January 6, 2010

Let's clean house before pointing the finger

I was recently listening to NPR when I heard "While the United States has allocated $13 billion for the construction of high-speed rail over the next five years, China plans to spend $300 billion in the next decade to build the world's most extensive and advanced high-speed rail network." The high-speed train between Wuhan and Guangzhou currently takes 3 hours to cover 600 miles. By 2012, China plans to have almost three dozen high-speed rail lines crisscrossing the country. Xie Weida, a railway expert at Shanghai's Tongji University, exclaimed: "If we rely on airplanes and automobiles like the U.S., neither China nor the world will be able to handle such energy consumption." -Read the full story

While the US continues finger pointing at China and their development of coal power plants, I am reminded of Jean Philippe Cousteau talking about polluted waters around the world and saying when you point your finger at someone, 3 of your fingers are directly pointing at yourself. While China is now the first emitter of CO2 (6018 million metric tons versus 5903 million metric tons from the USA; source: EIA 2009) and still counting 68 million people without electricity, their per-capita emission (4.58 tons) is minuscule compared to the footprint of the average American (19.78 tons). Even Germany per-capita emissions is about half of that of the US!. It is sad to see us deflect every blow by blaming someone else for the world's problems.

I just came back from The American Geophysical Union in San Francisco where world leaders in climate science were meeting and my hotel room was overlooking rooftops. While the convention center where we met is one of the greenest buildings in the land, I could not help but compare the view with that from my skyscraping hotel in Kunming, China a year ago where most rooftops featured solar panels. Even in a remote temple on the slopes of Kawagebo , monks displayed below their windows individual solar panels to power their laptops. In villages, portable hydroelectric-powered engines are for sale in little metallic suitcases for the modic sum of about $50. A friend from Colorado even bought one for his cabin in the Rockies! There are many challenges in China with a population more than quadruple that of the US. China has now overtaken the US as the world's biggest car market but fortunately their emission standards greatly exceed US standards. The Chinese will have more influence over vehicle design as they buy more cars and the demand for oil is rising. While the legacy of coming out of the developing world still plagues their image, Chinese are doing their best to approach the future with a vision of new greener technology.

The USA should be leaders today of environmentally friendly and conflict-avoiding green energy and should help countries like China and India face future challenges in a collaborative spirit.

About the author:
Dominique Bachelet, Ph.D.
Senior Climate Change Scientist, Team Lead- Global Change
Dominique is a Senior Climate Change Scientist at CBI. She works extensively with a variety of climate scenarios to explore climate change impacts.
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