Miles from Home

China Commentary– Youthful Musings on the Environment, Culture & Development

Polluting Power

with 2 comments

“[Chinese politicians] argue that since the West’s ‘historical’ contribution to the world’s ‘carbon load’ is far more than China’s, and since the West had a right to ‘develop’ during the Industrial Revolution, therefore China now must also be afforded an equal right to give its people a better material life.[…]

Instead of seeking out a common remedy whereby the US might lead the world[…] the US has used China’s obduracy to opt out of any solution altogether, including the Kyoto Protocols.

The result is that while the US hides behind China, China hides behind the US. We find ourselves in a world where the two largest polluters are sitting the game out, even as our common globe becomes increasingly warmed, with all the attendant consequences.” — author Orville Schell, NY Times, Aug.29, 2007.

The New York Times week-long dialogue about the environmental concerns surrounding Chinese development have been very illuminating.  At times, I feel they do not aptly depict the general sentiment of the public.  Yet, much of my cynicism roots itself in a macrocosmic perspective on society, where I often overlook the brave steps being taken by individuals and small organizations in China and the US.

Orville Schell, author of nine books on China, brings up a crucial point in the discussion:  leadership.  For the past few months, myself and a dozen or so friends from around the world have been discussing this very idea through an intensive e-mail correspondence, focusing primarily on southern Africa.

How can citizens find a forum for enacting ideas?  How can citizens affect immediate  large-scale change?  How can leadership of contentious issues rise when great minds are increasingly drawn towards economic measurements of success?  How can we shrink the time frame between citizen initiatives and government initiatives?

Staying positive in pursuit of some conceptualization is difficult.  Speaking for my friends, we all believe the time for change is now; it’s urgent.  The world, however, chooses not to work that way.  Hence the frustration.  The cynicism.  The backlash.  The generalizations.

Not all Chinese are gluttonous capitalists.  The problem is balance.  For every positive, progressive action taken, there are an overwhelming number of citizens acting through commerce and industry to cripple that effort.  The rationalization mentioned by Schell (above) is logical for Chinese.  They want the American Dream.  And America goes about every day spreading it’s seed, planting in the minds of the world’s citizens that this Dream is more than a Dream– that it is tangible and real.  But it isn’t.  It’s a dream.  Realistic for a small few, at the price of the greater good.  It is not sustainable.  The American way of life is not sustainable.

The people who react negatively to that sentiment are the same people that asked, “Why us?” after 9/11.  American citizens largely– and here is another cynical generalization– fail to witness how our way of life has been born out of the forceful, negative manipulation of the periphery.  And we are accustomed to this life.  Change would create political upheaval.  So politicians pander, and the periphery pays.  That’s not leadership.  And leadership is what the world needs.  Leadership is just as much an American dream.


Written by Miles

September 1, 2007 at 5:09 am

2 Responses

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  1. It is a misunderstanding of the US’s role in the Kyoto protocol to say we are “sitting this one out.” The US had signed the protocol under Clinton, but did not send it to the Senate because it held reservation with the clause that excused developing countries from meeting the protocols. Bush has since rescinded the signature on the treaty, but we still participate in the meetings although we have no role in the formal negotiation of the treaty. The US has also though made plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 18% over the next ten years, exceeding the 7% called for by Kyoto. This type of behavior is typical of the US on almost all treaties in that we participate and follow the guidelines of them, but do not sign them or ratify them making us subject to international law. Such a policy definitely can be seen as a half hearted attempt by the US to engage in multi-lateral solutions, but I’m hesitant to make those large sweeping claims that the US is sitting out. The US rather meets nearly all the guidelines set out in the various treaties that have received wide support, despite not being signatory members.

    Evan Flagg

    September 1, 2007 at 7:11 am

  2. I disagree, slightly. The US had no hard plan in place post-Kyoto. It knew it did not want to take on the costs of restrictions while allowing developing nations to avoid such costs. This was justified in two ways, from a budget perspective and from the (Chinese) historical. The rest of the world approved this. The US, the world’s number one polluter, chose otherwise. From that point US emissions continued to rise. The new emission cutbacks are not the same as those called for in the Kyoto Protocol, but they have been craftily advertised as an improvement. Kyoto called for a 7% reduction from 1990 levels. The US plan calls for a reduction from current levels. It is a clever manipulation by a country unwilling to act multilaterally on this issue.


    September 2, 2007 at 3:13 pm

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