The figures are daunting. But the engineers who run the Chinese ship of state are nothing if not good at math, and they have committed to making real changes -- building mass-transit systems, introducing alternative fuels such as ethanol, and promoting fuel efficiency and electric cars. There are still other things Chinese cities can do at the margins, such as introducing the sorts of "congestion pricing" schemes -- taxes on vehicles as they enter certain areas -- that have worked wonders in places like London and Singapore. Unfortunately, numerous studies have shown that the numbers don't quite add up, as these technical fixes tend to ignore China's fundamental problem: cities designed to accommodate cars, not human beings.
China's leaders have a limited window of opportunity to plan for prosperous, livable, low-carbon cities. They have the resources and the wherewithal to make the sweeping changes required to avert an impending social and environmental disaster of proportions unknown in human history. It might seem strange to think that a budding superpower must make shorter commutes, public transport, walking, and bicycling its top priorities. But unless it does, China's powerful economic engines -- its cities -- will slowly grind to a halt.