The Nature Conservancy in China


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This week on Sinica, Kaiser speaks with Charles Bedford, who has been the managing director since 2012 of The Nature Conservancy (TNC)’s Asia-Pacific region, which encompasses Asia, the Pacific Islands, Indonesia, and Australia. The organization focuses on solving incredibly pressing and paramount issues central to the health of our planet. TNC is a charitable environmental organization that focuses on bringing the “best available science” to decision makers in all levels of government and local communities both inside and outside of the United States.

In this episode, Kaiser and Charles discuss the formation of the national parks system in China beginning nearly two decades ago in which Charles and TNC played an instrumental role; the promising Chinese ecotourism industry; hydropower in China; “sponge cities” and “green bonds”; environmental activism and philanthropy; and local Chinese environmental organizations.

What to listen for on this week’s Sinica Podcast:

12:30: Charles on responsibly developing hydropower projects in Southeast Asia: “The problem with the way that we have developed the world’s rivers is that we’ve done it through a death of a thousand cuts. In a sense that if you do these things bit by bit and without looking at entire river systems, then you can essentially destroy the ecological diversity, the function of the river for people, the ability of the river to produce food, to produce silts that are nutritional for agricultural production.”

25:50: Kaiser and Charles discuss sponge cities: “What China’s done over the last few years is taken a pretty remarkable step to rebuild its city infrastructure across the whole country. This is a massive, national ‘sponge city’ program to go back in and figure out how to de-hardscape and put in bioswales [drainage receptacles].”

31:21: Does China get too much credit or too much blame on the environmental front? “The preponderance, I’m told, of civil disturbances, riots essentially, in China, are resulting from pollution. [They] derive from some type of local pollution or land use problem with the government. So China is not necessarily a democratic place where issues can turf themselves up and go through a political process, but there’s still an outlet for people to say this is wrong. And the great thing about this is the Chinese government is pretty much open to these kinds of [environmental] protests.”

37:42: Charles tells Kaiser about an interview he had with Jack Ma, in which Ma describes nearly drowning in a river as a child in his native Hangzhou. He also shares that he returned there years later, and things had changed — he would have been hard-pressed to drown in that same river because the water now only reached his ankles, and he wouldn’t want to swim in it because it was clearly polluted. Ma is a Global Board Member of The Nature Conservancy.


Charles: Brave Genius: A Scientist, a Philosopher, and Their Daring Adventures from the French Resistance to the Nobel Prize, by Sean C. Carroll, a book on World War II and the stories of Albert Camus and Jacques Monod.

Kaiser: The Wizard and the Prophet, by Charles C. Mann, and a seven-part recording of a 1995 live show by the band Idiot Flesh.

This podcast was edited and produced by Kaiser Kuo and Jason MacRonald.

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