Wednesday, December 08, 2010

China's Climate Change Strategy: Appease, Follow Along, Use Carbon

I've had this conversation many times with folks, prompted by a reference to the now accepted wisdom - peddled by Thomas Friedman, amongst folks that read the New York Times in order to be peddled to by Thomas Friedman - that the Chinese are oh-so concerned and smart about global warming. They are smart alright, just not all that concerned. I have attempted to set the record straight in my private conversations with friends and business associates, but let me do so here: China does not care about global warming, er sorry, climate change. They basically think it is a scientific fraud cooked up by the West and fed by political neuroses (justifiably so). The strategy the Chinese have adopted is a genius amalgam of appeasement and resistance. The principal component of the Chinese strategy is to window dress, to make the West think they care by taking nominal steps to show the world that they are "taking action" against climate change. Going along to a small degree affords the Chinese some political flexibility in dealing with the West, more so with left of center powers (the Chinese understand that when righties are in power in the West the gripe of choice against them is their human rights record and when lefties hold sway the gripe is China's environmental record). There is also a practical side to this. The Chinese understand that they'll need scads of energy in the future so why not participate alongside the West in renewables technology and green initiatives on the off chance that one of these technologies actually is useful and economic one day. The Chinese have rarely gotten in on the ground floor of anything in the modern world and usually they have to steal technology. With green tech, they have been invited in and will be given any valuable technology, so it is certainly worth going along for the ride. But none of this is say that the Chinese will at all turn their back on traditional carbon energy sources. On the contrary, they are basing almost everything they do on the persistance of cheap, abundant carbon-based energy - coal, oil, nat gas. They are relentlessly securing access to carbon-based energy all over the world and are aggressively riding up the learning curve (buying and stealing) of the most technologically advanced industry in the world, energy exploration.

The Chinese strategy is open and transparent for all to see and they even spell it out for you if you ask them, but somehow the Friedmanite line has become the accepted wisdom in bien pensant circles, a testament to the success of the Chinese's aim to appease our environmental neuroses. It would help if we were clear minded about the Chinese stance, and thus it is good to see inconvenient truths such as this report from Sen. Inhofe's group making into the public discourse. We'll be much better off once we stop fooling ourselves about China's intentions and motivations surrounding climate change.


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