Are there still rooms left for us?

This year the planet Earth reaches its landmark human population, 7 billion! And projected to be 8 billon in year 2030 and 9 billion in year 2050. Homo sapiens perhaps consist of the largest mammal population in the earth. The topic was highlighted by the January 2011 issue of National Geographic, which showed a tremendous acceleration of human population growth in the past millenium of the 20th century. The number of mega cities with population exceeding one million has increased from a mere 3 in 1800 (Beijing had 1.3 million then together with Tokyo and London) to a staggering 442 in year 2010 with Asia having most crowded cities. Population growth was in no doubt one of the central focuses of the media this year. Many media sources discussed the consequence and solutions to accomodate increasing number of humans. Building vertical cities become a future trend given that it’s after all a reality.

(Figure adopted from

With the advent of industrialization and advance of medicine, human life style morphed from nomadic and periodic migration to modern city dwelling. The former life style was at the mercy of mother nature and gradually phases out in most human society. The latter provides a long-term residence but in the meantime features more frequent and more damaging pattern of short-term human travelling for business and pleasure as well as trading transportations in air, land and ocean.

Aggravating the situation, consumption culture imposes much more stress on the environment. Mass consumption as a vehicle drives the global economy, labor market and international trading, and large-scale consumption is also a determinant for policy making, a pressure for foreign relations and a motivation for scientific and engineering research.

How much pressure the Earth can uptake for our consumption desires? Is there a tipping point that leads to a catastrophe?

housing bubble in china, and elsewhere

“安得广厦千万间,大庇天下寒士俱欢颜”, not for the modern Chinese. The country is falling without values, but people just cannot care less.

People love owning properties and are crazy about owning costly properties such as houses. A tent, a shelter, an adobe, an apartment, a mansion, and a skyscraper…, from ancient tribes to modern societies, each of these structures provides human a shield that separates us from the outside, the hostile however natural environment. It satisfies human’s basic sense of protection and security against the unpredictable and the uncertainties. Never mind that this is an irony that unpredictability and uncertainty have been driving human development ever since human beings came to their existence in this planet.

OK. Enough for the philosophical blah blah… Let’s look at the Chinese housing saga. I had a few friends who had bought apartments at early 2000. Obviously now, these friends of mine are considered a lucky group that gained handsomely in personal finance, thanks to the Chinese housing bubble in the recently past years. We saw empty residence towers in big metropolitans such as Beijing and Shanghai. Now houses are merchandises, goods, means of investment, but not for sheltering ordinary people from the hostile surroundings. Instead, everyday people are under pressur to endure unprecedented physical, financial and mental stresses only to acquire a humble place to support their families. Young people struggle to buy houses and hand over with their parents’s hard-saved cash to the real estate developers. Personal and social values follow in a twisted manner that reflects the substantiated impact by the housing bubble. An ownership of an apartment is required by a Shanghai mom to her future son-in-law so that she can feel relieved for her daughter (for what?). The most common talks at lunch and dinner tables are about buying, selling, and pricing of houses (topic that is equivalently hot is the stock market, which is also busting a bubble this year). Housing slangs including “fang nu”, “wo ju”, “luo hun” are now part of the pop culture.

(Image Bloomberg. People who made down payments on homes at a China Vanke Co. development protest in Shanghai outside the Vanke Shanghai Center, standing opposite a row of security guards. Caption from Los Angeles Times, Dec. 13, 2011)

Years of zealous growth in housing values evangelicated people to pursue real estate ownership as nearly as a religious endeavor. Recent real estate price drop due to the Chinese government  intervention has angered many fresh buyers who believed the only way for housing price to go is up. This is an old bubble in America, but in China it is going through a whole other uncharted water. See a report from Los Angeles Times for a recent account.