Friday, December 12, 2008

Why Can We Drink a Bottle of Mineral Water on any Street Corner of any City?

Why Can We Drink a Bottle of Mineral Water on any Street Corner of any City?
The Transforming Chains of Matter and Energy of the Globe in the Age of Limited Earth

TIAN Song(田松)

The Institute of History and Philosophy of Science
College of Philosophy and Sociology
Beijing Normal University

Why can we drink a bottle of mineral water coming from some remote mountain or lake on any street corner of any city whenever we like? Such a thing happens so frequently that we do not feel any strangeness about it; it’s our daily life. Only 20 years ago, when bottled water was put in supermarkets, most Chinese viewed it as weird: who will be so rich and silly to buy it? How things change! What does it mean?
Why can we drink a bottle of mineral water in Beijing’s streets? The simple answer is: we are able to buy it, and we are able to afford it. One bottle only costs 1.5 RMB(~0.20$) or less in a supermarket. Why can we buy it and afford it? While asking the question, we can go through the economic chain from our hand back to the water source, and reach a conclusion. Because of economic development, we can exploit mineral water from the source at low cost, bottle it, and transport it all over the globe at low cost. The cost is definitely low; otherwise, we can’t afford it. This is the upper link of the transformation of mineral water. The consequence of the upper link is: 1, a large amount of water is taken away from its original place; and 2, the water will no longer play its original ecological role for humans, animals and plants there! The water company definitely does not pay enough compensation to humans, animals and plants; otherwise, the water will be too expensive to buy.
Only considering the upper link of the economic chain is not enough to explain my question. If we recall the whole process as we drink the bottled water in a city street, we may wake up to our actions which we neglected to think about.
Why can we drink a bottle of mineral water in Beijing’s streets? Because we can throw the empty bottle into any garbage can in the streets. This thoughtless action concerns the latter half of the economic chain. The succeeding question is: Why can we throw the empty bottle into any garbage can? Because the garbage in the can will be transported to some garbage dump outside Beijing by a large group of cleaners employed by Beijing’s government. Why can Beijing build garbage dumps outside the city? Because Beijing is able to buy the land for its garbage dumps at a low price by its economic and politic power. The cost is definitely low; otherwise, we can’t afford the mineral water in the city. Keep asking questions in this way as we go through the latter half of the economic chain.
What’s the consequence of the downside link? It means that humans, animals, and plants which were living in the location of the garbage dump can’t live there as before. For the same reason, the compensation must not be enough for humans, animals and plants too. So, in order to drink a bottle of water in a street of a city, an ecological system of the place for a garbage dump was destroyed.
The importance of this latter half is no less than the former half. If Beijing did not have garbage dumps outside the city, if you are not allowed to throw the bottle you just used into a garbage can, but you have to keep it in your bag; or keep it in your home, will you drink bottle after bottle of water without any hesitation? I believe that when you must keep many bottles, you will be afraid to take the bottle, even when the bottled water is ‘free’.
The transforming chain of bottled water is just a symbolic demonstration for everything in modern cities, such as a TV set, cell phone, computer, handbag, car, building, highway, and so on. Everything in modern cities goes along the same economic chain.
This economic chain is also a chain of transformation of energy and matter.

