Thursday, July 24, 2008

Should We Lower Our Standard of Living so China can Pollute?

Everybody knows that the United States is the world’s biggest polluter. Everybody knows that if George W. Bush wasn’t standing in the way, the U.S. Senate would approve the Kyoto Protocol from the Framework Convention on Climate Change and in a few years the entire planet would be pollution free. Just ask Al Gore.

Well, “Everybody” is wrong.

Sometime last year China passed the United States as the world’s largest emitter of CO2 which is considered the primary “Greenhouse” gas. It has even been reported that China, all by itself, increased the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by 2% in 2007. If that is not bad enough, the total CO2 emitted by China has DOUBLED in the past 7 years. And, at their current rate of growth, China’s emissions will double again in the next 10 – 12 years.

Translation: The United States could take every car off the road, shut down all of our coal burning power plants, basically take America back to the Stone Age and 10 years from now the “Greenhouse” gases will be exactly the same as they are today. All thanks to Chinese coal fired power plants and wasteful big industry. They are currently adding an additional coal fired plant every week or so with no end in sight. While the scrubber technology common in America is available and installed on many of the Chinese coal plants, the operators have found it cheaper to pay a fine than to use them, compounding the problem.

But wasn’t the Kyoto Protocol supposed to fix all of this? China happily signed it and why not? They don’t have to limit their pollution; they only have to report it! Currently China burns more coal in inefficient and polluting factories and power stations than the United States, Europe and Japan combined, yet they have no restrictions on the growth of their emissions. It would seem the only thing the Kyoto Protocol hoped to achieve was to lower the standard of living for the developed nations while allowing developing nations such as China, India and Brazil to foul the air and water with impunity. In fact, 80% of the nations in the world are completely exempt from Kyoto imposed limits and Russia – another major offender -- wasn’t asked to make any improvement, only maintain their same current levels of pollution.

George W. Bush recognized how unfair it was to expect the Western world to lower their emissions while letting China and others raise theirs. In 2001 he withdrew from the Kyoto farce:
"This is a challenge that requires a 100% effort; ours, and the rest of the worlds. The world's second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases is the People's Republic of China. Yet, China was entirely exempted from the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol. India and Germany are among the top emitters. Yet, India was also exempt from Kyoto… America's unwillingness to embrace a flawed treaty should not be read by our friends and allies as any abdication of responsibility. To the contrary, my administration is committed to a leadership role on the issue of climate change… Our approach must be consistent with the long-term goal of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere."
-President George W. Bush (see the complete letter
Instead of being praised for his good sense he was vilified. Despite the self evident inequity of the Kyoto Protocol where the nations trying to battle pollution are punished while those creating the bulk of the new pollutants were in effect rewarded, the hew and cry from the “Global Warming” alarmist could be heard throughout the land.
“Bush hates the Environment!”
“Bush is in the pocket of Big Oil!”

Those crying the loudest about the evil George W. Bush are the same ones who didn’t notice the United States Senate voted on the Kyoto Protocol while Bill Clinton was still in the White House. By a razor thin margin of 95-0, the senate informed President Clinton he was wasting his time with the Kyoto Treaty. As long as the Chinese were exempt then he could consider it DOA. Dead on Arrival. And this from a senate that couldn’t get a unanimous vote whether the sun would rise tomorrow.

You can debate the pros and cons of “Global Warming” but air and water pollution exists and it’s getting worse in the developing world. Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post said it best:

"I'm not a global warming believer. I'm not a global warming denier. I'm a global warming agnostic who believes instinctively that it can't be very good to pump lots of CO2 into the atmosphere but is equally convinced that those who presume to know exactly where that leads are talking through their hats."
-Washington Post (read the complete article

The big question is whether it is fair to ask the developed world, which is already fighting pollution on every front, to sacrifice their standard of living so reckless third world leaders can foul the world’s ecosystem?

If you’re interested, here are some great articles on Global Warming and the way the Chinese have gamed the U.N. and the world “scientific" community. The folks in Peking must be stunned that they are the leading cause of new “Greenhouse” gases and the number one polluter in the world yet are considered victims by many in radical environmental movement.

As China Roars, Pollution Reaches Deadly Extremes

"Chinese cities often seem wrapped in a toxic gray shroud. Only 1 percent of the country’s 560 million city dwellers breathe air considered safe by the European Union. Beijing is frantically searching for a magic formula, a meteorological deus ex machina, to clear its skies for the 2008 Olympics.

