The Zero-Energy Chinese Cancer Factory

Looks like Ed Mazria has one more case study for Architecture 2030 (see post below):
Sustainable Design Update reports that uber-architects Skidmore, Owings and Merril have designed a skyscraper in the booming Chinese city of Guangdong that produces all of its electricity on-site. The building uses site orientation, hi-tech window glazing, air circulation strategies, and heat-absorbing materials to reduce energy consumption by 60% over a conventional building of the same size, and the reduced energy needs are met by PV panels and large- and small-scale wind turbines. Sounds pretty sustainable, right?

Except for one thing. The building is the new headquaters for the Guangdong Tobacco Company – an arm of China National Tobacco Company, the largest cigarette manufacturer in the world. In a country where smoking is a part of the national culture, the government-owned CNTC provides Beijing with billions of dollars in taxes every year, while feeding the addictions of more Chinese than the entire US Population.

The Guangdong Tobacco building provides a fine example of the inscrutable ethical knots found at the intersection of capitalism, globalization and sustainablility. To be sure, we should be doing all we can to reduce our global carbon footprint, especially in emerging superpowers like China. But is it ethical to build a green skyscraper, even a zero-energy one, if the building’s client is cutting short the lives of hundreds of millions of people? And what if the profits from that client are helping finance education, infrastructure improvements, and renewable energy? Tricky times, indeed.


7 thoughts on “The Zero-Energy Chinese Cancer Factory

  1. Historicus says:

    My good friend, please pardon my lack of punctuality and alacrity in creating and nourishing a dialog with you on such important and ever pressing issues. I have many thoughts concerning your the entire gamut of your posting, and have deduced you will most hastily find this under you most recent post.
    First, You raise a very pertinent question in asking whether sustainability within an advanced capitalist economy is in fact a chimera. Indeed it is, and one would go no further than basic analysis of the structure and fundamental necessitations of a capitalist economy. Capitalism is a system that consists of a superstructure characterized by the essential drive to accumulate and a substructure of an ideology of abstract individualism punctuated by the psychological hedonism/egoism born out of the gross ambiguities of the antinomianism of protestantism. Intrinsic to the superstructure, and arguably the substructure, is an inordinate plethora of contradictions. The ones most germane to the issue on hand are the impassiveness and indifference of human needs and the inescapable drive to expand ad infinitum.

    Certain requirements must be satisfied for the continuation of a capitalist system, for the sake of brevity the most exigent of these requirements is the need to accumulate In saecvla saecvlorvm. This alone constitutes many other requirements which are often misunderstood or simply unknown to the layman, and hence one would find nothing unusual or irrational about this urging need. What must be understood is that for capitalism not to fall to the purges of fascism or be elevated to a more egalitarian organization people and nature must be conquered. The working class must be driven from the land, and the land must be driven under the working class. Indeed it was capitalism that facilitated the change from the people belonging to the land to the land belonging to the people. The subjection of humans and nature is essential to the fundamental requirements of growth and the need to accumulate to forever feed the surplus of profits. The contradictions are explicit and unequivocal, it’s sometimes said that only a madman and an economist can imagine a system of infinite growth within an finite world, perhaps we’re all economists in that sense. It’s not hard to miss the fatal flaw of the such a system when in comes to the mere sustainability of such irrationalities, and however difficult it may be to convince people of the illogical organization of humans under such a system, it is by no means difficult to expose. One needn’t go further than showing that capitalism is dependent on keeping wages down while ultimately relying on wage-based consumption to support economic growth and investment, but I shall abstain from such a lengthy investigation for now and remain as thrifty as possible in my meager attempt to communicate the crucial need for structural reform.

    The realms of ecology and capitalism are opposed, not in every instance, but in their interactions as a whole. Sustainability in the eyes of a capitalist is a sever constraint on short-term profit. Though some capitalists capitalize on the profitability of selling the new “conscious” middle-class organic food, the Prius, and wind powered televisions, this does not hold true as a general consensus in a monopoly economy where the same individuals who own the oil industry run the production industry. Rather, the utility of sustainability in a capitalist economy would seem to be as a tool of acquiescence and a more or less disingenuous attempt of offsetting fundamental contractions. For no amount of granola, solar panels, or bio-diesel can resolve the structural contradictions of capitalism. Indeed your example of the tobacco monopoly occupying that “sustainable” edifice is paramount to understanding and exposing the chimera of sustainable capitalism. What we must ask ourselves, and more importantly others, is if that building is in fact sustainable under the aegis (or lack of) of an unsustainable system.

  2. markofando says:

    Want to start your private office arms race right now?

    I just got my own USB rocket launcher 🙂 Awsome thing.

    Plug into your computer and you got a remote controlled office missile launcher with 360 degrees horizontal and 45 degree vertival rotation with a range of more than 6 meters – which gives you a coverage of 113 square meters round your workplace.
    You can get the gadget here:

    Check out the video they have on the page.


    Marko Fando

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