Among the long list of speakers at the University of Oregon’s Public Interest Environmental Law Conference is president and founder of Eugene-based Grape Solar, Ocean Yuan, who’s proven there’s a market for consumer solar panels.
The Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC), open to the public, runs March 3-6 at the UO School of Law and features a variety of green-oriented keynote speakers, panels and films.
Yuan moved to Eugene in 1990 from China’s Suichang county, Zhejiang province and went on to graduate from the UO’s Lundquist College of Business. Yuan says when he first arrived, he didn’t understand Eugene’s policies on urban growth, or why the city would limit its own growth. His views have since changed.
“In developing countries 30 years ago, they all wanted economic freedom and growth, and sometimes unlimited growth,” Yuan says. “The consequence is the environment in China is terrible.”
He adds, “We used to have clean air. We used to have clean water. We used to have fish in the river.”
In China, Yuan sold the fish his father caught before going to school in the morning. Now, the solar panels his company produces are sold in Costco and Home Depot stores across the country.
China and the U.S. are the world’s largest contributors to pollution, according to study published by global research organization, the World Resources Institute.
The same study says the U.S. and China produce more greenhouse emissions than the next eight countries, and that the top 10 countries comprise 70 percent of the world’s emissions production. The study counted the entire European Union as the third most emissions producing country.
Yuan says there’s no lack of environmental laws, but the implementation isn’t effective. “Fines are like a trade off,” he tells EW. “People choose to pay fines and still continue operating.
“In China, for example, people born in the mid-’90s and new millennium, they never have seen clear sky, or stars in the big cities like Shanghai,” he adds. “They probably think, ‘This is the world. That’s the way it is.’”
He says he believes education to the general population is critical to build a foundation of environmental awareness.
“Starting from school level,” he says, “we should be educating about the harmfulness of polluted air, polluted water and don’t take it for granted.”
Yuan will host three other speakers from China representing legal, business and academic environmental interests. Lai Huineng, Dr. Jiwen Chang, Cao Yin and Yuan will speak about how they’re confronting environmental issues in China in a keynote talk from noon to 2 pm Friday, March 4.