(This is the final in a series of posts from our Green Alternatives Department that is currently conducting its first China-U.S. Exchange Program. These posts are written by Green Alternatives Department Intern, Antonia Malhi.)

Overlooking the Russian River at the Highland Dell Inn. photo: June Brashares

This past weekend was the final part of our US China Exchange program.  We had planned to spend Saturday around the North Bay wine country, even though are members do not drink they enjoyed the scenic views the area has to offer.  They enjoyed a picturesque dinner and sunset from the deck of the Highland Dell Restaurant on the Russian River.

Sunday morning was an early start and the beginning of the long drive from Sonoma County to Yosemite Park.  Along the drive, we mentioned important environmentally related areas along the way. As we drove through Richmond, we explained how the presence of the Chevron oil refinery has been plaguing the city’s residents with health problems caused by the pollution released into the air.  We also mentioned Global Exchange’s own Antonia Juhasz’s work on the anti Chevron campaign.  A little further down the road, we mentioned how the now Emeryville Bay Street shopping center was once and industrial waste site that underwent brownfield remediation to become the establishment it is today.  When driving through Livermore we were sure to point out the wind turbines and to explain how they provide clean electrical power to Bay Area homes.  Who would have thought that this route was a green route?

Hiking at Yosemite
photo: June Brashares

We made sure to make a quick lunch stop to watch the World Cup final since our members are HUGE soccer fans.  Happy they were able to catch the game, we continued on to Yosemite Valley.  After checking in and some exploration of the park they decided to call it a night.  On Monday, we were able fit in a short hike and made sure to get a photo of our participants hiking with their Global Exchange gear!

Unfortunately, some of our members were called back to China early for work and had to cut their trip short.  After dinner we returned to San Francisco since they had an early flight out the next morning.  We had originally planned to bring them into Global Exchange Tuesday morning to meet the rest of the staff, and then head over to the Global Exchange store for some Fair Trade shopping and a farewell lunch, but because of the unexpected schedule change we couldn’t make it happen.

We wish our participants a safe trip home and thank them for participating in our program.   We are grateful for every one of them and hope they go back to their homes with an understanding on the importance of sustainable living and that their expectations of this trip were met.  We hope to keep in touch and to keep our Global Exchange network updated on the progress they are making related to what they learned on this trip.  Thank you again and we will be in touch soon!

(This is the third in a series of posts from our Green Alternatives Department that is currently conducting its first China-U.S. Exchange Program. These posts are written by Green Alternatives Department Intern, Antonia Malhi.)

Learning about categorization at Ferry Building Farmers Market. photo: Antonia Malhi

Our “walk” through of California’s green economy for our guests is turning out to be a great success. We have taken them to the San Francisco Ferry Building for an explanation of sustainable farming and continued examples of San Francisco’s trash sorting practices.  While we were there, we took in the scenic views of the Bay Bridge and then hurried off to Berkeley, where we met with Dan Knap at Urban Ore to hear his story of trash to treasure and successful business.

Then we met with GAIA (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives – Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance), an organization of anti-incineration activists.  This was a particularly special meeting.  Two of the participants in our tour work for a large incineration company in China, and feel that incineration is the greenest option that works.  This meeting with GAIA allowed them to understand that the key to overcome the obstacle of handling mixed waste is categorization.  Sorting the trash from compostables and recyclables allows each material to be disposed of properly, and thus incineration will be less necessary.

Ready to go at Recology. photo: Antonia Malhi

The essence of this program is to promote green alternatives to the status quo in China; this idea seemed to solidify for the entire group at the GAIA meeting.  June, Sunny and I felt a great sense of accomplishment as we headed to the California Academy of Sciences for a night of learning and lighthearted fun.

Friday morning we met with Recology, San Francisco’s waste handling company that has implemented the fantastic three bin model.  We took a tour of the facility and learned about the goal of a 75% waste diversion rate by 2011. Currently the city boasts a diversion rate of 73%.

At the Golden Gate Bridge. photo: Antonia Malhi

After Recology, we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge, which was an unforgettable experience for our group.  We stopped in Sausalito for a look back at the rest of the Bay and then proceeded on to Sebastopol for a campfire and Fair Trade s’mores making. Yum!

Sunday they will be heading to Yosemite for an overnight stay.  Sadly, the trip is winding down quicker than we all expected.

(This is the second in a series of posts from our Green Alternatives Department that is currently conducting its first China-U.S. Exchange Program. These posts are written by Green Alternatives Department Intern, Antonia Malhi.)

