Everyone remembers China's performance at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games. The show was immense and extravagant. The coordinated motions of 2,008 drummers made a strong impression of China's strength and ingenuity, demonstrating their immense population. A country so large is bound to do things on a large scale. And now China has done it again by venturing in an unexpected direction: combating carbon emissions.
China's large population and dependence on coal power make it one of the greatest carbon emitters, and these emissions are likely to increase as the country develops. Nonetheless, the Chinese government has made efforts to combat carbon pollution that promise to surpass the United States' progress.
In China, the current fuel efficiency standard for new cars is 36.7 miles per gallon. The government has shut down many inefficient power plants. Leaders have set high efficiency standards for coal plants. Future Chinese efforts include increasing tree coverage to 20 percent of the nation's land, and boosting renewable energy to 15 percent of the country's energy sources by 2020. These are admirable actions for a country with a per capita carbon emission rate that is one-fifth that of the United States.
As a result of their energy-saving efforts, the International Energy Agency has lowered their estimate of future greenhouse gas emissions in China. However, as China rinses the coal from their hands, President Obama has only begun to roll up his sleeves. At the beginning of his term, Obama urged the Senate to pass legislation that would cap carbon emissions, but nothing has come of his efforts. In December, Obama will attend a worldwide conference in Copenhagen on climate change, with nothing to show thus far for his efforts to halt carbon emissions.
The challenge of the next century is to reverse greenhouse gas emissions and save the climate in which we live. The opportunity of the next century is largely the same - to build technologies that generate and use energy so efficiently the world will buy those systems to save itself.
Economic growth and climate protection need to go hand in hand. The question before the United States is thus whether the hands that build the new technologies and those that take in the cash will be exclusively Chinese, or whether we can do the right and the profitable thing.
Masha Lafen. More »