Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Challenge 14: Water

I have challenged my students to write a college application essay of at least 300 words every day for 30 days, working off a long list of essay topics. Below is one of my attempts. (Note from the future: Out of about 50 students, 22 actually completed it. I tried but gave up after 18 days.)

#66. Pick a story of local, national, or international importance from the front page of any newspaper. Identify your source and give the date the article appeared. Then use your sense of humor, sense of outrage, sense of justice—or just plain good sense—to explain why the story engages your attention. (University of Chicago)

A few weeks ago, I chaperoned a school trip to the Indian city of Dharamshala, home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile. While there, the students and I met Hollywood heart-throb Richard Gere and participated in an art event where people had a chance to walk on soil that had been smuggled out of Tibet. A couple of days later, I saw stories about both Richard Gere and the art event in The Times of India newspaper. The art event seemed particularly important; one activist was quoted as saying something about how China would have to take notice now that there were exiled monks and nuns and old people walking on their home soil. Somehow, this event would change public opinion, create an outcry, lead to a free Tibet.

On Oct. 25, I logged on to the New York Times website to see if there was anything about this event. Was this really an international news story? Were the Chinese reconsidering their takeover? There was nothing on the site about Dharamshala; instead, there was a business story that made me realize just how little the Chinese government cared: China Takes a Loss to Get Ahead in the Business of Fresh Water. The Chinese, it seems, are investing heavily in desalination technology. It's a money-losing proposition, but it is seen as "economic strategy." According to the article, "the government has set its mind on becoming a force in yet another budding environment-related industry: supplying the world with fresh water."

The article explores "plenty of reasons for China to want a homegrown desalination industry, not the least of which is homegrown fresh water." Demand for water is growing, and the government is looking for ways to supply the country's future needs. More important, however, are the export possibilities: "The global market for desalination technology will more than quadruple by 2020 to about $50 billion a year, the research firm SBI Energy predicted last month, and growing water shortages worldwide appear to ensure further growth." Ultimately, it seems that China is pushing for new technology that will make it a world leader in the near future.

Reading this article, I was reminded of something I learned many years back in an Asian history class. American policy decisions, my professor had said, are based on predictions for the next three to five years. The Chinese, on the other hand, look to the next several decades or even centuries.

And so, do the Chinese even care that a couple hundred Tibetans walked on some soil? Most probably not; they're too busy planning their world dominance.

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