Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Chinese don't care as much as you think they do, Tommy.

I'm sure Thomas Friedman thinks he's a really smart guy...

While secrets from WikiLeaks were splashed all over the American newspapers, I couldn't help but wonder: What if China had a WikiLeaker and we could see what its embassy in Washington was reporting about America? I suspect the cable would read like this:
Most of the Republicans just elected to Congress do not believe what their scientists tell them about man-made climate change. America's politicians are mostly lawyers - not engineers or scientists like ours - so they'll just say crazy things about science and nobody calls them on it. It's good. It means they will not support any bill to spur clean energy innovation, which is central to our next five-year plan. And this ensures that our efforts to dominate the wind, solar, nuclear and electric car industries will not be challenged by America.
Now, Friedman might sound like he knows what he's talking about, but consider this from Eric Berger, the science writer for the Houston Chronicle:
Is there any hope that China will take the game-changing first step by adopting a carbon tax? Why would they do so? Why would this be the harbinger of a global framework?

I believe that China has powerful reasons to place a rising fee on carbon: (1) China will suffer more than most nations from changing climate and rising sea level, (2) China has horrific air and water pollution from fossil fuels, (3) China wants to avoid the enormous costs and burdens that accompany fossil fuel addiction, (4) there is great economic advantage in having the leading low-carbon technologies.

Hansen is quite correct in asserting that China would have an easier time of instituting such a carbon fee simply because it could ignore politics -- "At the same time China has the capacity to implement policy decisions rapidly," he writes -- and simply impose a fee.

I'm not sure espousing the virtues of authoritarianism is the best way to win converts to your cause, but whatever. What really strikes me is that I have seen very little evidence that China would actually ever impose such a fee.

Consider the following comments from Huang Huikang, the Chinese Foreign Ministry's special representative for climate change talks, on the eve of the Cancun climate talks that began Monday.

"China's overriding priority will be to develop its economy, eliminate poverty and raise people's welfare, and our energy consumption and (greenhouse gas) emissions will experience reasonable growth for some time," he said.

That's pretty unequivocal for a diplomat communicating in public, as opposed to private cables, of course.
Now, we already know about Friedman's love affair with China's authoritarianism, so we'll leave that alone for now. What you wanna keep in mind is what the Chinese diplomat said -- namely, that his country's No. 1 priority was developing its economy, and that greenhouse gas emissions were going to be increasing for some time. Now, you'll note he said nothing about raising taxes on fossil fuels and such, which would seem to imply that he knows that said taxes would hamper that goal -- at least that's how it sounds the way Berger put it, but either way it doesn't seem so farfetched. So yeah, the Chinese do come off as pretty smart if Huang Huikang's comments are representative of their mindset -- just not smart in the way Thomas Friedman would like you to think they are. Apparently Friedman thinks those who read his columns are going to take his word as gospel as opposed to using their own critical thinking skills and seeking out alternative sources of information with differing and potentially more valid viewpoints. Somehow that doesn't surprise me, but being the visionary he thinks he is, you'd think he'd try harder.