China and the U.S.A.

The two countries which emit the most CO2 into the atmosphere are China and the U.S. Their governments are taking a very different attitude toward the problem.


Two recent reports from China have highlighted the danger of climate change. One is from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, about the Himalayan plateau. It’s warming faster than the globe as a whole, and not only are the Himalayan glaciers melting, the Tibetan permafrost is degrading. This is a severe threat to all of Asia, because glacial runoff is a major source of their great rivers, and permafrost is an important part of how that runoff gets into their great rivers. Add to that the fact that a startling amount of land there is desertifying, and the Chinese are worried about the consequences — because for them, global warming isn’t just bad already, it’s going to get a lot worse.

The other is a major report from the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Third National Assessment Report on Climate Change. It too points to the problems with the disappearance of glaciers, and the startling degradation of permafrost. It emphasizes the re-distribution of precipitation — more in some parts, less in others — and the problems associated with it. It points out that extreme weather and other things related to climate change have accounted for over 70% of China’s natural disasters, and the expectation in the near future of even more drought and flood.

The Chinese government takes the problem seriously. Very seriously. That’s one of the reasons they’re deploying renewable energy rapidly. They’re investing heavily in both adaptation to climate change, and mitigation — because the problems are only going to get worse, they intend to do what they can to keep it to a minimum. The Chinese are poised to become the leader of the world.

Here in the U.S., our government has become the dead weight of the world.

It’s not the president’s fault — he’s been trying hard to get the right policies working, things like the Clean Power Plan and the Paris climate agreement. The fault lies with the U.S. Congress. That’s because the Republican party controls both houses of congress. They’ve sworn to block any substantial U.S. participation in the recent ground-breaking climate agreement reached in Paris. They’re trying hard to undermine the Clean Power Plan. The republican leadership is in the pockets of fossil fuels, bought and paid for, and they’re determined to “drill baby drill” at the very moment the rest of the world is taking “leave it in the ground” seriously.

We used to be the leader of the world, we gave hope to people everywhere. Now we’re the albatross, the burden, the problem. If you ask a Republican presidential candidate what to do about climate change, the best answer you could hope for is to burn more natural gas — switch from one carbon-based fuel to another. With that attitude, in the presidency or in congress, we won’t just remain the problem child of the world, we’ll get worse.

But while we seem poised to abandon our leadership role, to run like frightened rabbits because it’s just too hard, there’s another country ready to take it. Move over, U.S.A. China is here.

42 responses to “China and the U.S.A.

  1. If one likes historical analogies–and if one wants to listen to an old coot like me–the US appears to me to be around about the early-mid 3rd Century AD in Western Roman Empire terms. Long, long way down to go, and there will probably be a Diocletion from time to time to slow the decline. But the cultural upswing is gone with no will to get back on that course. At best we are holding our own but (like the Roman disasters of the mid-later 3rd century and beyond) the resilience and ability to keep going are sapped and as a result new problems will not be met as well as in the past.

    Living on past glories and “exceptionalism” is not any sort of way to advance.

  2. we gave hope to people everywhere
    Well, I would not go that far but I’m not American. The USA was, often, seen as a progressive country and held up as an example. Now is probably not the USA’s best time.

    Currently it looks like the USA has gone mad, with the GOP denying any hint of climate change, apparently denying evolution and large parts of the nation seeming to descend into waves of irrational fear and islamophobia
    that, if anything, seems to exceed the madness we saw after the Twin Towers attack.

    China is something of a beacon of hope in terms of climate change action. I certainly would not rate it better than the USA on human rights.

  3. When did conservatives become such a bunch of anti-science can’t do whiners? We’ll never get to the moon. It’s too hard.

  4. China has other very good reasons to switch away from coal and toward renewables as quickly as possible: their devastating air pollution problem. http://berkeleyearth.org/air-quality-real-time-map/

    • Yes, I think that us a good reason to expect that they are serious about their ‘energiewende’–whatever the Mandarin for that would be.