Our US-China Exchange Group. photo: Antonia Malhi

July 6th was the official first day of the US-China Exchange Tour!  June, (my supervisor), Sunny and I have been waiting for this day for months. Finally it was time to meet our guests, whom we have been working so hard to bring here and to create an amazing and informative program for. We couldn’t wait to get started.

We all met in the lobby of the Orchard Garden Hotel, one of California’s premier green hotels.  After the simple greetings we piled into the shuttle and were off.  First stop, Ghirardelli Square.  A fantastic and yummy tourist spot right?  Yes, but it is also a great green shopping center.  We got a green tour of the square which explained to our guests, through Sunny’s translation, how the garbage is sorted in traditional SF fashion: Compost, Recyclables and Trash.  Also, how they are saving money by using LED lights in the buildings and in the famous Ghirardelli sign.  We also toured the hotel/fractional home part of the square to learn about how they are making the historic building greener while still playing by the historical sight restoration rules.  Our guests were very impressed by the amount of money saved by these simple green changes.  And saved money is a good thing in every culture!

Sunny Xiao and Ziming Yao pose at Ghirardelli Square. photo: Antonia Malhi

Next stop, Crissy Field.  We got a great presentation by one of the resident ecologists about the history of the area from pre-European times through the present day.  He gave some great visuals about how much of San Francisco was “created” by dumping debris from the 1906 earthquake into the bay. Crissy field is brownfield that had to be re-mediated to become the living marsh that it is today.  Destroying the army base and re-planting the area with native plants was a long process, but now the field has “been given back to the Bay.”  A great visual place to emphasize the fact that being more environmentally aware is beautiful as well as beneficial.

On the way to dinner we did drove to Ocean Beach, through Golden Gate Park, and to the top of Twin Peaks.  Breathtaking.  The guests loved seeing the city from a birds eye view and, with some help, were able to point out the places we had been that day.

Our group at Crissy Field. photo: Antonia Malhi

We ended dinner at Samovar, a tea room and restaurant one of my fellow GX interns works at and referred me to.  They loved the tea, but I am not so sure about the food… maybe a little too far from what they are used to.  But, they were pretty jet-lagged so we decided to call it a night.

A great first day.

(This is the first in a series of posts from our Green Alternatives Department that is currently conducting its first China-U.S. Exchange Program. These posts are written by Green Alternatives Department Intern, Antonia Malhi.)

The Green Alternatives Department at Global Exchange promotes green education through community connections in the local green economy.  Our purpose is to be advocates of green development and educate our community about why green living is necessary and the benefits that come from it.

Our version of a Global Exchange Reality Tour is the China-U.S. Exchange Program. The  program’s aim is to promote collaboration between the United States and China, particularly focused on the green economy and sustainability. The California Local Green Economy Tour explores the different aspects of green economic development in the area and provides the opportunity to create “people-to-people” connections for business, government and academic associations in the United States and China.  Our US-China Green Exchange Program will be based in the San Francisco Bay Area and includes visiting green businesses, seeing local clean energy generation, connecting with San Francisco City government, and learning about green concepts from the perspective of Buddhism.

All of the participants are former colleagues and associates of Sunny Xiao, who is the program coordinator for these types of reality tours here at Global Exchange.  Through correspondence with her former colleagues, she realized their desire to learn more about California’s green economy.  She developed this tour to facilitate collaboration between Chinese businesses and California green businesses.

My name is Antonia Malhi and I am an intern with the Green Alternatives Department who helped organize the tour.  And after much planning and anticipation the group is here!  I will be blogging several times during their stay to showcase the highlights of the tour.  So stay tuned for US-China Exchange Program updates!

Over 5,000 Americans and untold numbers of civilians have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since September 11, 2001.  Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on these military operations and the long term associated costs are projected to run into the trillions.

On June 1, our national debt topped $13 trillion- nearly 90% of the United States’ GDP.  The IMF projects that by 2012, our national debt will overtake it.  While the bulk of this debt can be attributed to our unregulated financial system, it is clear that our military budget comprises a significant percentage of it.

The deeper we dig ourselves into this hole the more difficult it will be to get out of it as our public officials raise interest rates to compensate for our lendors’ increasing loss of confidence.  Unemployment will increase and social safety nets will begin to fray as our foreign financial obligations place stress on the system.  Just as the 18th century British empire expected of the thirteen colonies, foreign powers will exact political concessions in our foreign and domestic affairs in exchange for continued financial patronage.

