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12/5/2008
NO CLIMATE CHANGE TREATY WITHOUT CHINA

What’s wrong with this statement?

Indeed, failure to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012, would put the entire world back on the path of unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions, which will lead to a warming of up to 6 degrees centigrade, a rapid rise in sea level, widespread desertification and countless other devastating impacts.

Climate change advocates don’t do nuance very well (nor, for that matter, do the deniers). Unless you believe in catastrophic warming scenarios, you are immediately branded a tool of industry and dismissed outright. Conversely, pushing the theory of global warming brands you as an enviro-nut by some who see a global conspiracy at work in the warming movement.

What has been lost in all of this is a healthy skepticism toward evidence in this debate from both sides - something that good scientists must have in order to maintain the proper perspective so that when contrary evidence comes along (and it always does) it can be evaluated rationally, logically, and free of personal bias.

Scientists, being human, rarely achieve such objectivity. But it is still a regimen that good scientists pride themselves on striving to meet.

The author of the piece I quoted from, Joseph Romm, is someone who wishes to advance his political views using science as a club. He is not interested in the facts. If he was, he would carefully label his bald faced statement that not signing a climate treaty will lead to catastrophe as opinion..

There is not one scintilla of scientific evidence to back up the notion that failing to come to an agreement on his idea of an emissions treaty will end civilization. In fact, there is no evidence - save perhaps common sense - that reducing emissions of green house gasses will solve the problem of climate change at all. How could there be when there is no data to support such a statement? We haven’t reduced emissions enough to create a model that could tell us with any reasonable expectation of certainty about the future.

There are some global warming believers among scientists who say it’s too late already, that even if we stopped emitting CO2 and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere right now, catastrophic climate change is inevitable. Others advance the theory that a well managed reduction in emissions will lead to a smaller rise in temperatures and mitigate at least some of the harmful effects on the planet. Still others say the entire process can be reversed. They can’t all be right. All could be wrong.

The point being, climate change treaties like Kyoto are political by their very nature. As such, they will be negotiated and ratified based on the perception that they will achieve what they purport to address; namely, the problem of greenhouse gas emissions and their subsequent effect on rising temperatures. But the world community has a huge perception problem with emissions treaties because they refuse to to account for the number one polluter and emitter of CO2 on the planet; China.

There can be no long term reduction in green house gasses unless China is forced to act like a responsible world citizen and stop spewing CO2 into the atmosphere at a rate no western nation has done since the 1960’s. Burning high sulfur coal for electric power and to run its massive industrial base, China has overtaken America as the world’s emission scofflaw.

And yet, here’s Romme on China:

Talks with China over climate action will probably be the most difficult and most important negotiations in U.S. and world history. I have spoken to a number of experts on Chinese energy and climate policy, who say the leaders of the country understand the nature of the threat that climate change poses to them — including the loss of inland glaciers that provide water for the rivers on which hundreds of millions rely. They say that strong U.S. domestic action, coupled with strong U.S. international leadership, could move China to act. Others tell me China will not agree to emissions reductions anytime soon, since it sees itself as a developing nation with much higher priorities.

In fact, China is in a special category by itself. It has announced plans to spend more than half a trillion dollars on an economic stimulus and infrastructure plan. It is a hyper-developing country, with vast amounts of capital in key advanced technologies, including wind and solar.

China is in a “special category” only because people like Romme - and his views reflect the massive majority in the climate change political community - are too afraid to hold China to the same standard that they hold America on emissions. They know that any insistence on China’s feet being held to the fire on cutting their emissions by a reasonable amount would doom any climate change treaty. Hence, rather than deal with the problem, they seek to finesse it by getting at least one of the two major emission culprits to sign on the dotted line.

They are counting on scaring the American public to put pressure on their elected leaders to do their dirty work for them and force the United States to accept ruinous reductions in emissions while China - one of our biggest economic competitors in the world - gets off scott free. Never mind that such an arrangement would grant a decisive economic advantage to China. Never mind that such a flawed climate change treaty wouldn’t reduce the world’s emissions enough to make any difference whatsoever - not when China can build any old coal fired plant it wants to, massively increase the size of its domestic automobile fleet (without worrying about catalytic converters or fuel composition standards), and generally thumb its nose at every other rule, regulation, and environmental standard set by developed countries.

Why should they get a pass? Because, as Mother Jones explains, “they want to be like us:”

The catch is that China has become not just the world’s manufacturer but also its despoiler, on a scale as monumental as its economic expansion. Chinese ecosystems were already dreadfully compromised before the Communist Party took power in 1949, but Mao managed to accelerate their destruction. With one stroke he launched the “backyard furnace” campaign, in which some 90 million peasants became grassroots steel smelters; to fuel the furnaces, villagers cut down a 10th of China’s trees in a few months. The steel ultimately proved unusable. With another stroke, Mao perpetrated the “Kill the Four Pests” campaign, inducing the mass slaughter of millions of sparrows and a subsequent explosion in the locust population. The destruction of forests led to erosion and the spread of deserts, and the locust resurgence prompted a collapse of the nation’s grain crop. The result was history’s greatest famine, in which 30 to 50 million Chinese died.

