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Ecological citizenship and a plan for sustainable

Shannon May

To cite this article: Shannon May (2008) Ecological citizenship and a plan for sustainable
development, City, 12:2, 237-244, DOI: 10.1080/13604810802168117

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Published online: 13 Aug 2008.

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7). VOL. McDonough and the Liaoning Province and going behind closed other leaders of the China–US Center for doors to discuss the shared vision between Sustainable Development (CUCSD) held the Chinese government and US corporate an opening ceremony in honor of the leaders to ‘leapfrog past limitations and construction of the first house in their accelerate sustainable development’ by ‘sustainable development demonstration building China’s first rural ‘sustainable village’. NO. 182). project in Huangbaiyu has been heralded ‘We see this project as a gift that you by renowned environmental commentator share with us. the China– project that sought to remake the way they US Center for Sustainable Development’s would live their lives.… Why have we all come to ISSN 1360-4813 print/ISSN 1470-3629 online/08/020237-08 © 2008 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10. Despite its promise of equity. p. residents of Huangbaiyu to witness the Led by William McDonough. I n early 2003. McDonough has himself their livelihoods. Elizabeth Economy as ‘perhaps the most McDonough told the hundreds of residents ambitious multinational effort to help redi. Huangbaiyu is representative of the new power relations and claims of ecological citizenship that acceptance of the dynamics of global warming generates. the rationality that has made William McDonough’s master plan for sustainable development in China internationally lauded is the same logic that ensures that existing resource distribution inequalities continue. 2006. and we share with you’. JULY 2008 Ecological citizenship and a plan for sustainable development Lessons from Huangbaiyu Shannon May Taylor and Francis In a small rural village in the mountains of Northeastern China. 2. a transnational conglom- erate is building an internationally lauded ‘prototype’ for rural urbanization in China. 12.CITY. 2002). More than a master plan for sustainable development. Four hundred families are to be relocated and their lives radi- cally altered to determine if rural populations can be allowed urban privileges. and for the first time invited the community’1 in this valley (CUCSD. driving down a dusty road in rural On 21 May 2005.1080/13604810802168117 . of this valley who had come to see what this rect China on to a new development path’ new-found outside attention would mean for (2006. lauded his project as the ‘sustainable rural village that the government hopes will ‘We see this project as a project for the serve as a prototype for improving the lives children. outsiders—Chinese and of 800 million rural Chinese’ (Harvard American alike—began periodically Business Review. without putting the ‘planet in peril’. p.

attuned my ear to the uses of Through the case of Huangbaiyu. gence of matrices of power. equity and ecology. new assemblages of authority and of the ‘master plan’ houses that still lacked practices of governance are emerging into electricity. How is it that Thomas warming and the ecological rationality to Friedman’s documentary Addicted to Oil which it gives rise generates micro-strategies highlights Huangbaiyu as part of a solution of power relations that constitute subjects in to a global energy crisis while never talking new ways (Foucault. this development is unable person has a vested interest. 276). leaders and this ‘prototype’ that has been identified as commoners—as sustainability makes claims the key to a ‘future that is both bright and and takes action in the name of a shared.2 and sustainability champion is leading to the emer- researched the various persons. and gas for cooking and what I call ecological citizenship. We hope whatever we do will make you happy. 12. In In October 2006—a month after Zhao the name of a shared planetary. with whom for?’ there is no formal system of shared gover- When I tell him that international experts nance. And commoners is different. name through which authority to act upon a ‘Do you mean this development [project]?’ population is invoked is no longer only the he asked back. ‘The business of leaders and economy. 2003). We commoners don’t approve. Zhao chiaroscuro of the doubled development . 2 Huangbaiyu? To celebrate a new way of considers my statement while rolling tobacco thinking: clean water. ecological citizenship through the particular ization he stares at me. Acceptance of global (Steffen. by many who have never been there future in a common fate. ‘This development isn’t state. p. 2006). dumbfounded. water. The construction of a ‘design for living’ type wonder why they were not allowed to (McDonough. such models of sustainable development of the while the two local families who were moved Chinese countryside? into the Phase One of this proclaimed proto.238 CITY VOL. 2004) is itself more than a built rebuild their own homes as they wanted to environment. community Qinghao had moved with his wife into one of fate.’ Ecological citizenship Hearing this interchange on that morning three years ago. In to the residents of this valley? Who is the what follows I seek to make the politics of subject and who is the object of sustainable Huangbaiyu visible by asking: What type of development (May. 2006)? self and society do the structures of this How is it that ‘we’ who do not live in ‘sustainable community’ seek to shape? What Huangbaiyu have so often heralded it as logic of resource distribution is embodied in ‘truly sustainable habitation’ (BBC. NO. 1991. transformation and these houses for what? What is this plaything discipline by persons never met. energy and air. Ong. institutions. everyday practices of living become What is being developed here? You build subject to judgment. As scien- heating—I asked Zhao what he thought of tific models ground political discourse. Under these to develop. in the name of protecting the planet. but also the planet. in his hands. global green’.’ happiness. the sustainable development. governance and discourses and practices at work in building citizenship—we(s) and you(s). and news media have heralded this place as a The design and building of the Huang- model of development and a solution to the baiyu project brings to light these tensions of world’s energy addictions and rapid urban. 2006. this paper ‘we’ and ‘you’—and the gaps in between that investigates how the ‘new way of thinking’ make all the difference—over the following that McDonough and other advocates of 15 months that I lived in Huangbaiyu. in which every any development. terms. it is a physical manifestation of after an electrical fire that destroyed them?3 a system of values and a record of power.