    • A very good blog post. China does indeed have many good reasons to switch from coal to renewables and not to gas, the main reason being that unlike the US, they do not have access to huge gas resources, and the deployment of a significant nuclear reactor fleet – an adventure which they have embarked upon, mistakenly in my opinion – will take decades. The main concern when it comes to pollution from coal fired power plants, however, is not exactly that of reducing CO2 emissions, but rather the possibility of social unrest and instability given the absolutely intolerable levels of pollution they have been experiencing for years in various urban centers.
      In any case, the practical effect of the exponential growth of renewables and other energy related public policies in China is that they should be able to peak their CO2 emissions by 2030~2035, and the Chinese government can claim to its citizens that it is doing everything it can to control air pollution. And all that without raising the price of electricity significantly, or slowing economic growth!

  5. “It’s warming faster than the globe as a whole, and not only are the Himalayan glaciers melting,……………….”

    As warming increases glacier lake outburst flooding (GLOF) is an increasing concern for the people living near the Himalayan glaciers as well.

    Pollution concerns are also forcing China to take a fast track on renewables. Two red alerts in a little more than a week have forced a lot of Beijing to shut down. The first alert on Dec 8th was the first in the country’s history then they had another on Dec 17th. PM2.5 was measured at something like 10 times the WHO recommendation. Visibility can be like 200m or so under these conditions. Coal is a huge factor in this, unregulated emissions from autos also has a signifcant role as does pollution from industrial areas. The Beijing problem is a complicated situation in that the sources are not entirely local. In addition large swaths of Northeast China are impacted not just Beijing.

    This article from Climate Progress (Aug 2015) summarizes a Berkeley Earth report on Chinas problems with coal and pollution:

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/08/14/3691684/pollution-in-china-kills-4k-people-a-day/

    Hopefully they can act quickly enough to bring these problems under control.

    “Now we’re the albatross, the burden, the problem.”

    It’s an abomination, Undermine the Clean Power Plan, attack the science that should be listened to, lift the oil export ban.

    This headline from the Guardian reads like some title to a play from the theater of the absurd:

    “How US negotiators ensured landmark Paris climate deal was Republican-proof”

    And what constitutes Republican-proof?

    “Under US insistence, the 31-page agreement was explicitly crafted to exclude emissions reductions targets and finance from the legally binding parts of the deal”

    http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/dec/13/climate-change-paris-deal-cop21-obama-administration-congress-republicans-environment

    And to eliminate any possible offense or unpleasantness they may experience due to its use, be sure that the term “fossil fuel” is excluded from any mention in the agreement.

  6. David B. Benson

    China also is planning on having 150 GWe of nuclear power plants by 2030 CE and much more later.

  7. Here is Chinese journalist Chai Jing’s excellent presentation summarizing the pollution problem in China, its physical and political causes and solutions (both historical and modern) for it:

    Under the Dome

  8. One can still read comments from some people saying that China will never take strong action on climate or that the Chinese are building some many new coal plants per month, or that a goal for 2030 means that the Chinese will not do anything before 2030. The American people need to understand that we are the laggards and outliers on taking action on climate change.

  9. Actually, the US are not entirely a climate protection desert: on communal, regional and state level, there are many goods tales to tell, of both legal and practical action. Think of the carbon cap treaty between California and Quebec, or the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. And there’s more. The per capita GHG emission of California is comparable to Germanys, the US mean, though, not. So the picture is spotted, with a lot of idealism, enthusiasm, skill and determination on one side, a corresponding amount of stubborness and sheer dumbness on the other.
    People don’t act rationally. When some start to curb their emissions, some ingredient has been added to the pure scientific insight, an emotional ingredient, a narrative, a social structure and positioning, which supports the right action.

  10. Actually, your president hasn’t tried hard, let alone really hard. When he starts out with offering a compromise BEFORE EVEN SUPPLYING A PROPOSITION, he’s not trying at all.

    He’s badly advised, and, and this is where it IS his fault, he listens to the bad advice. He DESPERATELY wants bipartisanship on something, but all he can get bipartisanship for are the bills the Republicans put up.