We have only one earth. This slogan is common sense now, but I still want to say it further. This slogan is usually interpreted in this way: the earth is limited, energy and resources are limited, so it’s necessary to use our resources carefully so that we can continue to develop a longer time into the future. But this interpretation considers only the upper link of the transforming chain of energy and matter, i.e., the former half the economic chain. Considering the downside link of the transforming chain of energy and matter, i.e., the latter half of the economic chain, we need to add: the capacity for containing garbage is limited too.
The vitality of a living person is based on two premises: 1, taking food in, 2, giving waste off. The orderliness of a regularly running city is based on two similar premises: 1, energy and mass in a low entropy state, such as food, vegetables, water, coal, oil, natural gas, electricity, etc. are continuously transported from the outside; 2, energy and matter in a high entropy state is continually transported to the outside. Comparing this with a heat engine, the more powerful it is, the more energy and material need to be imported and the more waste it must discharge. Garbage or waste is not avoidable in the running of a heat engine. This is a simple application of the second law of thermodynamics. No heat engine is 100% efficient. Otherwise, it is, in fact, a perpetual motion machine. A modernized city, like a huge heat engine, connects the two ends of the transforming chain of energy and matter: the one end is forest, minerals and natural water in a low entropy state, the other is garbage in a high entropy state. The higher level of modernization of the city, the more powerful the heat engine, the more capacity it has to produces garbage.
Here, garbage should be regarded as a general term, including solid state garbage, the original meaning of the word, which is put into garbage cans first and is dumped into a garbage dump; liquid state garbage, i.e. waste water, which is ceaselessly discharged into rivers, lakes and seas; gaseous state garbage, i.e. waste gas, which is interminably sluiced into the sky. The latter two directly join into the globalized flow of matter, and definitely aggravate air pollution and water pollution on a global scale, no matter whether they are treated. In this way, pollution can be viewed as garbage in a dispersed state.
Generalizing the statement above, one conclusion is: in any modernized area on a global scale, the modernization is based on two premises: 1, the energy and resources are provided from non-modernized areas or sub-modernized areas of the globe; 2, garbage is discharged to those same areas. Therefore, modernization is like a ‘food chain’. The upriver nations or areas not only take the resources of the downriver, but also discharge their garbage into the downriver. Furthermore, any country which is engaged in modernization has to find and hold its own downriver.
Not all nations or areas can find and hold the downriver for their own.

During most of human history, compared with human capacity for making use of nature, the earth was almost unlimited and the potential for development was also regarded as unlimited. During these earlier times, the development level a nation was able to reach ultimately depended on the energy and resources which were readily available to the nation. In those times, technology worked in two aspects: 1, to exploit energy and resources in greater amount and more quickly; 2, to make use of resources and energy more effectively. Because of the seemingly unlimited earth, new places could always be found and used as garbage dumps. So the garbage issue was only a simple issue related with saving or thrift, piddling and nonsignificant; while the energy and resource issue were tied to national policy.
In my opinion, we are in the last stage of the industrial civilization. The trinity of industrial civilization is the ideology of capitalism, the capitalistic economic system, and institutional science and technology. The classical capitalistic economy is based on the very premise of an unlimited earth. According to Adam Smith, the founder of classical capitalistic economy, through economic activity, different areas can interchange goods with each other, and reach a multiple-win result. Even under an unfair distributing proportion, all areas which join the economic system can obtain more production. That is so-called enlarging the cake. To enlarge the economic cake, it is necessary to develop new markets, to find new business partners, to exploit new resources, and to find new places to dump garbage. In this way, the cake can be bigger and bigger, the living standard of every area can be higher and higher. This multiple-win model is still accepted by most countries. So, more and more countries join the global capitalistic economic system, actively or passively.
But now, we have entered a new period of history, I call it the Age of Limited Earth. We have only one earth, and the earth is limited. In the Age of Limited Earth, the capitalistic economic cake has to face its upper limitation immediately, i.e., the earth itself.

To overcome the upper limitation of the cake, many people still pin their hopes on future science and technology. They hope that unlimited science and technology can break through the limitations of the earth. In fact, the validity of our contemporary life is based on future technologies which are not yet invented. Just like a credit plan, we are spending the money we do not have.
A strong belief in science and technology has a long history. Optimists imagined and expected many future technologies to solve the problem of energy and resources. It is often said that when wood was nearly exhausted, there was a new technology for using coal; when coal was far from exhausted, there was a new technology for using oil and natural gas. Consequently, humans will definitely invent alternative energy and resources in the future, and make the cake bigger and bigger. This imagination considers only the upper link of the transformation chain of energy and resources. Considering the downlink of the chain, we find that, no matter how highly developed the technology, the amount of garbage may only be cut down, but it can’t be eliminated; otherwise, the second law of thermodynamics is disobeyed. The energy problem can probably be solved by new technology, for example, if cold fusion is realized, theoretically, we will possess infinite energy. But, this will make the garbage problem and resource problem more serious. Because of that, the more energy input into an engine, the more raw materials it needs; and the more garbage it will output.
Therefore, I assert that, the garbage crisis will exceed the energy crisis, resource crisis, and food crisis, and will become the most severe problem in the near future. I even assert that the next large scale war will not be for taking something in, but for forcing something out.
Obviously, in the Age of Limited Earth, globalized monolithic modernization can’t be realized. Simply speaking, if only half of Chinese people live the same way as Americans, the resources of the earth can’t be sufficient and hardly any place can be found to dump the garbage right now.
The industrial civilization is definitely an unsustainable civilization. This provides the background for us to think about the problems of modernized globalization and globalized modernization.

