China's future garden cities

I often hear Americans whine about climate change, complaining that even if it is real, there's nothing we can do about it, because no matter how hard we try China will never stop polluting so it's all pointless. As a counterpoint, I present the Garden City:

In 1902, a self-taught urban planner named Ebenezer Howardpublished his utopian vision for "Garden Cities"--self-contained circular towns radiating from a central city, connected only by train. Neither town nor country, they were a dense, compact fusion of the two: suburbia without sprawl.

Although Garden Cities never really caught on in the West, the Chicago-based Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture has resurrected the idea with Chinese characteristics: a “prototype city” twice as populous and 20 times as dense, with a tower taller than the Empire State Building at its core. Working with one of China’s largest real estate developers, the firm aims to build them by the score.

The idea is that the small, dense cities, surrounded by "greenbelts," will be built, people will move to the cities, then, when they reach capacity, instead of sprawling out, with new, haphazard construction spreading across the landscape the way it does in American cities, a satellite city will be built nearby, connected only by high-speed rail, to start taking in the new population growth.

It's genius, and it's been around conceptually for over a hundred years.  China has plenty of problems, but it turns out destroying the world with pollution isn't one of them -- or, at least, they're doing more to make it not one of them than America is.  (Cough cough fetishistic individualism is going to kill us all cough cough)

We could use this kind of design in America.  I say we fence in New York, bulldoze the suburbs, and start building satellite cities until we've replaced the necessary housing.  (Not necessarily in that order.)

Thorium! A pretty awesome uranium alternative

(via SciShow) Of all the problems the world is facing in the Information Age, the energy problem is one of the biggest -- and, it seems, one of the most insoluble.  We have a tendency (whether as a culture, in America, or just as a species) to assume that resource problems are based on fixed proportion.

With energy, the proportions we imagine are cleanliness, quantity, and safety.  We imagine that we need fossil fuels because we need huge quantities of energy, and they're a bit safer than nuclear, but aren't clean.  Nuclear is too scary, and feels too unsafe.  And this mental comparison leads most people to assume that because clean energy is, by definition, very clean, and almost always also very safe, it must not be able to produce anywhere near enough power.

Fortunately the world doesn't work that way, and as a species so far we've been lucky to discover over and over again that there are easy ways to totally break the system and get way more quality out of the available resources.

For energy, this game-breaking fuel is Thorium.

According to Hank Green on SciShow, Thorium is about as common as dirt.  Miners literally throw the stuff out because it just gets in the way when they mine other stuff.

Thorium is more efficient and safer than uranium power, and the coolant involved isn't pressurized -- so the stuff that happened in Chernobyl, and more recently, Fukushima, must isn't possible.

It is radioactive, but it's not the same kind -- Thorium produces alpha waves, which are way safer than Uranium's gamma rays.  Thorium's waste is also radioactive for a much shorter period of time -- just a few hundred years.  So, compared to Uranium waste, which will probably still be a problem when humans aren't around to explain it, Thorium waste could plausibly be totally safe within the life span of the civilization that created it.

It's also super-hard to make weapons out of it, and can use up and eliminate plutonium waste as part of its running process.  Win.

China is already leading on developing Thorium reactors.  India is also looking into it.'s article links to an article on, claiming it points to criticism of thorium:

If "an endless, too-cheap-to-meter source of clean, benign, what-could-possibly-go-wrong energy" sounds too good to be true, says nuclear analyst Norm Rubin, it's because it is.

But that article, which points out that it's been edited from a previous version, has very little in the way of criticism of Thorium.  The only complaints pointed out are that (a.) it would be expensive to retrofit existing reactors, and (b.) engineers these days aren't generally trained in the technology for thorium.

But, come on.  Nuclear reactors and coal are going to keep costing us, they're not free once you've made them, and the climate change costs are going to keep going up the longer we go without creating a carbon-neutral energy source -- which Thorium is.

Besides, we're suffering a job crisis.  Get a bunch of the unemployed engineers to take a crash course, hire contractors to build the reactors, start new domestic mining operations -- these all sound like solutions to me, not new problems.

According to Kirk Sorensen's TED talk on Thorium, we could make fuels using these reactors by taking CO2 out of the air.  So, that's carbon-neutral carbon-based fuel.

The complaints apart from the cost seem mostly to be the same as the advantages cited by thorium advocates -- there's still nuclear waste, just a lot less, it's still radioactive, just nowhere near as dangerously so.