public services are extended to a population— tions are now widely discussed in terms of as is the plan for sustainable development in how they contribute to or mitigate global Huangbaiyu—not in order to facilitate state warming (UNEP. 2008). The defining of an ecosystem—a modeled through human-generated abstrac. and the paths of human engagement and of which generates life—takes conditions reaction are infinite. the lifestyles of all popula. currently There is a rising social consciousness in the unruly. the earth. protecting their shared ecosystem. Operating through a modal- only of consequence to the persons who have ity of implosion (Haraway. It is because ‘planet in peril’. In terms of mental paradox of energy consumption: basic daily life practices. Suddenly. until politics paves them. pricing renders the smoke wafting toward the ized by ecological citizenship. I consider it a hybrid—a complex tional conglomerates—who do not have legal intersection of social practices and natural ties to the population. it distribution in the Huangbaiyu ‘master plan’. The carbon cycle has nant discourse responding to global climate definite pathways. if ships through the terms of ecological citizen- human-influenced. Huangbaiyu and the exhaust sputtering from In order to understand the context of the a car commuting on Interstate-5 in Los Ange- explicit and implicit practices of resource les into market commodities. is only by accounting for the value of the it is necessary to gloss the dominant modality shared atmosphere of the earth. 2006. carbon emissions measurement and encountering the ethical claims operational. CNN. Daily economic growth. harm that analyzing these emergent relation- Global warming is more than a natural. non-systematized carbon emissions 21st century that is fraught with the develop. What is at stake in Huangbaiyu is not ecological logic. but to all those who are 2005). In this logic. Bowker. Moreover. It is also a nity’ structure often arise from the visions social and political process. implod- Center for Sustainable Development as an ing the complexity of singular histories into a institution acting out ecological governance. this means extending will humanity’s desiring appetite for living public systems of gas. but these themselves are change. and then introduce the China–US surate things are made comparable. previously incommen- change. and is representative of China. process through which ship is particularly apt. closed environment the internal dynamics tions. but to manage ecological Show. but act in the name of processes captured by a single signifier (1993). The danger of such hybrids is that their mate. must be brought into the market. and the path currently taken in addressing global between urban and rural populations within climate change. remainder that can be measured. and homeostatic temporality of much of the domi- socially constructed. The political and ethical effects of this rial basis elides the extent to which the modality of implosion are exacerbated by the complex signified is itself contingent. Following Bruno formed between various actors—or transna- Latour. MAY: ECOLOGICAL CITIZENSHIP AND A PLAN FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT 239 divide between the USA and China. inhabited its spaces. that it can be and temporality of responses to global climate preserved. Present hierarchies are emissions is just such a paving stone marking naturalized as internally necessary dynamics . observed in the present as eternal norms that The measurement and equation of carbon must be preserved. electricity and water to compromise the material basis of life itself? all persons so that audits can be performed and With the earth now popularly conceived as a energy use centrally managed. In order for the threat to the ecosystem to Implosion and stasis in ecological logic be quantified and valued through market calculations and then managed. the changing carbon cycles raise the average motivation for such revolutions in ‘commu- temperature of the earth’s surface. 1997. 2007. counted and exchanged: 1 metric ton of carbon dioxide. or are thinking sky from indoor subsistence stoves in of making such claims on others.

