Our capacity for acting on our hope

I had a conversation with Rob Watson, a leader in green building movement and founding father of LEED – a certification program and benchmark for designing and constructing green buildings. For the past decade, Rob has been instrumental in developing China’s green building standards.

With its unprecedented urbanization and a growing middle class, China is adding a New York City every two years. The question on everyone’s mind is where all the resources will come from and whether China can sustain its growth.

photo credit: eco-tech international

Rob seemed concerned. Human should abide by the law of nature, he said. A large middle class in China could reap huge benefits for the world economy, but also could cause potential disasters. “The middle class consumes ten times more than peasants,” he said. “Even if 20 percent of the people become middle class, it means adding another United States.” He was worried that at some point China may have an economic heart attack.

Rob’s concerns are certainly valid. But I am a glass-half-full kind of person. I believe that it is precisely these challenges that put China in the frontier of green innovation and technology.

China has committed to invest $265 billion in renewable energy by 2020. Rob told me that China is leading in solar thermal technology, and catching up in wind. A report by The Worldwatch Institute indicated that if China can scale up the renewable energy technologies for its domestic market, the same technologies will be adopted at affordable prices on a massive scale around globe.

China has the world’s toughest problem, as Rob said. No one has the right to deny hundreds of millions people to pursue “the Chinese dream” and have a better life. I agree with Rob that China should not copy Western style of development that resulted in severe environmental consequences. China has an opportunity to walk a different path.

William McDonough, the renowned architect and author of “Cradle to Cradle,” has designed buildings that produce more energy than they consume. He envisions a world of abundance where eco-friendly design can prevent environmental disaster and drive economic growth at the same time.

“Bill is an amazing thinker and visionary,” Rob said. “Conceptually, he is right. But in reality, the model hasn’t proved to be scalable.”

photo credit: eco-tech international

But I remain hopeful. What if the “Cradle to Cradle” model becomes scalable? If we can go to the moon, why can’t we clean up our mess on the earth and re-make a world “based on nature’s interdependence cycles” that sustainability and prosperity go hand-in-hand?

I would like to end this post with William McDonough’s words: “One of the wonders of human nature is our ability to hope…. Still more human, perhaps, is our capacity for acting on our hope.”