MIT has joined the Chinese government and a leading Chinese university to sponsor an unprecedented international initiative--the involvement of universities and industrial companies in fostering economic growth while preserving the environment for the 21st century.
As a first step in implementing the government program, China's Agenda 21, Tsinghua University in Beijing and MIT sponsored an International Conference on Sustainable Development and Environment July 12-14 in Beijing. Participating in the conference were seven international industrial firms from the United States, Switzerland and Norway.
Speaking at the opening ceremony in the Great Hall of the People was Deng Nan, vice-chair of the State Science and Technology Commission and daughter of Deng Xiao Ping. The opening ceremony featured presentations by Dr. Joel Moses, MIT provost; Gan Shijun, director general of the State Science and Technology Commission's Department of Science and Technology for Social Development; Wang Dazhong, Tsinghua University president; and Braden Allenby, AT&T research vice president for technology and environment.
The conference provided an opportunity for scientists and industrial partners from the US, China and other nations to share technological, economic and developmental knowledge. It also explored ways to promote sustainable development in the world's rapidly developing and developed countries.
Sustainable development is the management of development so that human activities do not significantly alter the quality of life, the availability of natural resources or the environment.
"China's Agenda 21 is the national strategy for sustainable development in China," Dr. Gan Shijun said.
"Under this framework, we would like to seek wide-ranging cooperation with international organizations, foreign governments and various prominent institutes and universities. The conference is only the beginning of our cooperation with MIT."
"The point is to reconcile economic justice-raising the welfare of the poorer nations on earth-and global environmental preservation," Professor Moses said in his opening remarks. "These two objectives are difficult to maximize at the same time. This is a unique challenge for scientists and engineers, as well as a moral and political challenge. We are excited to take on this challenge."
Tsinghua University President Wang Dazhong commented, "Sustainable development and environment are among the most important issues which we will confront in the next century, not only for China but other countries in the world as well. Tsinghua University will actively promote collaborations with MIT and sectors of industry in this respect. It is my hope that our collaborations will lead to a new level of cooperation through this international conference."
MIT President Charls M. Vest discussed the conference with Gan Shijun and Wang Dazhong during a June visit to China. He met with political, academic and research leaders to build mutual understanding between MIT and China, and to lead the way for programs to prepare MIT graduates to live and work in today's global economic community. Dr. Vest intends for MIT to become a world-class center of learning about China-providing an important information source for US industry and government.
Two of the co-chairs of the conference were Suzanne Berger, MIT professor of political science and director of the MIT International Science and Technology Initiative, and MIT Professor David H. Marks, director of the MIT Program for Environmental Engineering Education and Research (PEEER).
Some 12 MIT professors and their Chinese colleagues led a series of discussions and lectures that spanned many areas of academic interest including chemistry, chemical engineering, civil and environmental engineering, earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences, mechanical engineering, political science, and urban studies and planning.
Professor Berger said, "This is a major effort to build international education and research at MIT with multiple benefits: to strengthen our research base by working with the best research abroad, to develop the skills in our students that will allow them access to foreign labs and business opportunities and to address the challenges of environment and development in ways valuable for China, the US and the world. We see China as an emerging power in the world economy and a force in science and technology. In the United States, the 'not invented here' attitude has been a big drag on US competitiveness, and we believe programs like this will benefit American society."
"This project is the first of a series of programs to give students and faculty broader opportunities to gain a deep understanding of how knowledge is created and used in other countries," Professor Berger said.
Professor Marks commented, "Sustainability cuts across global, regional and local boundaries which is why this project in China, with 20 percent of the world's population, is so important to us. MIT wants to work with colleagues across the world to find solutions and educate the decision process."
Scheduled MIT speakers and their topics at the conference included "Global Atmospheric Pollution" by Professor Mario Molina, "Land Subsidence (sinking) Due to Excessive Pumping of Ground Water" by Professor Chiang Mei, "Lessons from Waste Disposal in the Aberjona Watershed" by Dr. John Durant, "Climate Change, Water and Agriculture" by Professor Rafael Bras, "Monitoring the Well-Being of the Environment" by Professor Jeffrey Steinfeld.
Also "Chemical Process and Product Design for Sustainable Futures-Meeting Commercial and Environmental Objectives" by Professor Gregory McRae, "An Integrated Assessment of Airborne Toxicants" by Professor Adel Sarofim, "Tools for Environmentally-Conscious Product Design" by Professor David Wallace, "Industrial Ecology" by Professor Marks, "Environmental Aid Programs: Compensation and Joint Implementation" by Professor Kenneth Oye, and "Will GNP Growth Slow if More Resources are Devoted to Environmental Clean-up" by Professor Alice Amsden.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on July 19, 1995.