Don's diary: Filming Shanghai boom

August 30, 2002

Below a fog of pollution and moisture, the Beijing summer is in full swing. We are on our way to shoot Shanghai Boom , the video for an Open University interdisciplinary course on the environment. Our government-appointed minder and our fixer are arranging our first interviews with senior officials and leading academics in Beijing before we head to Shanghai.

Gruelling day of interviews, trying to tease out the reality from the rhetoric of China's strategy for sustainable development: how can this be reconciled with China's pursuit of rapid economic and social development? Beijingers, too, look bemused by the rapid social and economic change taking place - fast food, mobile phones, flashy cars and department stores.

Feng shui moment by the lily pond at Tsingua University. Interview an ex-colleague from my days at the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat.

Dusk in the middle of Nanjing Lu - the heart of Shanghai. A hundred people crowd in a horseshoe around the set-up for a piece to camera.

"We did Tim Sebastian a while ago from this very spot - go for it," says Wu the soundman as he wires me up.

I am thinking Simon Schama but am uncontrollably locked in "John Simpson, one man liberates Kabul" mode. Hope it is OK. Amanda, the producer, reckons not bad for a first try.

In the control room of the gigantic Baoshan Steel Factory, the translator informs me that the plant manager has said: "Oh yes. This is clean technology. It's the cleanest steel control room in China. The walls are freshly painted and the computers are cleaned every day."

Inside furnace two, China's industrialisation splashes red hot in front of me. Sweating, surrounded by containers of burning sulphurous slag, I am inside the guts of global industrialisation itself. This is a key battleground for China's economic ambitions inside the World Trade Organisation.

A few miles away, we film a 1,000-ton heap of coal being conveyor-belted into the giant 3GW Waigaoqiao coal-fired power station - as big as any in Europe and one of 12 in the Shanghai area. Outside, the Earth's mean surface temperature continues increasing as the carbon dioxide molecules from these vast industrial organisms join their friends already up there to prevent yet more heat escaping to space.

Some 400km southwest of Shanghai, we reach the top of KuoCang Mountain and one of China's largest wind farms. Clean air, brilliant sunshine, painted landscape stuff - a mystical place where Chinese scientists calculated that the first rays of a new millennium's morning sun officially hit the country. Sitting under one of 33 300kw Micon turbines, watching the butterflies, I reflect on China's chances for sustainable industrialisation and a successful outcome from the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

Some 200,000 pigs cannot just disappear! We came to film the production of renewable biogas energy from the world's largest pig farm. But this multimillion-dollar internationally funded flagship development project lies silent just a couple of years after opening. Inside the control room, there are gaps in the instrument panels where parts have been stripped. The pigs left eight months ago. The smell proved too much for the people of nearby Hangzhou, and even now the stench is almost unbearable.

We were not meant to see pigs farmed this way, but eventually we find them on another site: 100,000 pigs in high-rise "pig apartments". Even Paul, our Afghanistan war-hardened cameraman, retches as he shoots.

China's industrialisation is dramatic. The environmental choices China makes today have global climate consequences for centuries. I am covered in goose pimples as we wrap the shoot.

Stephen Peake is lecturer in environmental technology at the Open University.

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.


Featured jobs