embargoed for another week. It would have been more interesting frankly to have a hint or some discussion on whether a regulatory approach would yield anything serious — but that discussion was not to be had that night in lieu of a hoped for press splash.
But the key thing is that there was an excellent roster of folks at this meeting, which interestingly was held in English rather than Chinese — and subsequently made me wonder if any such meetings of this sort were going on with Chinese language speakers who clearly are more at the core of national power structures here than those who have a facility in English.
I don’t know the answer to that.
— Steve Clemons