Looking past our immediate situation, it is important to ask how we got here in order to find a way out.  The short answer is that we have chosen dependence on a system we no longer have control of.  Just as we’ve become dependent on a financial empire that our elected representatives decided was too big to fail, we have allowed these same officials to cede our power to an empire of oil.

Our insatiable, unthinking consumption has over the last century spurred the industry’s expansion into markets around the world in collaboration with U.S. government officials and foreign elites, many of whom are fundamentally opposed to such ideas as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and no taxation without representation. These negotiations have sown the seeds of political strife, instability and transnational terrorism as the United States has become increasingly complicit in the human rights violations of autocratic governments.

To continue along the path of dependency on these regimes is to invite continued conflict and the ever-expanding national security state that inevitably comes with it. Viewed from this perspective, we see that there is a clear link between our national security, our civil liberties and our energy policy.

Today the United States is dependent on foreign sources to meet more than 55% of its total oil demand because of decades of expedient but short-sighted policy decisions. It is clear that we must build support across the political spectrum for a change of course.

Whether one believes that government should have an active role in the economy or that its role is simply to safeguard our nation from threats to our security, its support for domestic renewable energy is vital.  This support could come in the form of subsidy cuts to an oil industry that long ago reached maturity and internalization of environmental costs it has long externalized.  Though the American public might be led to believe otherwise, an industry that vastly outspends its renewable competitors in lobbying can surely afford to operate without such government support.

One could argue further that government should have a limited role in actively supporting nascent industries critical to our nation’s security. Alexander Hamilton went so far as to argue that government support for manufactures was a matter of national security in that it would reduce America’s dependency on the British empire, which like all empires attached political and economic strings to its support. Dependence on the prevailing market forces of the time would have left the United States militarily vulnerable- a primary exporter of agricultural products with no industrial base with which to produce armaments to fend off the foreign powers of the day.

Today we find ourselves dependent on an unstable global energy market for the transport of our most basic and vital commodities, including the food that sustains our cities.  It is slowly but surely becoming clear to more and more Americans that our military is engaged around the world in support of an irresponsible energy security policy that has cost many lives to sustain and that we can do better if we build the political will.

The 4th of July is a day to remember that despite the places in history where we have fallen short as a nation, the ideals on which our country was founded endure.   It is our responsibility as citizens to understand our past and safeguard our future by challenging what we take for granted about the way we live.  By declaring our independence from oil we prepare ourselves for the difficult but necessary policy battles that will shape our future as a proud, free and principled nation.

T.J. Buonomo is a Chevron Program Associate with Global Exchange and founder and editor of Citizens for a Sovereign and Democratic Iraq.  He is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and former Military Intelligence Officer, U.S. Army.

For Further Reading:

Bacevich, Andrew.  The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced By War. Oxford University Press; 2005.

“China Cuts Holdings of U.S. Treasuries.” Associated Press; 16 February 2010.

EIA’s Energy in Brief: How Dependent Are We on Foreign Oil?  Accessed
28 June 2010: http://www.eia.doe.gov/energy_in_brief/foreign_oil_dependence.cfm

Hamilton, Alexander.  Alexander Hamilton: Writings.  Library of America, 2001.

Juhasz, Antonia.  The Tyranny of Oil: The World’s Most Powerful Industry- And What We Must Do To Stop It. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008.

Kinzer, Stephen.  All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror.  Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2008.

Klare, Michael T.  Blood and Oil.  New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004.

Kleveman, Lutz.  The New Great Game: Blood and Oil in Central Asia.  Grove Press; 2004.

Knoller, Mark.  “National Debt Tops $13 Trillion For First Time.” CBS News, 2 June 2010.

Lawrence, Bruce.  Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden.  Verso, 2005.

Mulrine, Anna.  “Will Cost of Afghanistan War Become a 2010 Campaign Issue?” U.S. News & World Report; 11 June 2010.

Reynolds, Garfield & Goodman, Wes.  “U.S.’s $13 Trillion Debt Poised to Overtake GDP.” Bloomberg; 4 June 2010.

Sampson, Anthony.  The Seven Sisters: The Great Oil Companies & the World They Shaped.  New York: The Viking Press, Inc., 1975.

Shwadran, Benjamin.  The Middle East, Oil and the Great Powers.  New York: Halstead Press, 1973.

Stocking, George W.  Middle East Oil: A Study in Political and Economic Controversy. Vanderbilt University Press, 1970.