Environmental woes that might be considered catastrophic in some countries can seem commonplace in China: industrial cities where people rarely see the sun; children killed or sickened by lead poisoning or other types of local pollution; a coastline so swamped by algal red tides that large sections of the ocean no longer sustain marine life."

-The New York Times (read the complete article HERE)


China's pollution nightmare is now everyone's pollution nightmare

"The catch is that China has become not just the world's manufacturer but its despoiler, on a scale as monumental as its economic expansion. A fourth of the country is now desert. More than three-fourths of its forests have disappeared. Each year, uncontrollable underground fires, sometimes triggered by lightning or mining accidents, consume 200 million tons of coal, contributing massively to global warming. A miasma of lead, mercury, sulfur dioxide, and other elements of coal-burning and car exhaust hovers over most Chinese cities."
-Christian Science Monitor (read the complete article HERE)


The Last Empire: China's Pollution Problem Goes Global

"The largest source of that pollution is the billion tons of coal China burns per year, more than virtually all the world's developed nations combined. The International Energy Agency reported in November 2006 that global coal consumption had increased as much in the previous 3 years as in the 23 before that, and that China was responsible for 90 percent of the increase.

It operates more than 2,000 coal-fired power plants and puts a new one into operation every four to seven days. Few possess scrubbers that could limit emissions, and those that do tend not to use them, since scrubbers drive up the plants' energy and maintenance costs. China's central government has issued some fairly strict regulations to limit plant emissions, but they are rarely enforced because of corruption and the reluctance of local officials to confront job-generating power companies. Those companies called upon to meet the regulations usually opt for paying an annual $500,000 fee instead. The plants provide 80 percent of China's energy, at the price of emissions devastating to both China and the rest of the world."

-Mother Jones (read the complete article HERE)

NASA Photo of China Pollution

NASA Photos of Chinese Pollution The air has become so dirty in China, in the winter, in some places the snow is brown.


David W. said...

I can attest to China having little desire to improve their air quality as I was in several cities in China, including Beijing, several weeks ago and you can almost taste the pollution . Not only is your question rhetorical, it understates the situation. It is now being confirmed that China's pollution is so bad that it is actually finding its way to the Western US! That makes the Kyoto Treaty a farse on its face...China is not only polluting China it is beginning to pollute many other countries! (see the NASA article)

I must say, having been at the Olympic stadium, unless they can make it rain for one month straight prior to the opening ceremony, I'm not sure how the long distant track athletes are going to make it. And if they can figure out how to make it rain for a month let's hope they are willing to share their secrets with us here in Georgia...our lakes are drying up!

Foster, your point is well made...thanks for making it.

Maureen B said...

It takes only a brief moment of inner stillness to know the answer to this question. We, as Americans and Christians, are inordinately blessed on this planet. We are all called to step into the heart and mind of God; to be leaders and visionaries in saving this planet.

It is time to stop whining and complaining and to start looking for effective solutions. The following is excerpted from "The Island in the Wind, A Danish community's victory over carbon emission." New Yorker,July 7, 2008

...For the past decade or so, Samsø... had what might be described as a conventional attitude toward energy: as long as it continued to arrive, they weren’t much interested in it. Most Samsingers heated their houses with oil, which was brought in on tankers. They used electricity imported from the mainland via cable, much of which was generated by burning coal. As a result, each Samsinger put into the atmosphere, on average, nearly eleven tons of carbon dioxide annually.
Then, quite deliberately, the residents of the island set about changing this. They formed energy coöperatives and organized seminars on wind power. They removed their furnaces and replaced them with heat pumps. By 2001, fossil-fuel use on Samsø had been cut in half. By 2003, instead of importing electricity, the island was exporting it, and by 2005 it was producing from renewable sources more energy than it was using...

Around the same time that Samsø was designated Denmark’s renewable-energy island, a group of Swiss scientists who were working on similar issues performed a thought experiment. The scientists, all of whom were affiliated with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, asked themselves what level of energy use would be sustainable, not just for an island or a small European nation but for the entire world. The answer they came up with—two thousand watts per person—furnished the name for a new project: the 2,000-Watt Society.

“What it’s important, I think, to know is that the 2,000-Watt Society is not a program of hard life,” the director of the project, Roland Stulz, told me when I went to speak to him at his office, in the Zurich suburb of Dübendorf. “It is not what we call Gürtel enger schnallen”—belt tightening—“it’s not starving, it’s not having less comfort or fun. It’s a creative approach to the future.

