Sheri Liao, China's green fighter: putting a major polluter on the green path.

Author:Cure, Katherine
Position:COMMENTARY - Interview
 
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Connecticut's Fairfield University, a Jesuit institution, is going green with a comprehensive strategy that includes recycling, energy and water conservation and several environmental academic programs. As part of that program, it recently hosted Sheri Liao, founder and president of Global Village of Beijing (GVB), a Chinese nonprofit that promotes eco-friendly lifestyles. Invited to receive an honorary Ph.D. in law, the soft-spoken philosopher, journalist and environmentalist addressed China's green initiatives just as China exceeded the U.S. as the world's largest global warming emitter. "Chinese issues are the world's issues," she declared with considerable justification.

Formerly a visiting environmental scholar at the University of North Carolina, Liao gave up academic life to return to her home country and create the award-winning GVB. "The world might need more Ph.Ds, but what China really needs is an environmental group," she says. Launched in 1996, mostly with American financial support, GVB has been working ever since to make China green. It's a gargantuan task.

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China: A Global Polluter

Combining a huge land area, a population of 1.3 billion, status as the world's manufacturer and a steady commitment to rapid economic growth, it's not surprising that China is at the very top of the list when it comes to global polluters. With the U.S., it is responsible for more than half of global greenhouse emissions, and according to the New York Times, current trends will see it producing 40 percent of these emissions by 2025.

Seventy-five percent of China's huge manufacturing sector runs on coal-fired electricity. Coal is both cheap and abundant in China, but its combustion produces carbon dioxide, the main contributor to global warming. A new coal plant opens almost every week in China, contributing to the already extensive smoke clouds that cover almost all of China's heavily populated cities. According to GVB, a sixth of China's land is deteriorating, and 5,000 species are threatened. There are severe and growing fresh water shortages, and some 80 percent of China's sewage is still discharged directly into rivers and lakes.

In Beijing, smog and smoke are so heavy that visibility is reduced and air unsafe to breathe. Cases of lung cancer and other respiratory diseases have dramatically increased and more than 400,000 people per year are believed to die prematurely of causes related to poor air quality. Increasingly...

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