Tiron, Roxana.  “U.S. Spending $3.6 Billion a Month in Afghanistan According to CRS Report.” The Hill; 14 October 2009.

Weiner, Tim.  Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA.  Anchor Books, 2008.

By Kevin Danaher

The ethnic Tibetan farmer carves up yak meat for a barbeque our group of visiting Americans is about to share with local villagers in Shangri-La, China. Suddenly, we hear a strange chirping sound, like an exotic bird trapped in a tin can. The farmer puts down his knife and pulls out a cell phone that is better quality than any I have ever owned.

China is full of contradictions. The booming economy has lifted several hundred million people out of poverty, yet inequality has worsened. Rapid economic growth has made China a serious global competitor with the United States, yet that economic success has also produced severe environmental problems. There is now a significant middle class, but the government is not ready to give this educated class the kinds of political freedoms that educated people usually expect.

On a recent two-week Reality Tour, our Global Exchange delegation met with intellectuals, workers, students, farmers, small businesspeople, and a growing class of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that holds great promise for the future of Chinese democracy. These NGOs are part of a grassroots movement for change that is increasingly militant in pressing for social justice and environmental sustainability. An August 2005 special report on China in Business Week reported that, “A grassroots movement of activists and lawyers is helping increasingly assertive workers get their due.” Robin Munro, Research Director of the China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong human rights organization, says, “It’s a de facto labor movement happening in China.”

Everywhere we went in China people were very eager to engage us and learn more about the United States (the Chinese symbols for America transliterate as “beautiful country”). We were surprised by how many people in China can speak some English and want to learn more; English is now taught at all levels of school, and college entrance exams include testing in English. While I stood on the banks of the churning Yangtze River at Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan province, a middle-aged Chinese woman asked me, “Are you from America?” I told her about our Reality Tour group, and this touched off 20 minutes of congenial dialogue about how the average citizens of our two countries need to unify in order to keep our governments from generating hostility toward each other.

Most of the news we get in the US is about China’s economic muscle, and it is undeniable that China’s economic development has been phenomenal. While the United States runs massive trade and budget deficits and is sinking deeper into debt, China has accumulated a cash reserve or more than $700 billion. The combination of a well-educated but low-paid workforce and a large internal market attracts more than $55 billion per year in new foreign investment.

China’s domestic economy is reaping the benefits of the country’s international competitiveness. There are now some 350 million cell phone users in China — more than the entire population of the United States. China’s passenger car market sold three million cars this year, which ranks them third in the world. China is also graduating four times as many engineers as the United States, and the country’s emphasis on English-language training at all levels of schooling will better equip them to compete for foreign investment.

But China’s phenomenal economic growth is racking up a severe environmental and social price tag: pollution costs the country more than $54 billion per year; six of the world’s ten most polluted cities are in China; acid rain falls on one-third of the country; 80% of the country’s sewage flows untreated into its waterways; and contaminated water kills more than 300,000 children per year.

In response, there is a growing consciousness of environmentalism, and an increasingly sophisticated NGO focus on healing the environment. Our tour partner in China, Wild China, is staffed by a talented mix of Americans and Chinese who have considerable expertise on environmental issues. They organize eco-tours to all corners of the country.

Climbing through the hill country of Yunnan province in southern China, we visited the beautiful village of Haixi, where the Nature Conservancy has teamed up with local villagers to create model ecological systems. The human, animal and plant waste of the village goes into a biodigester that produces methane gas. The gas is then piped into the school kitchen where students cook their own meals using vegetables grown in their own greenhouse just outside the school.

Our group also met with Wen Bo, a Beijing-based representative of Pacific Environment, an NGO based in San Francisco that has helped organize a network of scientists, academics, NGOs, students, and media professionals in China (Save China’s Seas Network). They are linking up academics and activists to address issues such as the trade in endangered marine species, and unsustainable fishing methods that are depleting China’s waters.

China’s incipient people’s power movement is impressive, but it is confronted by major obstacles: a repressive government, massive natural resource constraints, and a population that is just now becoming aware of the environmental costs of their newfound economic prosperity.

In our meetings with Chinese NGOs it was clear that this growing movement for workers rights, civil rights, and environmental protection could blossom into a powerful democratizing force. Yet the political opening for NGOs is recent, and they are just learning the ropes. These NGOs would benefit from more people-to-people exchanges with U.S.-based activists and grassroots groups. And the Americans visiting China would get a much more realistic appraisal of the Chinese people than they will ever get from the U.S. media.