At some point, I went public. Not sure when or why, but turns out I have shareholders (or should I say stakeholders?), and responsibility to them to accomplish, well, something. Oddly I’ve had a lot of conversations recently about the little things, like what are we supposed to do with our lives, and whether we should try to save the world (and pandas) or just enjoy life as it comes (like pandas). As much as I loved the laid-back panda life in Chengdu, I found that I couldn’t just loll around all day. I had the ambition chip planted in me a long time ago, and still have a deep sense that indeed, with great privilege (thanks mom and dad!) comes great responsibility. In short, I feel I owe it to you, my stakeholders, to do something meaningful. (Eeps!)
And of course, I want to live a reasonably comfy life back in good old New York one of these days, which doesn’t come cheap.
So I’ve settled on energy and pollution, because that solves my Bobo-dilemma (if you haven’t read Bobos in Paradise by David Brooks, it’s definitely worth it; if you liked the Tipping Point you’ll like Bobos). Pollution in China is something I’m passionate about (and you’d be too if you had to breathe this horrible air everyday for a year): it’s obvious, it’s tangible, it’s a major quality of life impingement, it affects every one of us living in Chinese cities, it kills people (1,600 a year in Hong Kong alone per one estimate), and most unfairly of all, it takes away my blue sky.
Entering the smog over Chengdu.
If Stanford instilled anything in me, it was a deep love of a deep blue sky.
Energy, on the other side, is awesome. I don’t have to walk up stairs because of it, and can write this email to you thanks to it. Every other day I am reminded of its power as my pathetic iPod battery flat lines and the music in my life is silenced. As we learned during the Eastern US blackout a few years ago, traffic lights stop working without power, and more disturbingly, ice cream melts. In Chengdu, because energy was relatively so expensive, I spent two months freezing without heating and had phlegm so deep in my chest that it took pilates-strengthened core muscles to hock it out. Without cheap juice, Chinese people can’t watch TV. (Did you know the average Chinese family watches an average of 4 hours of TV a day (study p. 839)?) Without power, Chinese actresses would be shedding melodramatic tears in vain!
So dear shareholders, the mission of Liz Aab Enterprise is to help China get lots of energy (or the benefits of energy anyway) without creating lots of pollution (and maybe reduce geopolitical tension while we’re at it). The question of course is how? What’s the best avenue?
Here in Beijing, I’ve been looking for the answers to these questions. I more or less spend each day talking to experts in the field about questions that are interesting to me (and them), reading articles about a subject I think is fascinating, and trying to learn: chemistry (nitrogen/ozone cycle in urban centers), technology (what is the different between mono-crystalline and multi-crystalline solar cells?), geology (how is methane trapped under coal beds?), legal structure (how does China actually calculate the price concession for wind power under the 2006 renewable energy law?), biology (what pollutants harm humans and how?), finance (what does a Clean Development Mechanism contract look like and how are they priced?), construction (what is integrated design?), energy efficiency (is a compact fluorescent really worth the upfront cost?), sociology (how do Chinese people use energy?), electricity (how is energy generated by coal, and how much does it take?), nuclear physics (is a nuclear fission reactor possible?), global climate (is global warming for real and what impacts does it have?), auto mechanics (how does a hybrid engine work and what are its byproducts?), agriculture (what crops are good biofuels, who grows them, and what are the potential risks to the global ag market?), electrical engineering (how much energy is lost over power lines?), Chinese language (how do you say “initiative” in Chinese?), ecology (what are the implications of hydro power like the 3 Gorges Dam?), and of course economics (what are the costs of different power sources?).
You get the idea. I am loving it. Loving it. It’s like going to a university with no fees or requirements, just a bunch of tutorials of your own creation taught in coffee shops by experts in the field. In Beijing, one of the most dynamic and important cities in the world at a moment of great acceleration.
Of course behind all this, I’m looking for a job. But this “looking for a job” is my dream job, honestly. Now if only I weren’t running out of my savings…