Vattenfall report estimates that “if all low-cost opportunities are addressed,” CO2 levels could be stabilized at four hundred and fifty parts per million with an annual expenditure of six-tenths of one per cent of global G.D.P.

Though one per cent of the global economy is clearly a lot of money, in the grand scheme of things it’s also clearly manageable. It is about a ninth of what’s currently spent on health care, a seventh of what’s spent on oil, and half of what’s spent on defense. (More than forty per cent of all the world’s military expenditures are made by the United States.) Perhaps most pertinent, it’s a far smaller figure than the cost of inaction. The Stern Review projects that if current emissions trends are allowed to continue, the eventual damage from climate change will “be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global GDP each year, now and forever,” and that “if a wider range of risks and impacts is taken into account” that figure could “rise to 20% of GDP or more.”

Twenty years ago, NASA’s chief climate scientist, James Hansen, testified on Capitol Hill about the dangers of global warming. Just a few days ago, Hansen returned to the Hill to testify again. “Now, as then, frank assessment of scientific data yields conclusions that are shocking to the body politic,” he said. “Now, as then, I can assert that these conclusions have a certainty exceeding ninety-nine per cent. The difference is that now we have used up all slack in the schedule.” Hansen went on to warn that there would be no practical way to prevent “disastrous” climate change unless the next President and Congress act quickly to curb emissions. Few parts of the U.S. may be as windy as Samsø, or as well organized as Switzerland, but just about everywhere there are possibilities for generating energy more inventively and using it more intelligently. Realizing these possibilities will require a great deal of effort. We may well decide not to make this effort. Such a choice to put off change, however, will merely drive us toward it.
When carbon dioxide is released into the air, about a third ends up, in relatively short order, in the oceans. (CO2 dissolves in water to form a weak acid; this is the cause of the phenomenon known as “ocean acidification.”) A quarter is absorbed by terrestrial ecosystems—no one is quite sure exactly how or where—and the rest remains in the atmosphere. If current trends in emissions continue, then sometime within the next four or five decades the chemistry of the oceans will have been altered to such a degree that many marine organisms—including reef-building corals—will be pushed toward extinction.

Rod Gregg said...

All points well taken. Americans should not further penalize themselves, especially the already hurting middle class, while China benefits with a booming economy while recklessly polluting the world's environment.

Yet, we are partly to blame. We allowed and encouraged the Walmarts and other big businesses to set up shop there at the expense of our own manufacturing base where here at home many environmentally friendly practices were in place. Now, both economically and environmentally, we are paying the price.

The only way we can begin to change this is to have an Administration in place which will put pressure on China, politically and economically backed up by strong bargaining on trade matters, with the backing of the rest of the western world, to make them come around.

I too do not like to make sacrifices here at home while China flaunts environmental good sense to make a buck, and I might add, a U.S. buck - billions of bucks actually, that we pay them to churn out goods we no longer make here, where our workers sit idle.

It's a sad, albeit complicated story. But Americans helped create the Chinese environmental monster. We should take the lead, by flexing our economic muscle, with a coordinated program to make changes in how they do business.

Foster, any ideas?

Anonymous said...

So IMHO, the rhetorical question that underlines this post is emblematic of old paradigm thinking that gets us nowhere. We're all in this together. America has lead the charge into a global hyper-consumptive materialistic culture, that is hideously inefficient, toxic, and is killing our bodies, souls, and biosphere. I believe it is first and foremost America's responsibility to lead the charge to a new industrial and cultural reality that is restorative, benign, renewable, and 'closed loop' (using waste as feedstock). The idea is not to move back into the 'stone age' but to move forward to create a global reality that can provide a respectable standard of living for all of Earth's inhabitants, and increase our quality of life. People hold onto this golden notion of 'standard of living' as the holy grail, while multiple studies show that in the last 50 years every objective measure of 'quality of life' has decreased. We are sacrificing our quality of life for an unsustainable, and I would say a 'sick' standard of living. It's an important distinction. And India and China are hell bent on achieving higher standards of living - which they should and will achieve. But the question that remains is at what cost - are they going to do it the extractive, destructive, and poisonous way that we did, or are we going show them the other way this is totally possible and within our reach.. by adopting and exemplifying that way first?