But those two particular birds may be killed with one stone. A few reports lately have highlighted China’s prominence in the burgeoning ‘cleantech’ field. This Red Herring report says China is the world’s second-largest destination for cleantech funding, below the US and after Europe. Then there’s going to be a cleantech business park in Xuzhou. Another Red Herring piece talks up China’s solar-cell manufacturers, and their roaring business.
All this cleantech action is going on against a backdrop of shocking environmental messes. Wuxi had to seed clouds with silver iodide rockets to wash away a sickly green algae canopy that covered its main tap water source, Tai Lake. Then there are Jiangsu province’s ‘cancer villages‘, which account for the nation’s highest cancer rates, caused by heavily polluted water supplies. Finally, a chemical factory being constructed in Xiamen has triggered mass protests because residents fear its polluting side-effects.
The central government seems serious about fighting pollution and protecting the environment. It released its first national climate change plan today. The plan talks about energy efficiency and renewable energy.
This is where China could profit handsomely. Government support, profit-hungry venture capitalists and public pressure could combine to create a real innovation engine in China’s cleantech industry. Alternative energy, smart buildings and so on could propel Chinese companies to the front of the global cleantech stage. These industries would create technologies that overlap with existing ones; China could end up producing a world-beating, low-cost hybrid car, for example.
Going green, then, could help China sharpen its innovation edge while solving its terrible environmental problems. Unlikely though it seems now, peering at Shanghai’s smoggy skies and weird-tasting water, a clean and green China could be the way of the future. Necessity, after all, is the mother of invention.