it is said. The integrated global food and energy crisis. This homeostatic logic threatens the conditions of possibility of is evidenced by the rhetorical method of those who already live them—in the name of putting the blame for pushing the earth equity. the intention is that to upset the current balance of power. Formed by a Memorandum of chy. China would metabolize more than 80 Instituting ecological governance million barrels of oil per day—or the entire world’s current daily supply (Jiang. 12. the CUCSD argues that makes all energy use and carbon emissions sustainability is an issue of design. However. The Chair- allows (2008). the USA for the need to create a ‘mechanism sions that threaten the current state of the for action’ to promote sustainable practices ecosystem. Deng Xiaoping’s daughter. through practices of sustainable development. he China Secretariat is housed within China’s presumes that the present practice of Western Administrative Center for Agenda 21. and emit the most carbon. the mission of the ‘march of the meat-eating Chinese … who CUCSD is to promote sustainable develop- are. consumption is the homeostatic standard that while the Portland. of Mother Jones. and desire or ecosystem. 2 of the ecosystem itself. in China. China’s rapid development is often but when there is a difference between depicted as the source of current ecological subjects and objects of action. but on those maximize the overall benefit to the system— populations who are at the bottom. As a non-profit organization. same amounts of energy as the average consumption of persons in America. Of course. which posed the bristling With McDonough chairing the US Secretariat. the present economic hierarchies. and the lives of all populations will be improved desire greater equity. the US homeostatic system. OR-based International is being threatened by other persons seeking Sustainable Development Foundation houses more than their proper place in the food chain the US Secretariat (see Table 1). 2007). This Malthusian logic is exem. out of a consensus between China and not overall carbon emissions. for the first time. these patterns often amplify beyond its means of sustainability not on the unequal resource distribution through the lifestyles of populations that are presently management of specific populations (in this privileged at the top of the food chain. moral equivalence is Secretariat is not housed in a government given to the lives of all persons in the present office and represented by various ministerial and future while at the same time normalizing officials. rich enough to start ment design principles through a unique eating like Westerners’ as emblematic of the network of public–private partnerships. question. commensurable and the ecological logic of a Unlike the China Secretariat. and its political and energy hierar. ‘The Last Empire: Can the world and following the principles set forth in survive China’s rush to emulate the American the book he wrote with chemist Michael way of life?’ Braungart. The China–US Center for Sustainable Devel- Even self-styled progressive voices engage in opment emerged.000 per year to sit on the . so to case the residents of Huangbaiyu) so as to speak. This justifies US Secretariat raises funding through a practices that act on specific populations— ‘Founder’s Circle’: mostly Fortune 500 particularly rural Chinese populations whose corporations that make multi-year commit- desire for contemporary urbanized lifestyles ments of $50. When Paul Krugman positions the Understanding in 1999. according to its manage- global warming politics as if the problem is ment.240 CITY VOL. the operation instability and potential future collapse. manship of the China Secretariat is taken up plified by the cover of the January 2008 issue by Deng Nan. but new emis. Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Through the modality of implosion that Way we Make Things. If of power between persons limits the condi- each person in China were to consume the tions of possibility for equity. NO.