For this situation, globalized modernization means to contest global resources. To maintain and lift their modernization level, the upriver nations and areas must ensure that they can obtain energy and resources from the downriver, and discharge their garbage to the downriver. The unification of a global economy means that the energy and resources of the earth converge into one transformation chain. The goods in supermarkets remind us that globalization is not only a symbol on paper, but a fact of life. The Washington consensus, promoting the unification of global economies, can be viewed as a means that forces open the way of energy and resource transporting and transforming on a global scale. Undoubtedly, contemporary international policies are profitable to upriver countries because the policies were initiated and made by them.
If the traditional areas want to, or are forced to, join the modernization ‘food chain’ and become links in it, they can only join from the downriver. This means that they have to provide energy and resources to the upriver, and accept garbage from the upriver. Guiyu[1], a small county in Guangdong province, China, is a good example for illustrating the ‘food chain’. The main industry of this county is treating and recycling electronic garbage mostly from the North America, and to a lesser degree from Japan, South Korea, and European countries. A large amount of different scale workshops manually treat the garbage using primitive techniques. From the electronic garbage in a high entropy state, lesser amounts of low entropy state matter are distilled, consuming large amounts of power and clean water (low entropy state energy and matter), and reenter the global circulation of matter. At the same time, the land, water and air in Guigyu are severely polluted, higher entropy state matter is produced, and people’s health is seriously harmed. Such a garbage recycling industry is based on the pollution and deterioration of the human environment. Such an industry is worse than selling blood and kidneys!
Being located in the mid-river and downriver of the global modernization ‘food chain’ is the background of all problems in sub-modernized and non-modernized countries and areas.

All human economic activities are no more than links of the great energy and matter transforming and transporting chain. Science and technology is the motor of the chain. The advance of science and technology can only accelerate and strengthen the chain; they can’t change the chain. Mineral water is a relatively simple product. Turning on a TV to see more and more new products being advertised is bewildering to people’s eyes and minds, inspiring people’s desire. All economic activity, such as updating a computer, or renewing a cell phone, accelerate the running of the chain, to turn more forest, minerals, and natural water into garbage. Modern civilization is established on the relic of nature, constructed at the side of garbage dump.
Humans have overdrawn not only energy and resources of the whole globe, but also the space for the globe to contain garbage.
Why can we drink a bottle of mineral water in Beijing’s streets? Because there is still natural water that can be exploited; there is still land that can be used for dumping garbage. My idea is that we should think not only “how”: how to find and make use of more natural water or how to increase the capacity for dumping garbage on certain land, but also “why”: why must we drink a bottle of mineral water from a remote mountain in a city street?

[This article was written in December 2004, and published in Chinese Book Review Monthly, 2006(1). I introduced this idea during my presentation in the 22nd International Conference of History of Science, Beijing, China, 2005, and in the Greenaccord International Environmental Forum, Rome, Italy, 2007. I am grateful to Alessio, a volunteer at Greenaccord who helped organizing an article based my PowerPoint file when I attended Greenaccord Forum in 2005. It can be found on Greenaccord’s website at Professor James Warren, whose encouragement urged me to start this translation, and Professor Janice Swab, who helped me edit this translation. ]

May 4, 2008
Beijing, China.

[1] Greenpeace China conducted an investigation in Guiyu in 2001 and published some reports in the Chinese language. An English publication that included the Guiyu case study is Exporting Harm, The High-Tech Trashing of Asia, prepared by The Basel Action Network(BAN) and Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition(SVTC), Feb. 2002. The Guiyu phenomenon was revealed by a famous newspaper, Southern Weekend in 2004. See He Haining, The addition and Subtraction of Guiyu, Guangdong Province and Its Peripheral Area, Southern Weekend, 2004-06-03.

