By Deirdre Griswold
Published Jan 26, 2011 4:09 PM
A leading U.S. scientist who deals with global warming and climate change is calling the People’s Republic of China “the best hope” for turning around a looming disaster for the world and “stopping rule by fossil fuel interests.”
Dr. James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, also wrote in the South China Morning Post on Nov. 3, “Fossil fuel interests reign in Washington and other capitals. Big money forces legislatures to hatch ineffectual schemes such as ‘cap-and-trade-with-offsets,’ a system designed by big banks and fossil fuel interests that assures continued fossil fuel addiction.” The South China Morning Post is an English-language daily published in Hong Kong.
China last year became the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases on an annual basis, exceeding the U.S. for the first time. So why is it the world’s “best hope”? Hansen says, “China leads the world in clean energy investments — nuclear, wind and solar power.”
China is also forging ahead with new technology to improve energy efficiency during the generation and transmission of electricity.
China’s biggest energy source — and biggest problem — is coal, which generates 80 percent of its electricity. Its abundance has fueled China’s industrial revolution. It has also contributed to air pollution inside China and to greenhouse gases in the world’s atmosphere.
However, since 2006 it has closed down many inefficient and dangerous small coal mines, cutting annual coal consumption by about 82 million tons and annual carbon dioxide emissions by some 165 million tons.
Most CO2 came from Britain
It takes many years for the impact of greenhouse gases to be felt. The blanket of CO2 and other greenhouse gases now warming Earth has been accumulating since the 19th century. Hansen says the largest portion of these gases was generated by Britain, where the industrial revolution in the West started. Germany is second. It is followed by the U.S., with responsibility for 27 percent, and China, with only 9.5 percent of the total.
Even looking just at current emissions, China, with its very large population, produces far fewer emissions per capita than any other industrialized country, even though it has now become the “factory to the world.”
Hansen first testified before Congress on global warming in 1988. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1996 and has received many prestigious awards for his scientific work. He first gained fame for having figured out which gases are in the atmosphere around Venus and creating a model based on that which correctly predicted the temperatures on the surface of that extremely hot planet. He then began using the same methods to study the composition of Earth’s atmosphere and its effects on global temperatures here.
Being a scientist with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Hansen has the benefit of examining data from all over the world collected by NASA’s satellites, including detailed information on the state of the polar ice caps and the mile-deep ice sheet covering Greenland, all of which are melting at an accelerating speed.
Dire predictions ignored
Hansen warned in his article for the South China Morning Post that, if all the fossil fuels now underground were to be consumed, sea levels would rise by about 75 feet, inundating whole countries and forcing the migration of hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people away from coastal areas.
He has been stymied by succeeding U.S. governments in his efforts to get a global agreement, like the one that President Barack Obama shot down in Copenhagen in 2009. Therefore, he is urging the Chinese leaders to do more about weaning their economy away from coal and is applauding the steps they have already taken in that direction.
Hansen is on a collision course with big capital and its politicians, who have gone from denying that global warming exists to coming up with schemes like “cap and trade.” This supposed solution, pushed by Al Gore, does nothing but shift around the responsibility for atmospheric pollution while creating a profitable market for the traders. By the way, the Gore family fortune, which got him into the Senate in the first place, comes from Occidental Petroleum.
China spends heavily on green infrastructure
After world markets dramatically imploded in 2008, China worked out a stimulus package of hundreds of billions of dollars to be spent mainly on upgrading its infrastructure. This was while the U.S. was spending its stimulus money mainly on propping up financial institutions and corporations that had been making big profits before the crash.
Since then, China has poured a lot of that money into incorporating green technologies in its development plans. For example, at the end of 2009, China budgeted $600 billion to upgrade its electricity grid, using sophisticated ultrahigh-voltage transmission, which substantially reduces energy loss. Today there is a labor shortage in much of China as these big projects transform the landscape.
China has shown that it takes global warming seriously by putting its money where its mouth is. That is why scientists like Hansen are encouraged.
Here’s the kicker: What is the U.S. government doing about all this?
In December, Washington filed a complaint against China with the World Trade Organization — for subsidizing its wind-power industry. Washington says that is a violation of “free trade.” By the end of 2010, China had the wind-power capacity to produce 31 gigawatts of electricity — three times its nuclear power capacity.
U.S. sues China
Come again? Yes, the U.S. is suing the Chinese government for putting money into its green industries. Moreover, even worse, this suit is supported by the Steelworkers union, on the ill-advised notion that forcing China to stop its subsidies will somehow create jobs here.
Is joining Washington in its rancorous anti-China campaign really going to convince the capitalist politicians, who have authorized trillions of dollars to rescue Wall Street firms and wage wars overseas for the oil companies, that this money should instead be going for a jobs program here?
While capitalism has been allowed to grow in China, widening the gap between rich and poor, the government and the Communist Party, both born out of revolution, still retain control over the economic levers that make large-scale, long-term planning possible. What has proven impossible in the corporate-ridden United States — the development of a plan, any plan, to move away from fossil fuels — is a reality in China today.
Workers’ organizations should focus on militantly combating the bosses, bankers and their politicians here and force them to create green jobs that could solve two daunting problems at the same time: the widespread unemployment that is grinding down workers of all ages and the environmental catastrophe that looms over the next generation.
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