Savannah & Sophia's China Project

Hello friends! As you may or may not know, soon I will be traveling to China for a once in a lifetime research and travel experience. Together, the one and only Sophia Chen and I have created a unique project investigating coal and water use in Shanxi Province, China. 
The goal of this project is to better understand Chinese communities' perception of and relationship with water, the coal industry, and environmental progress. 
Our project is comprised of three components: background research, field research, and written/visual outreach (to see project details, see bottom of the page). 

Field research in China is scheduled from March 15 to April 5, 2013, and will involve site visits to coal cities, interviews/oral histories with Chinese citizens, teaching classes in 3 universities and meeting with students, and a conference we organized with environmental leaders (from the Environmental Defense Fund-Beijing) where I will be giving a talk. Results from our field research will be posted in the form of blog posts and a long-form essay; we have the opportunity to post our written work from our project through the Public Trust Project, a DC-based non-profit. 

I write to you now seeking your help. Sophia and I are hoping to travel to six different cities, however, my ability to travel in China will depend on my funds. I hope to make the most of the three weeks I will be there and develop our research as much as possible, and that requires being able to experience different regions in Shanxi. We have worked hard to turn this opportunity into an elaborate learning experience, and it would mean the world to me if you could help me actualize our goals!

Overall, I hope to raise at least ~$1000 (for trains, cabs, food, lodging, etc.) to ensure that I will be able to travel in China. As you can see from the current travel schedule below, we hope there will be much internal travel while I am in China (we are still working on trip details, and I will update as we continue):
Saturday (3/16) & Sunday (3/17) - Beijing, travel to Taigu
Monday (3/18) & Tuesday (3/19) - teach class at Taigu
Wednesday (3/20) - Pingyao day trip, go to Taiyuan at night
Thursday (3/21) -  travel to Datong
Friday (3/22) - Datong, take an evening bus back to Taiyuan
Saturday (3/23) - travel to Beijing
Sunday (3/24) - Beijing
Monday (3/25) - Beijing (teach at BNU), interviews
Tuesday (3/26) - Continue at BNU, go back to Taiyuan at night
Wednesday (3/27) - teach class in Taiyuan, interviews
Thursday (3/28) - teach more class in Taiyuan, interviews, return to Beijing
Friday (3/29) - Conference with EDF-Beijing
I only have two weeks until I depart and any donation will make a difference for this trip! To persuade you further, please see the list of perks! If you have any questions, email me! savannah[dot]sullivan[at]gmail[dot]com

To learn more about our project, see below:

We have elected to focus our project on the Shanxi Province, as it is the leading producer of coal in China and hosts more than one third of China's coal deposits. The province is known for its coal, which has provided a robust economy in Shanxi but also dichotomous wealth and poverty. Shanxi is known as the most polluted province in China, and one of its major cities, Linfen, is nominally known as the most polluted city in the world. Due to the scale of energy development and water scarcity, Shanxi is a key location for our project to further understand the Chinese economy-environment dynamic.

The past four months has involved significant background research on the Chinese economy-environment dynamic with regard to water resources and energy development in Shanxi, China. In addition to news and journal article searches, several rounds of surveys have been sent to residents and students of Beijing and Shanxi, China. We wrote and sent these surveys to learn more about individual water sourcing and perception of water quality, environmental governance, and energy development. 

Field research in China is scheduled from March 15 to April 5, 2013, and will involve site visits, interviews, classroom engagement, and a conference with environmental leaders. Savannah and Sophia will largely be stationed in Beijing and Taiyuan. In addition to spending time in these major cities, several site visits to various locations in the Shanxi province have been scheduled. In all locations Savannah and Sophia plan to encounter individuals and groups through casual conversation and arranged meetings. In order to avoid unwelcome attention, we are not directly interacting with any citizen protest groups nor will we be instigating any discussion on that topic. In hopes of encountering many varying ideas, in Beijing, Taiyuan, and Taigu, Savannah and Sophia will be team-teaching classes in required English-classes at universities. We have developed a lesson plan that will touch upon environmental vocabulary and issues, and following each class we have arranged a casual conversation with students to discuss their experiences growing up in the Shanxi province. Many of the classes we will be speaking with have already participated in our surveys, and we have already identified many individuals that are interested in speaking with us about water and energy. We will also be traveling through these communities as tourists so we can experience and observe the cities and energy sites more spontaneously. Following is a brief description of the cities to be visited and their relevance to the project.

