The climate debate in China

Thomas Friendman’s latest op-ed in The New York Times argues that the bogus debate about the science of climate change does not exist in China:

“There is really no debate about climate change in China,” said Peggy Liu, chairwoman of the Joint U.S.-China Collaboration on Clean Energy, a nonprofit group working to accelerate the greening of China. “China’s leaders are mostly engineers and scientists, so they don’t waste time questioning scientific data.” The push for green in China, she added, “is a practical discussion on health and wealth. There is no need to emphasize future consequences when people already see, eat and breathe pollution every day.”

And because runaway pollution in China means wasted lives, air, water, ecosystems and money — and wasted money means fewer jobs and more political instability — China’s leaders would never go a year (like we will) without energy legislation mandating new ways to do more with less. It’s a three-for-one shot for them. By becoming more energy efficient per unit of G.D.P., China saves money, takes the lead in the next great global industry and earns credit with the world for mitigating climate change.

I cannot personally comment on whether this view is accurate or not, but it is definitely interesting. China’s model of government certainly involves certain advantages – such as the ability to take action quickly and decisively once a decision is made at the top. Of course, it involves the many limitations associated with authoritarianism as well.

Hopefully, China and other countries will finally come to accept how threatening climate change is, in the months and years immediately ahead of us. Then, perhaps we can finally begin to make the transition to zero-carbon energy on a sufficient scale to avoid dangerous and ultimately catastrophic climate change.

10 thoughts on “The climate debate in China

  1. Byron Smith

    If this account is true (I have no particular reason to doubt it, other than the fact that sweeping generalisations about a nation as enormous as China are almost certainly false), then unfortunately it may just provide another pointless denier talking point: that action on climate change is communist because China is taking it seriously.

  2. klem

    “China’s model of government certainly involves certain advantages – such as the ability to take action quickly and decisively once a decision is made at the top. ”

    What the F@$%?! China’s model of government, are you serious? It is a communist dictatorship, virtually the only one left after a century of torture and murder. The ability to take action quickly is correct, action to murder or lock people away forever on a whim. And yes there is no debate in China about climate, because it is a dictatorship there is actually no debate in China about anything. What, did you people forget or something? Or did the great work they did on the Olympics lull you to back to sleep; I guess it worked. Sheep.

  3. Milan Post author

    What you say doesn’t contradict what I said. Certainly, China’s system of government has many major problems. That being said, they undeniably have the ability to take decisive action in a top-down way, when they are motivated to do so. That potential advantage doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take the problems with China’s government seriously, but it isn’t something it makes sense to ignore either.

  4. .

    “China is doing moon shots. Yes, that’s plural. When I say “moon shots” I mean big, multibillion-dollar, 25-year-horizon, game-changing investments. China has at least four going now: one is building a network of ultramodern airports; another is building a web of high-speed trains connecting major cities; a third is in bioscience, where the Beijing Genomics Institute this year ordered 128 DNA sequencers — from America — giving China the largest number in the world in one institute to launch its own stem cell/genetic engineering industry; and, finally, Beijing just announced that it was providing $15 billion in seed money for the country’s leading auto and battery companies to create an electric car industry, starting in 20 pilot cities. In essence, China Inc. just named its dream team of 16-state-owned enterprises to move China off oil and into the next industrial growth engine: electric cars.”

  5. .

    “China does not have this problem [democracy]. When its technocrats decide to dam a river, build a road or move a village, the dam goes up, the road goes down and the village disappears. The displaced villagers may be compensated, but they are not allowed to stand in the way of progress. China’s leaders make rational decisions that balance the needs of all citizens over the long term. This has led to rapid, sustained growth that has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. Small wonder that authoritarians everywhere cite China as their best excuse not to allow democracy just yet. “

  6. Pingback: China and climate

  7. .

    Liu Xiaobo – Going To Be Pretty Tough For The Chinese Government To Kill Now
    Nobel Peace Prize Winner

    December 15, 2010 | ISSUE 46 – 50

    For his tireless crusade against single-party rule, writer, activist, and political prisoner Liu Xiaobo won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, making it pretty tough for Chinese leaders to surreptitiously kill him now.

    Liu, who is currently serving an 11-year sentence for subversion, has inspired millions fighting for human rights across the globe, and severely complicated any efforts on Beijing’s part to quietly eliminate him and suppress his pro-democracy message by making it look as though he choked on some stale bread.

    Chinese leaders, who consider Liu to be a threat to civil order, must be pretty peeved right about now that his high-profile status has all but ruled out the possibility of anyone believing he would suddenly commit suicide, and has ensured a fatal fall down the stairs would just look amateurish and ridiculous. Moreover, when Liu’s wife was allowed to visit him following the prize announcement, the government’s hands were essentially tied as far as physically harming her goes, which is a major pain for them. Given Liu’s newfound celebrity, there is little Chinese officials can do but hope for a lightning strike on his cell, or an extremely localized meteor impact during the daily outdoor exercise period.

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