Thursday, November 08, 2007






Under the patronage of the President of the Italian Republic

Investing in a worthwhile environment: opening of the International Forum of Greenaccord with greetings from President of the Senate, Franco Marini, from Vice President of the Minister’s Council Francesco Rutelli, and from the Minister of the Environment Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio

This morning, with greetings from the president of Greenaccord Gian Paolo Marchetti and with the messages from the President of the Senate, Franco Marini, from Vice President of the Minister’s Council Francesco Rutelli, and from the Minister of the Environment Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio, the 5th International Forum of Information for the Safeguarding of Nature began, organized by Greenaccord with the patronage of the President of the Italian Republic.

“I would like to applaud sincerely those who for this initiative have demonstrated their dedication,” wrote President Marini. “On the other hand the theme of this forum poses an important epigraph to this edition, “Capitalizing The Environment,” as it evokes a delicate relationship between the need to preserve the environment and the economic mechanisms which regulate the models of sustainable development.”

The Vice President Rutelli, through his message of greeting, also centered the attention on the necessity of finding an equilibrium between economy and environment for compatible development. “The economic aspects of environmental politics – he explained – are a not-to-be-forgotten element of a policy that guarantees a more shared and responsible governance than in the past. Not only because for many high-tech firms an investment in renewable resources or in energy-saving systems represents an ever more relevant economic reality, but also because the impact of phenomena like pollution and, at the global level, global warming, are already having costly effects for many communities. The virtuous model of development compatible with the protection of the environment is anything but a utopia. We need to abandon the rigidity of trying to stop modernization: technology is the first ally if those who do not want to sacrifice the future of our planet and the future of our children.”

“The economy has to find its true function again, that of promotion and diffusion of general welfare – added Minister Pecoraro Scanio – and therefore has to put itself at the service of human needs, both individual and social.

An economy that restores the primacy of people cannot but restore the primacy of the environment as principal source of the economic process to protect and to preserve in its reproducibility.

Ecosystems, as Professor Robert Costanza (one of the speakers here) teaches us, offer freely to humanity a series of services that are both essential and uncountable in the economic process but which have enormous value. It is maintaining these mechanisms that produce these services, which means guaranteeing to humanity a future of general welfare,” concluded the Minister, “and investing in their protection means investing in the production of wealth, rather than limiting ourselves to exploiting natural capital in a destructive manner.”

The discussion was then officially opened by Professor Andrea Masullo, President of the Scientific Committee of Greenaccord with the talk “The Person: Instrument or Protagonist of the Global Market?”, followed by the presentation of Professor Robert Costanza, environmental economist and professor at Gund University, Vermont, on “Investing in Natural and Social Capital for a Sustainable and Auspicious Future.”

“Having more is better only up to a certain point – said Prof. Costanza – and the growth of the GDP does not correspond anymore to a higher quality of life (sensations of security, satisfaction, realization, and happiness). The reported economic statistics, in fact, demonstrate that calculating the GDP is an error in that it cannot encompass the voices of those who would tie it to the satisfaction of people, in that it calculates only constructed capital and lacks the social and human capital.”

During the afternoon session, “Sustainable Economic Mechanisms,” there were on the other hand presentations from Paolo Pietrogrande, President of Atmos Holding, whose talk was entitled New Investment Scenarios in Renewable Energy Source,” Stefano Masini, Coordinator for Environment and Territory of Coldiretti, who discussed “GMOs and Organic Agriculture: Food Future of a Crossroads,” as well as Vincenzo Ferrara, climatologist for ENEA whose talk was on “Economic Evaluation of Climate Change Impacts.”

Doctor Ferrara then presented a global overview of the situation as far as global climate change and focused attention on the consequences linked to inaction. In particular he underlined the possible economic fallout of not reducing emissions and of an insufficient intervention to slow global warming.

“The economic convenience of these global reductions – he stressed – must not be evaluated only in respect to industrial costs but rather including the costs avoided by the damage provoked by climate change. Evaluations of economic convenience must include not only current economic benefits, but also opportunities for development and the benefits we leave to future generations.

In Italy, except for a few cases, there have been no estimates of the economic damage that climate change could bring to the national economy, assuming various hypotheses, including total inaction. Some evaluations done at the international level can be used as a reference, among them one at a global level (the Stern Report) and the other a high-level European report (the Peseta Report)”.