In allowed the minority to enjoy the benefits of 2030. community ‘based on cradle to cradle design The promise of Huangbaiyu as a ‘new principles as a scalable model for the revital. and Construction. industrial . 2005. a local businessman. project as a reciprocal gift should be under- tion continues in the patterns of the industrial stood: by becoming the object of a radical revolution. If such McDonough’s description of the Huangbaiyu rapid growth in construction and consump. 60 percent of which will be It is from this perspective that urban (Zhou and Lin. comrades outpace their own from 3. Jie. is that if the (CUCSD. the popula- ences across the USA and China of ‘mutually tion of Huangbaiyu gives a gift of security assured destruction’. when urban in-kind subsidies are meeting of the CUCSD concluded with a included—making this the largest urban–rural mandate to develop a rural sustainable income gap in the world (Dong et al. and the basis of its popu- ization of China’s rural communities’ larity in the Western press.3:1 In a conference room at the Beijing Hotel (People’s Daily. may come from sharing the fruits of capitalism In this role. majority of the planet’s population to enjoy The CUCSD’s focus on rural urbanization the fruits of ‘the next industrial revolution’ should be understood within the context of without upsetting the ecosystem that has ecological rationalities discussed above.6 billion. McDonough has warned audi. 5 December 2005) to as much in September 2002.                       !   "    ( 7   -!    )   !    )  !  *       + *  . development path’. Rural residents Ministries of Science and Technology.4 The CUCSD worked CUCSD can develop a ‘prototype’ of rural through local municipal (Benxi). Dai Xiaolong. to act as then it may be possible to allow the vast developer and investor. district urbanization that can be scaled to allow the (Nanfen) and township (Sishanling) govern. / )   2   . Land have witnessed the income of their urban and Resources. 2007). 2006). In valleys such as so that the minority of the world’s popula- Huangbaiyu.. intervention in their way of life. of 1. increased quality of life of 800 million rural ments to implement the project. cries over the devastation that tions may maintain their present. and selected Chinese without increased carbon emissions. ' ) & #$!  % 0)   ! 1 0)  ! 1 &  /   !  3 -  4   /   !  3 2  566   / $           ) "! )    8      ) '       *  2  !    9   4   / $ - !   (    !      :   US Board of Councilors for the CUCSD. the first Joint Board as 6:1. China is projected to have a population the first industrial revolution. US corporate representatives with China’s vast rural populations engender are granted high-level direct access to the anger rather than agreement.)          -   !  ! % ! . 2005).

when there was no cash to earn or to baiyu design are outlined. from the outset the residents of the world’s population.6 While government subsidies whom? When? In the Huangbaiyu ‘proto- for arable land generation would cover a type’ for sustainable development. Now the Huangbaiyu master nience and comfort’. project in the ‘developing world’. and ‘sustainable community’ will ensure that household management of forest plots for growing rural consumption will not alter sustainable wood supplies as ‘backward’. the key principles of the Huang. an technical and biological nutrients in cradle. ment of socialist subjectivity necessary for makes renewable energy distribution possi.0005 over 3 years of phased and natural resources’. as well as increasing the goals of ‘conve. this vidual house design and construction. system. would have had already to be saving for more than 41 The plan for sustainable development years—at this rate and income level—to give the gift of sustainable development to the In the narrative accompanying the master developed world.500.58 years to earn that remain in the valley. 2 lifestyle through the sacrifices of the rest of scalable. At the same time. sources lead the ecological requirements of During China’s communist apogee it was building. The lessons to learn from Huangbaiyu baiyu project was a philanthropic venture— come from the failures at the core of the perhaps reinforced by McDonough’s project’s foundations: if the promise of language of the gift—it was not.242 CITY VOL. and at the national household savings rate of 16 percent (IMF. or $8341 per house. 12. Huangbaiyu were supposed to pay for the from the perspective of the subject of privilege of moving into the master planned sustainable development—those invested in sustainable community. the village residents’ present project. Without government maintaining the present levels of energy or philanthropic investment in construction consumption—this radical intervention is a of the master plan. But inefficient for construction. 2005). the rural portion of the development cost. preventing the develop- into a new centralized ‘community’. With the community plan—through the modality of implosion ‘powered by the sun’ and fuel coming from and temporality of homeostasis evident in waste ‘positively affecting the community’s ecological rationality—categorizes the indi- carbon balance’ (McDonough. as now. global carbon calculus. $3. develop. them the improved lifestyle that the CUCSD The median household in Huangbaiyu perceives they want. NO. while allowing them to would have to work 6. Throughout CUCSD planning meetings for At the groundbreaking of the Huangbaiyu Huangbaiyu. a burden of $8341 is left on gift to the people of Huangbaiyu. to was left outstanding. Relocating all 400 households from private property and accumulation that was their current residences in 12 distinct areas held as ‘backward’. sum. as it gives each family. sleep. it was estimated that total costs for methods of habitation and energy supply the 400-household development would be were discussed as ‘inefficient uses of national almost $5. the equitable relations amongst humanity to ble.300.000 poor are being asked to pay more to eat. plans for this life must begin from a . to live so that their lives will not While some journalists who interviewed me increase the carbon that is now seen to be assumed that as a ‘sustainable development’ putting the ‘planet in peril’. Following urban sustainability is improvement in the McDonough’s dictum that commerce is an physical and social experience of a shared agent for good and that only the market is life. it argues. object of radical intervention to benefit the to-cradle cycles and renewable energy development of a larger system. Required use of save—and where they were then. the Huang. 2004). Forty-one years ago fami- plan completed by William McDonough + lies in Huangbaiyu lived within the commune Partners.

