Green China? Actions to improve energy intensity, efficiency and sustainability offer a different picture of the world’s biggest polluter
More efficient coal plants, 10% of homes heated by solar power and massive plans for wind farms that would turn U.S. environmentalists even greener with envy. No, it’s not Denmark or Holland, but China. You know, that rapidly industrializing powerhouse of over 1.3 billion people, all lusting after wide screen TVs, steak dinners and SUVs? Yes, the world’s largest over-all polluter. But China’s status as leading emitter doesn’t really tell the full story. In terms of per capita emissions, they produce but a small fraction of what the super-emitting people of the United States do. In order for the average Chinese citizen to become a hyper-consuming, polluting, all-over eco-jerk, they’ll need to significantly step up their game to somewhere around the level of the big boys in the U.S. and Australia.
Unfortunately – as if you didn’t already know – they are stepping up their game. Big time. And a significant amount of this (up to one third of China’s carbon emissions, for example) is due to the production of export goods destined for the developed world. So the West is helping China pollute more. On the other hand, China is (fortunately) stepping up its game on Green issues as well. One important way it is doing this is in the area of ‘energy intensity’, in other words ‘the amount of energy used per dollar of gross domestic product’. According to the environmental think tank WRI, or World Resources Institute, China is well on its way to meeting its goal of a 20% reduction in energy intensity.
Read more: ‘China outperforms U.S on green issues’ from NewScientist magazine.
“China is going to eat our lunch and take our jobs on clean energy — an industry that we largely invented — and they are going to do it with a managed economy we don’t have and don’t want.”
–Joe Romm, climateprogress.org (source: New York Times)
The New York Times‘ Thomas Friedman highlights the advantages of China’s efficient one party autocracy – specifically its investments in Green industries – over the United States’ currently stifled and extremely partisan two party democracy. Basically China has a system that gets things done, provided those in power want them to be done. At the moment, China’s leaders want to mobilize some big Green initiatives and so they ‘just do it.’ (Another American idea!) Of course, Thomas Friedman isn’t saying that the U.S. should become a benevolent dictatorship, but perhaps he’s longing for a system in which an elected government gets to enact the policies it got elected on. Wouldn’t that be weird?
But before we start waving Chinese flags and believing that they’re totally on the right environmental track, there is the horrible and unregulated pollution that is still taking place in China. If you’re sick of reading about it, have a look at this slideshow. And those eco-cities that China was building? According to Yale University’s Environment 360 website, that’s not really happening anymore. Oh well, you have to both give praise where praise is due and decry any continued wrongdoing. It’s what any benevolent dictator worth his or her salt would do.
By Graham Land
More good and bad Chinese eco-news from greenfudge:
FOCUS // CHINA – Fresh Green Chutes Among Growing Slag Heaps: Homegrown Chinese Eco Solutions
The Rampant Industrialization of China – Environmental, Political and Human Consequences