Knoxville, Tennessee -- Suggesting that pollution has no geographic or
political boundaries, American and Chinese researchers plan to work together
over the next several years examining the environmental impact of China's
rapidly growing economy.
"Maybe they can learn from our mistakes or we can help them avoid some of the
same mistakes that we made," said Gary Sayler, a professor at the University of
Tennessee and co-chairman of the US contingent.
As the world's largest emerging economy, China may also have some lessons for
the United States if it can incorporate environmental responsibility into that
growth, he said.
"I think they see us both as examples and as a kind of a learning partner,"
A scientific pact signed in July will establish the China-US Joint Research
Center for Ecosystem and Environmental Change, bringing together scientists and
resources from the University of Tennessee, the UT-managed Oak Ridge National
Laboratory and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
The focus of this effort, scheduled to run at least through 2011, will be on
the relationship between economic development and environmental disruption.
The Oak Ridge Lab's carbon dioxide information analysis center will play a
key role. The numbers-crunching facility is the US Department of Energy's
primary repository on global climate change.
The Earth's ability to balance carbon dioxide produced through respiration
and absorbed by growing plants has been thrown off by the burning of fossil
The United States and China now rank first and second, respectively, in
carbon dioxide emissions, the most prevalent of greenhouse gases linked to
"Existing evidence has shown that ecosystem (changes) and environmental
problems in these systems are closely related to economic development, energy
use, social structure and natural geographic conditions," Gui-Rui Yu,
co-chairman of the Chinese contingent, said in a statement.
Comparing those changes "in our two nations will help advance our
understanding of the mechanisms that affect global and regional environments,"
said Yu, director of the Key Laboratory of Ecosystem Network Observation and
Modeling, and the Chinese Ecosystem Research Network.
Environmental protection has become a prominent issue in China following a
string of industrial accidents that poisoned major rivers. Chinese cities are
among the world's smoggiest following two decades of strong economic growth.
Sayler, director of the UT-ORNL Joint Institute for Biological Sciences, said
the American researchers first contacted their Chinese counterparts about a
collaboration on helping China track the environmental consequences of its
Through discussions, aided by UT professor Jie (Joe) Zhuang, who received his
doctorate from Shenyang (China) Agricultural University, "it took on a little
broader context" to consider "how a growing, developing economy might be able to
manage its (pollution) impacts."
The researchers now expect to examine other issues, including bioenergy
production, water quality and technologies to improve the environment.
"They are very much developing a position that they are a leader in the
world, and not only in their economy but in terms of their impact," Sayler said
of the Chinese. "They seem to be taking on responsibility now for areas that,
well, we've been managing to mess up pretty well."