but a planned spatial form within the capitalism. in February 2008. deals with the motivations and intention of the ous and critical eyes of two City anonymous master plan itself. and the original commitments made in 2003 and construction began in 2005. Vermeer. political and spatial denotation than its English translation. Councilors. BP. Acknowledgements 5 5 An exchange rate of 7:1 was used for all RMB to US$ conversions.000 renminbi ($2860) through the local level the lifestyles and hierarchical positions government (Sishanling) to rebuild their homes. Both families spoke of alter our own means of producing and this process as coercive. Lisa Hoffman and other participants in building Phase One. This work was supported by a National 6 6 Costs of development have risen dramatically since Science Graduate Research Fellowship. and there is no plan to provide such technologies any longer. Dai Xiaolong. they were: BASF. as well as faulty Research Group. the local government Huangbaiyu project that it has been so coordinating committee for the CUCSD. the original calculations are reviewers. Intel. or 42 of the master plan’s 400 houses may continue to give us life. but gives rise to an ecologi- of Huangbaiyu for portions of May and July 2005. carbon emissions commensurate does not pp. Each family was The ethical quandary of the epoch of told that they could live in a house in the demonstration village. Broadleaf Foundation. It is also had been constructed. Ecoworks already powerful. Vermeer and Wildwood Mahonia have been the most involved in Huangbaiyu.000. to blind us to the inequitable burdens put on All 400 houses were to have been completed and some populations for the benefit of others. The market logic that makes all existing government hierarchy. PGE (Portland General then sustainability will remain no more than Electric). As of December 2007. and only two occupied. used. or 10 percent of the total the SSRC workshop ‘Urban Experiments & development. lation. Gazeley. 181–193) for discussion. as well as the gener. PSI (Professional Supply Inc. The ‘Benxi Sustainable Development Village of those who read and write about the Coordinating Committee’. Foundation. As long as the criteria for sustainability are 4 4 At this time. accruing $17. Johns Mansville. occupied by summer 2008. or receive no payment or global warming is not only whether we will future government support. Ford. As the present work UAE. cal rationality that operationalizes sustain. Ananya have led to an estimated doubling of the cost of Roy. project developer. At this rate. October 2005–October 2006 and February– able development as an intervention on some March 2007. HP. with the unsubsidized costs the Art of Being Global’ held in Dubai. total costs would run to $11. Both the rising cost Intel Corporation People’s and Practices of cement and other goods. BASF. cost of clean-up on the backs of those who It does not imply a voluntary association of have not yet tasted the fruits of industrial persons. This paper benefited from construction and significant fiscal mismanagement intense discussion with Aihwa Ong. See Bray (2005.400 per house. In alphabetical order. MAY: ECOLOGICAL CITIZENSHIP AND A PLAN FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT 243 realization that those who have already eaten Notes at capitalism’s table should be the first to pay for their accumulated carbon waste. Perhaps it is 3 3 After the electrical fire. Intel. . 1 While is translated as ‘community’ in 1 rather than designing systems that put the English. 17 corporations sat on the US Board of defined for one population by another popu. the discussion and practice of sustainability. 2 I lived in an existing farmer’s home within a district 2 generate equity. Intel’s Peoples and Practices Research Group partially funded my dissertation research. Of these.430. McDonough + Partners. for the benefit of others. Wildwood resource distribution for the benefit of the Mahonia and WSP. Steelcase. each family was allotted because this rationality serves to maintain 20. and there remains a ‘we’ and ‘you’ in BP. Portland a trump card in the politics of unequal State University. has a different historical. acted to widely heralded as a visionary step toward have this payment made directly to the Huangbaiyu sustainable development.). Ecoworks Foundation. only consuming energy so that our finite world Phase One. The whether we will allow a global consciousness houses still lack biogas and solar power.

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