  • Beijing is China's capital city and we will be based there for approximately 4 days of the trip. Beijing is a huge economic actor in China and, with nearly 20,000,000 residents, has a large impact on energy demand. Beijing is a critical leg of our trip for further understanding environmental action, as it acts as the headquarters for the organizations that we will be meeting with for research purposes. It is also where we will be hosting our conference with the EDF and other organizations, and it is the home to Beijing Normal University where we will be teaching several classes.
  • Taigu is a somewhat rural county city in Shanxi, with approximately 40,000 residents. The city is home to Shanxi Agricultural University, where we will be teaching classes. The school was founded in the early 20th century by missionaries from Oberlin College; it is a multi-disciplinary school. Students come from across Shanxi and we hope to learn more about their relationship with water and the energy industry.  
  • Taiyuan is the capital city of Shanxi and is home to the largest coal mining center in China. Because of its importance in the coal industry, we will be in Taiyuan for a week. In addition to teaching classes at Taiyuan University of Technology, we plan to visit the Coal Museum of China and a coal gasification plant. We are scheduled to speak with many professors who are investigating coal technology and energy development issues.
  • Pingyao is one of the cultural centers in Shanxi because it still has its Ming and Qing dynasty layout and city walls, and ancient ruins are scattered throughout. Pingyao is an important city for us to visit because despite its rural location, residents still experience dangerous levels of air and water pollution. We hope to learn more about the relationship between this historical gem and the energy industry, and ideas local residents have about the pollution.
  • Datong is the second largest city located in Shanxi, and is known as "City of the Coal." The Datong region is home to some of the largest mines in Shanxi, and is also considered to be one of the most polluted areas in Shanxi.
  • Linfen is known as the most polluted city in the world, though prior to the 1970's it was known as the "Modern Fruit and Flower town" because of its greenery. It is not only one of the largest sites in China for coal production, but coal consumption as well. This city will be an important stop during our travel since it intensely embodies the negative externalities associated with China's economic model and we will potentially have the opportunity to meet with coal industry employees

Finally, the meeting with the Environmental Defense Fund will take place in Beijing with a handful of environmental leaders. This event is meant to be an exchange between Chinese and U.S. environmental actors. Currently the primary speaker will be Liu Jia from the Environmental Defense Fund-Beijing; additional Chinese speakers are in the process of being confirmed. Savannah will be presenting on U.S. energy technology and policy, focusing on shale gas technology and policy, as well as its effect on energy prices and public/environmental health.

Lastly, we intend to reflect upon and document what we have experienced and learned. We have scheduled times throughout the trip to allow for reflection and discussion as we encounter new places and people. The goal is to integrate what we learn from the interviews, surveys, site visits, and conference into a long-form piece on environmental perception of water and energy issues in Shanxi, China. Currently we anticipate the piece to be 8-12 pages in length. Our goal with the piece is to not only create an awareness of how rapid energy development is impacting communities and the environment in Shanxi, but also a better understanding of environmental perception and progress in Shanxi. We hope to achieve this by taking the reader through the landscape we travel, and connecting them with one person from each city we work in. This format will allow for us to showcase the physical environment we observe and the ideas and thoughts of the people we encounter; however, as we travel we are keeping an open mind to new ideas. Additionally, we are planning on pairing a photo stream with the written piece so as to provide visuals to the personal and scenic encounters we describe. And finally, we would like to clarify that this proposal is broader in scope than what the final products will present; we intend to enter the experience with a general concept of our topic(s) of interest, and then will focus our questions and final products as we have the experiences in China.

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Savannah Sullivan 
Washington D.C., DC
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