Wednesday, January 02, 2013


Anecdata from the last few weeks in northern Vietnam.

1.  The government subsidizes fossil fuels via price caps and money-losing, government-owned energy sector companies, and Hanoi's air pollution is eye-stinging bad (I went jogging and wondered how much life expectancy that cost me).  Presumably Saigon and some other industrial areas are equivalent or worse.

No use ignoring the political support that subsidies of staple products create, especially from politically-important urban residents, but it seems like an alternative arrangement of withdrawing the subsidy and using the money in other ways that help urban air quality could create equivalent support.  Mexico is a decent model.

2.  Just as I've decided that other people's personal problems are far easier to solve than my own personal problems, other nation's political problems are far easier to solve than my nation's.  Why can't the US pass a revenue-neutral carbon tax?  Well, that's complicated....

3.  The government does a decent job of hiding political repression from the casual observer, while massive corruption is openly discussed.  Internet access was everywhere and I didn't find any English language websites blocked, although maybe that will change as English fluency and machine translation improve.  Soviet-style propaganda posters and public loudspeakers spouting messages were also everywhere though and more than a little creepy.  Uncle Ho's picture dominated many living rooms, probably a sincere gesture.

Of the two people who opened up to us in our travels, one was fairly supportive of the government and the other strongly dismissive.

4.  On the good side, we lost count after seeing three dozen or so electric bikes.  Hanoi has as many motorcycle scooters as people so the count isn't even a tenth of a percent, but they're there.  Just as electrifying cars and switching to renewable power is a major/the major part of the American climate solution, electrifying two-wheeled transport could be Vietnam's.  The government also seems to do a decent job of supporting infrastructure for two-wheeled transport, with cement paths and narrow bridges.  A huge tax on cars supports the two-wheel system, often doubling the car's costs.  Why can't we do that in the US, at least for luxury cars?  Well, that's complicated....

5.  I didn't spot a single solar PV system but did see plenty of solar water heaters, every one of them brand new.  Lots of hydro capacity and some construction, both of the all-good, small hydro and mixed result large hydro.  A side-note here:  funny how some enviros are reconsidering opposition to nuclear power but no one talks about large-scale hydro, which by contrast to nukes is economically cheap.  Maybe that's because the major dam projects are all finished in the industrialized world.

6.  Climate isn't quite warm enough for year-round rice production in north Vietnam, so many paddies are left fallow.  It seems like there is sometimes (not always) a choice available to farmers whether to flood or keep dry those fallow paddies, and that might affect methane production in the off season.  There might be a policy opportunity here, incentivizing farmers to keep the paddies dry in the off-season, and verification by satellite would be easy.

7.  I have a flood control idea for my water district, of using a smart grid composed of residential rainwater retention systems to shave the peak off of a flood.  I think it has a shot of being feasible in small, urbanized watersheds.  I wonder if the same couldn't be true for watersheds dominated by rice paddies, emptying them in anticipation of a major storm and then letting them take up some of the excess.

8.  Little-founded speculation, but where the hell are the birds?  I know it's winter and the Vietnamese trap and eat even the little birds, but still the forests and skies seem empty.  Maybe Rachel Carson's future has happened here.

Spectacular scenery but don't come for the wildlife, at least in the north.

9.  Touristing note:  Lonely Planet never led us wrong, other than a two bad addresses for hotels.  In particular, Handspan, Blue Swimmer, Asia Outdoors, and Sapa O'Chau all did a great job for us tourists, adjusting for the necessary flexibility and English fluency level of a developing country.


a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

Ah, but what about the streetfood? Every Vietnamese refugee I've known says this is what they miss most.

John said...

I've never been to Vietnam. But even I know that the city formerly known as Saigon is now Ho Chi Minh City.

carrot eater said...

yeah. there are a number of countries with misguided, and increasingly expensive, subsidies for fuels and the like. You end up with wasteful usage, and you end up mainly benefiting the wealthier people. if the intent is to help the poorest, there are better ways.

Snapple said...

People there often call it Saigon.

David B. Benson said...

Surprising as it may seem and not even counting a penny towards the environmental costs of a dam and reservoir, dams are now more expensive (in most locations) than the much more easily sited nuclear power plants. This on a LCOE basis.

Brian said...

John - to really seem with it, just call it HCMH.

a ray - the food was great, even tofu, and I'm not much of a tofu fan. I did have some digestive issues tho and shied away from street food. I have to give the edge to Indonesian food though, esp the Indonesian barbecued fish and fried rice.

Brian said...

Arrgh, I meant HCMC.

silburnl said...

"dams are now more expensive (in most locations) than the much more easily sited nuclear power plants."

Also they can kill a lot of people if they fail.


EliRabett said...

Anybunny remember Leningrad?

a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

Having traveled a lot in the third world, I started out very careful...and got sick anyway. After a while, you just say "F*** it. Pass the salad." And you learn to say "amoebas" in multiple languages.

The one exception is the subcontinent--I don't mess with street food there. I've had too many near-death experiences.

David B. Benson said...

Vietnam currently has one nuclear power plant (NPP) under construction, has started site preparation for another and detailed planning for a third. The longer range plan is for 7 more.