China is The Solution to The Environment, Not The Problem

Wired has a great article this month entitled, “Screw Organic. Go Nuclear. Live Urban. Crank the A/C.” Subtitle: “Inconvenient Truths: in the age of climage change, what matters most is cutting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. That means rethinking everything you ever learned about being green.”

China and India, two emerging superpowers usually get a lot flack for their growing consumption and their overworked factories, but I thought this was an interesting flip of the script. Here’s an excerpt from the article, enjoy.

Pop quiz: who’s the volume dealer in alternative-energy hardware? If you said, choking, smoking, coal-toking China, give yourself a carbon credit.

Consider solar cells, the least carbon-intensive option after nuclear, wind, and biomass, according to an analysis by the International Atomic Energy Agency. In 2007, photovoltaic factories in the People’s Republic tripled production, grabbing 35 percent of the global market and making China the world’s number one producer. How about rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, critical for superefficient electric vehicles? Chinese manufacturers will soon rule that world, too. Windmills? “Prepare for the onslaught of relatively inexpensive Chinese turbines,” says Steve Sawyer, head of the Global Wind Energy Council. His forecast: China will produce enough gear to generate 10 gigawatts of power annually by 2010–more than half the capacity of the whole world installed in 2007.

China has three big reasons for jumping feetfirst into the carbon fight. Obviously, there’s the threat of climate change–flooding in China’s coastal cities, drought in the country’s interior. Second, there’s political instability: Air and water pollution is already a flash point for public protests. And then there’s the burgeoning export market for green products stamped MADE IN CHINA.

Will renovating the planet spur the first wave of homegrown Chinese tech innovation? Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric, thinks so. “China has as much or more at stake than anyone,” he said at a recent corporate summit. “Solar energy, carbon sequestration–we’re going to be blown away by China’s progress over the next couple of decades.” If only they could clean up Beijing’s air in time for the summer Olympics. –– Spencer Reiss

What strikes me is the power of economics. More than the politics and the environment itself, it seems that the opportunity for profits seems to create the momentum for change. Perhaps I’m too cynical, but I can’t help but observe that “saving mother earth” just isn’t a good enough motive. Isn’t it strange that the ideal itself rarely is enough to live accordingly? Don’t get me wrong, I’m encouraged to read an argument that doesn’t just point the finger at the growing Asian economies as the biggest culprit in climate change. That’s a nice consolation argument piece. I’m just interested in the notion that in order for us to make environmental consciousness ubiquitous, we’ve had to make it consumable – and consumption, and its twin brother production, is what got us here in the first place.

Instead of Walter Wink’s “Myth of Redemptive Violence,” it is as if there is a Myth of Redemptive Consumption. It’s not that shopping is evil, it’s that you’re shopping for the wrong things. But that’s the great conundrum, isn’t it? Like Bob Dylan said in one of his Christian episodes, “You’ve got to serve somebody.” We are never quite as free as we would like to be. There seem to be some who would like to think we could live on earth without leaving any footprint at all, much less a carbon one. But what would that profit us? My soul and not the world?

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