    • I disagree. While your picture represents his first term better, in his second he has become a master of Congressional workarounds–his Clean Air plan, the China-US bilateral climate accord, and of course the Paris Agreement are all examples. He’s been much more effective, IMO, than could have been expected given the legislature he has faced.

      The weakness of this approach, of course, is that everything is highly reversible, should someone from the GOP win the presidency. That seems unlikely for now, but who knows?

    • Wow,
      This is just about the most ignorant thing I have read about American politics this week. And we’re in the midst of a frigging election where one of the parties doesn’t believe in physical reality.

      Politics is about counting–votes. Obama can count, and he knows the totals don’t add up in Congress. Given that, he has done whatever he could to advance a progressive agenda. He has done more in 8 years than the previous 6 Presidents combined.

      Frankly, I don’t see the point in further explaining things to you. You are obviously too stupid and ignorant to understand.

  11. David B. Benson

    One can stay abreast of matters nuclear by following World Nuclear News.

  12. China is currently building 92 coal-fired power plants in other countries–27 of them. If memory serves, 14 of the projects are in Vietnam; Vietnam used to be a coal exporter but no more.

    I would not expect these plants to include the best measures for pollution control, though I hope they will.

  13. Renewable energy targets in Vietnam, ca. 2010:

    http://www.renewableenergy.org.vn/index.php?page=renewable-energy-in-vietnam

    Renewable energy capacity in Vietnam, as of 2013:

    http://resourceirena.irena.org/gateway/countrySearch/?countryCode=VNM

    Hmm. Unimpressive, to say the least.

  14. I am increasingly pessimistic about the ability of governments anywhere to give us the change we collectively need. There are important exceptions, of course. I think governments are reactive. I also think there is a lot of hope for solar, wind, and energy storage technology to churn on through, and permit a massive displacement of fossil fuel energy, as well as grid decentralization. I also think, left to its own, that won’t happen fast enough to save us from a LOT of pain. And, given the projections from Archer, et al, and Solomon, et al, essentially, and excepting sea level rise, the amount of climate disruption we get will be held in place for thousands of years the day the globe gets to zero anthropogenic Carbon emissions. Of course, that depends when exactly the zero point is reached. If we are over +2 degrees C, we’ll probably be getting some additional substantial CO2 from permafrost and the like, so, the zero point won’t be reached until we have global CO2 reduction technology. (Expensive!) That might be needed in any case, because of emissions from agriculture.

    Still, it’s good to see a way out.

  15. Speaking of China, India, and coal, does anyone know of any ongoing blogging, twitting, etc. for the DSCOVR imagery as it comes in? There’s usually something new every day. The default imagery is .JPG but that’s degraded; there’s .PNG imagery as well, at the site. (Occasional full quality images are offered, but those are rare — usually each image acquired is averaged down (4 pixels to 1) before transmitting them.

    Given all that it’s hard to guess what’s what. Looking at, e.g.,

    I wonder if the dark gray visible over and to the east of India is coal smoke/smog. On other days when there’s less cloudiness over China and the ocean east of China you’ll see a continuation of that same gray-brown atmospheric color.

    Six months from now when the Northern Hemisphere is tilted toward the sun, the view will be less oblique for that interesting area.

    I am hoping there are some clever graphics programmers working somewhere on improving what we see from DSCOVR.
    Like:
    — project each image on a hemispherical surface and interpolate so we get an appearance of smooth rotation instead of ratcheting.
    — select images of the same area 24 hours apart and animate those, so the continents appear to hold still while the clouds move across them
    — draw a grid on a hemispherical surface and identify individual pixels (which will be square-ish looking straight down, and very long 4-sided shapes toward the edge of the image as they become closer to tangents on the sphere). Then follow an individual pixel through a series of images (using the .PNG files) and, um, er, someone talk to us about what’s being learned.

    I trust there are serious scientists working behind the scenes there.

    But in the interest of “transparency” — being able to look at the planet this way is what’s going to catch the public’s attention, if anything does.