The Fifth International Forum of Information for the Safeguarding of Nature is an event realized in partnership with:

Fondazione Monte Paschi Siena, Ministry of the Environment and Protection of the Territory and Seas, Province of Rome, Acri, Region of Lazio

Patronage from:

Minstry of Economic Development, President of the Italian Republic, City of Monte Porzio Catone, ODG Nazionale, FNSI, WWF, Segretariato Sociale Rai


Merck Sharp and Dome, Italian State Railways, Bcc Rocca Priora, Acqua Minerale Lauretana, Coop, Coldiretti

Technical Sponsors:

Comunità Montana dei Castelli Romani e Prenestini, Novamont, ESRI Italia, ECOR, Libera Terra, Morpier

Media Partners:

Rai 3, Rainews 24,, Ansa Ambiente, IPS, Tempo Economico, RDS, Valori

Greenaccord Press Office

Nicola Checcarelli


Martina Valentini


Monday, October 01, 2007

get visa to Italy again

"Sometimes I feel sad to be a Chinese." I said to Marev, a visiting scholar from Israel.
She was confused, I said, "I have to apply for visa again and again."

I was invited by Greenaccord to join this year's conference Nov.7-11 again. It's a hard time for me.
I have to leave U.S.A before Oct.30, so I asked the Chinese Consulate in SF to book the airplane back Beijing at Oct.29. Oct.28 is My daughter and her mother's birthday. So, it will be a excellent time. Then, only 7 days left for me to apply visa in Beijing if I want to join the conference.

I tried to sent an email to the Italian consulate in SF, and asked him if I can apply for the visa to Italy in SF in case I start from Beijing. To my surprise, he replied me after several hours. He said, he may be authorized by Italian Embassy in Beijing. But they would like to can help me.

The miserable experience of getting visa to Italy in Beijing last year still made me thrilling.
I asked him again, is it more nature to apply for visa in SF if I visit Italy from SF and go back China directly from Rome? The quick response is that we can process it.

It's too hot today.
I got the money order in the post office and copied my passport and DS2019 this morning. I booked the hostel and bought travel insurance last night. Greenaccord faxed me all the document Monday morning. I got the employment verification Monday afternoon.

I got off from BART at Montgomery and transferred Muni 45 and got off at the next street of Webster and went 4 blocks and reached the Consulate of Italy.

I ringed. It answered.
I said to the monitor, "this is Song, I am coming to apply visa.
"Today is not visa hour."
I saw the sign outside the door.
Visa hour: Monday and Thursday, 1pm-3:30pm.
"oh, I thought it's Monday through Thursday. I am sorry, I will come tomorrow."

It said: "just a minutes"
I said, "thank you."

the door opened.
Two officials lightened the light, a mid age man dressed formal went to window.

Only half an hour. He gave an receipt, pick it Oct.1. Next Monday.


above was written in last Wednesday after I came back from the Italian Consulate in SF.
I got the visa this afternoon, very smoothly.
to my surprise, it's a multiple entries visa for tourist till next April.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Fall reception in Carthy's home

Carthyrn live is east Okaland.
I was called by J when I reach MacArthur in BART that she can ride me.
Poncho saw me and said, why did you come back?

I reach at Carthy's home just after 6:00. right timing.
I met many person there.
I talked a lot.
Huling ride me and Malita back.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

activity in Bahai Ceter in SF

Maybe this is the last time for me to visit Baha'i Center before my leaving.
Rana invited me to join her discussion on culture evolution, from tradition to modern, and seek the third culture.

It's totally new type of religious community. No much prayer, every person expressed their idea equally. It's real discussion.

Only six weeks left for me.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I am home

I am back Berkeley yesterday.

it's really nice to see Calvin and June again.
Calvin picked my up at Berkeley downtown station.
Calvind's yard blooms some new flowers!
I feel comfortable to see that.
I regard here as my home.
Calvin said, I miss you so long.
My eyes were wet.

We three visited a flower market after we had lunch in lily's resturant.
I am so joyful to see their picking up flowers.

even still a stone is in my heart.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

library of Congress

Adam building.
June 8, 2007

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the famous east market was burnt several weeks ago

so I can just see it outside.
I can not buy something inside.

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This first visit to Washington D.C

Some sinery in the street.
These photos were took in June 8.

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