Yet the Mao era’s ecological devastation pales next to that of China’s current industrialization. A fourth of the country is now desert. More than three-fourths of its forests have disappeared. Acid rain falls on a third of China’s landmass, tainting soil, water, and food. Excessive use of groundwater has caused land to sink in at least 96 Chinese cities, producing an estimated $12.9 billion in economic losses in Shanghai alone. Each year, uncontrollable underground fires, sometimes triggered by lightning and 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; of the world’s 20 most polluted cities, 16 are Chinese.

The government estimates that 400,000 people die prematurely from respiratory illnesses each year, and health care costs for premature death and disability related to air pollution is estimated at up to 4 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Four-fifths of the length of China’s rivers are too polluted for fish. Half the population—600 or 700 million people—drinks water contaminated with animal and human waste. Into Asia’s longest river, the Yangtze, the nation annually dumps a billion tons of untreated sewage; some scientists fear the river will die within a few years. Drained by cities and factories all over northern China, the Yellow River, whose cataclysmic floods earned it a reputation as the world’s most dangerous natural feature, now flows to its mouth feebly, if at all. China generates a third of the world’s garbage, most of which goes untreated. Meanwhile, roughly 70 percent of the world’s discarded computers and electronic equipment ends up in China, where it is scavenged for usable parts and then abandoned, polluting soil and groundwater with toxic metals.

The idea that China is carrying out this environmental destruction in order to be “just like us” is typical liberal drivel. If they wanted to be “just like us” they would pass the kind of environmental protections we have been reluctantly but steadily putting in place for the last 40 years. It is has cost us much in the way of economic activity (ask Goodyear, US Steel, and the Big Three just how much) but what we have gained is measurably more important: Cleaner air and water than 40 years ago (not as clean as they could be but better than they were and infinitely better than China).

Romme tries to make the medicine about China’s “special category” status in any future climate change treaty go down easier by praising them for their research leadership in wind, solar, and other alternative energy sources. The problem is that implementing those technologies as a substitute for coal would, from China’s point of view, be foolish. All of them are more expensive and employ far fewer people than China’s stupendous coal industry - a fact lost on most China apologists (including Al Gore). Gore, when queried on a History Channel special on Global Warming about the little matter of including China in any emissions regime dismissed the problem saying that “if we set an example” China would follow.

Romme tries some similar sophistry:

The health and well-being of future generations rests on the United States and China ending their mutual suicide pact. China won’t act until we do, and we won’t act if they don’t. President Obama can lead this nation in breaking half of that self-destructive cycle with a strong domestic climate bill. He has repeatedly laid out the targets: returning to 1990 emissions levels by 2020 and then reducing them another 80 percent by 2050. And that’s on top of a major energy bill and green recovery plan that will jump-start the transition to a clean energy economy.

But domestic legislation alone will not make Obama a successful president, let alone a great one. Future historians will inevitably judge all 21st-century presidents as failures if the world doesn’t stop catastrophic global warming. If Obama wants to be a great president, he will not merely have to put this country on a sustainable path; he will have to help bring China and the whole world onto that path too. And that is almost certainly the single hardest task he faces as president.

He doesn’t make any bones at all about unilateral concessions by the US on emissions, does he? And this is supposed to so shame the gimlet eyed Reds in Beijing that they see the error of their ways and throw millions out of work in their coal fields just to make Obama look good?

Obama said many times during the campaign that he would meet with our worst enemies in the name of world peace. Climate change is a far graver and for more preventable threat to the health and well-being of future generations of Americans than any current national security threat.

During the transition period, Obama should appoint a high-level envoy — paging Al Gore — to engage in direct shuttle diplomacy with China and other key emitters. He should meet with Chinese leaders himself in the first half of 2009. His presidency — and the fate of humanity — depend on it.

If the world ganged up on China and punished it for its irresponsible behavior, that might just do a lot more good than simply handing them a decisive economic advantage on a silver platter in the cutthroat competition of international trade. China must be given a choice; either join with the rest of the world in reducing emissions or we will force the reductions by refusing to buy your manufactured goods. That will reduce emissions nicely - and all those idle plants (or the prospect of them) would focus the attention of the Chinese leadership on their responsibilities as a great economic power.

This would be a lot fairer to the US - which is probably why it will never be tried.

By: Rick Moran at 11:26 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (11)