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City of Brass

City of Brass

Rotten in the state of Denmark: Chindia at Copenhagen

I’ve been meaning to comment on the Copenhagen conference, since the perspective from the Indian press is probably quite different from that in the US media. According to the papers here, Obama forced his way into a private meeting between Chinese premier Wen Jibao and Indian PM Manmohan Singh because he didn’t want them “negotiating in private”. China and India resisted all attempts by the US to make the Copenhagen draft legally binding, and fought monitoring and transparency tooth and nail. This plays well here as a strike against US/Western imperialistic moralizing, on behalf of the developing nations, whose champions are now… China and India? really?

I am frankly disgusted. India and China – both nuclear powers and members of the UN Security Council – can no longer by any stretch of the imagination be considered “developing nations” and they are cynically using their endemic poverty as bargaining chips to benefit their industrial and economic elites. It’s precisely those hundreds of millions of poverty-stricken Chinese and Indians who are going to suffer the most from global warming, while the rich ensconce themselves ever further into their posh enclaves.

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The problem is that the failure of the US to unilaterally act on climate change gives the industrialized asian giants the political cover they can need to avoid doing anything. They see it as a zero-sum game – and they are wrong. But the truth is that the ball is indeed in our court; we still are the highest per-capita emitters of greenhouse gases. This is why it is imperative that we act, regardless of what Chindia does.

Taken together, I suspect that Chindia is a worse offender than we are – but in their recalcitrance is our opportunity. If the US is now forced to act unilaterally, then we and not they will be the owners of the New Energy economy. China has a lead on nuclear power but pebble-bed reactor technology only faces regulatory, not technical hurdles in the US. And we are the leader in wind turbines, not to mention other projects like the Polywell reactor and more exotic stuff like the National Ignition Facility at Livermore. All the pieces are in place on our home turf, and if we aggressively go after the prize of an alternate energy economy then we will remain dominant on the world stage, to Chindia’s dismay.

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Ultimately, global warming’s solution is indirect – and it’s all about energy. If the US can enact strict new emissions standards, a cap and trade program, and massive investment in alternate energy sources (say, a goal of 50% of our domestic power by 2025) then we win. And because it’s not a zero sum game, so too do the poor in the developing world. If only China and India saw it that way too, we could really achieve something.

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