Global warming – the China problem

It’s fascinating to see how Chinese officials are becoming obsessed with energy efficiency and global warming. It worries some in America, as we see China making the investments in clean energy we should be making. In a competitive world, America should be leading the green revolution and thus creating new jobs. While the Obama administration has made great progress, Republicans and Midwest Senators are standing in the way of a new energy bill.

Meanwhile, climate activists fear the impact of China, but have to be somewhat please that Chinese officials are being proactive.

Premier Wen Jiabao has promised to use an “iron hand” this summer to make his nation more energy efficient. The central government has ordered cities to close inefficient factories by September, like the vast Guangzhou Steel mill here, where most of the 6,000 workers will be laid off or pushed into early retirement.

Already, in the last three years, China has shut down more than a thousand older coal-fired power plants that used technology of the sort still common in the United States. China has also surpassed the rest of the world as the biggest investor in wind turbines and other clean energy technology. And it has dictated tough new energy standards for lighting and gas mileage for cars.

That said, China may be fighting a losing battle. As millions of Chinese citizens become real consumers, they will gobble up even more energy. It’s great for the world economy, but terrible from a climate perspective.

Aspiring to a more Western standard of living, in many cases with the government’s encouragement, China’s population, 1.3 billion strong, is clamoring for more and bigger cars, for electricity-dependent home appliances and for more creature comforts like air-conditioned shopping malls.

As a result, China is actually becoming even less energy efficient. And because most of its energy is still produced by burning fossil fuels, China’s emission of carbon dioxide — a so-called greenhouse gas — is growing worse. This past winter and spring showed the largest six-month increase in tonnage ever by a single country.

It’s a real dilemma, but perhaps it will motivate the Chinese, and hopefully the American government, to do even more. Green energy can be the fuel that the world economy needs. It can also ease world security in the long run by making all of us less dependent on sending billions to volatile regions of the world. So it’s good to see the Chinese get religion on green energy. Let’s hope it helps fuel a worldwide movement.

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