07/15/2010 08:32 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

China's Race to Save the Future: Welcome to the Sustainable Shanghai Virtual Tour

Let me be frank, I didn't write the Sustainable Shanghai Series for the money (actually, I haven't even covered the cost of the trip). I did it because I got laid off, had some vacation pay, had an opportunity to tag along with the [re]think Shanghai GOAP crew, saw an opportunity to tell a story I believed was important, and was graciously sponsored by What Because some internal knob clicked and I realized that while my attention has been focused solely in one direction re: the environment, one of the most important stories of the planet's evolution was happening in the other direction.

To give a little back story, I was traveling across the country working on a food justice project when I skyped Peggy Liu for the first time. I had been asked to create the sustainability component to the [re]Think Shanghai Conference, and was calling to get a lay of the land. Maybe she caught me at a particularly vulnerable moment, since I had just toured what is ranked the unhealthiest county in North Carolina. I was spending the night in a food desert, and had just gained a new understanding about the food crisis in my country. With a waffle filled stomach, I rang Peggy for the first time. Within moments she said, "It doesn't matter what anyone else does if China doesn't go green."

And it hit like a ton of bricks. Even with all of the US's emphasis on going green and fixing our own problems, if we don't start focusing on bringing the intelligence and innovative thinking to a place that desperately (and I don't use that term lightly) needs it (and is influencing the planet with it's actions) what's it all for anyway?

Fast forward two months, and I'm in Shanghai, now understanding overpopulation for the first time in my life. It wasn't getting shoved in the airport, or learning the culture of cutting in line -- it was during the train ride that passed one long suburb of decrepit sky-rises (and a small town of 7 million), when I finally took in what over population felt like. That is when I understood the desperation caused by water shortage, the need (not want) to innovate, the severed disconnection from the natural world. There was a moment when my throat and nose were sore from air pollution; I had finally grasped just how powerless we are as consumers re the supply chain; and the novelty of washing the dirt of the city off my body wore off ... in this moment, all I wanted was to go back to my little bubble in Berkeley and never look back.

But look in any direction, and the bright blinking lights will attract your attention. They are coming from everywhere: beautifully decorated boats on the river, complex designs on the buildings, and even from underneath the overpasses and from within the trees~ this opulent celebration of the creative. It is those moments that I am reminded of a piece written by an old friend, Sam Trice, about how Switzerland, with all of it's peaceful ways, never produced any art worth looking at; it was the cities in the throes of great adversity, the places that were shoved by society's limits that produced the greatest creations on our planet.

My gaining an understanding of China's role in the environmental movement is akin to snorkeling. So there I was ... just following that beautiful colorful shiny fish, and then all of a sudden I lost track of where I was and that's when I realized I was eye to eye with ... a really big eye ... and I couldn't quite figure out what it was, so I backed up to get a little perspective and that's when I realized that eye is attached to the alpha male of the sea lion den I wandered into, and he's really big and he actually rules this kingdom. Well ... that's a little like my journey into understanding China's impact on the environmental health of our planet has been like.The opportunity for China to solve the planet's problems are tremendous ~ and the race is on.

So here's the deal: I am taking you on a virtual tour of Shanghai, the only places I didn't take you was into the bathroom or under the table ~ so pick and choose where you want to go. I'll provide a brief summary and put stars next to the posts that I believe contain valuable information that everyone should share with their mother. If you're like me, and can't f***ing BELIEVE that someone actually expects you to pour over all the links below: Just read Eco Cities: Bridging the Gap Between Fantasy and the Future on Nat Geo News Watch. It has lots of facts, will catch you up to speed.

The Sustainable Shanghai Virtual Tour


Day 1: Entry (A few random thoughts about China, and a poorly lit and hard to understand video interview with Dr. Zhao Gang (the director of Chinese Academy of Science and Technology for Development and Ministry of Science and Technology).

Day 2: First Lesson in Over Population: Elbows Up: Video Interview with Jill Buck about environmental education in schools, Video from the observation deck of The World Financial Center (tallest observation deck on the planet), and lots of fun facts about Shanghai's rapid urban development.

You can catch the full profile of Jill Buck and Go Green Initiative on What Gives.

Day 3: The World Expo. Lots of fun video and and a bonus interview with Chitra Hepburn (put out the green tech report) and her very positive view of Shanghai's sustainability scene. Or you can find individual stories on Planet Green:GM's insane version of 2030 (a grid system where you don't need a car, or a brain). The UK Pavilion's amazing Seed Cathedral

Day 4: Back to back interviews. So it was split into four parts:

***Part 3: Send your e-waste to China. No Really. It Might be Good for the Environment. If you own a PDA~ you should read this interview with Adam Minter. He's been hanging out in the factories (plus there is a VIDEO by Laura Ling that takes you into an e-waste management city in China).

***Part 4: Does One Rotten Apple Ruin the Supply Chain? Yes. Think Suicide When You Look at Your PDA. Interesting interview with Richard Brubaker a corporate responsibility expert in Shanghai~ and fascinating introduction into the realm of the supply chain. It doesn't sound sexy~ but you don't know what you're missing. Meanwhile: to see a full profile on Richard Brubaker you can check out the post on What Gives.

Day 5: The Sustainable Shanghai (mini) Shopping tour. Bright colors. Art. Cool VIDEO of crickets from the Flower, Insect, and Fish market

Day 6: Baring my soul at Naked Retreat, OR Finding the Lost Tribe of Transient Travelers OR Why Internet Stalking Is A Good Thing. While on a train ride to Naked Retreat (the first eco retreat in China), I finally had enough time to reflect on my experiences to date. Full profile on Gabriella Lo, co-founder of Naked Retreats, on WhatGives.

Day 7: Making Biking Sexy and The Eco City Fantasy. Interviews with Green Marketing maven Susan Evans and a meeting with eco city designer James Brearly.

Eco Cities: Bridging the Gap Between Fantasy and the Future on Nat Geo News Watch.

On the flight back to the US, I recalled a funny memory from when I worked as a wilderness drug rehab counselor. We knew the kids were going to go back to their lives and keep abusing drugs, but we also knew that we had planted seeds that would always live within them. There is no ignoring what I learned. Only hope that sharing the experience will widen the path of knowledge.