19 September 2010

Thomas Friedman's Tall Tale

[UPDATE 9/22: In a follow up column today, Friedman cops to telling tall tales for political reasons:
Some of my Chinese friends chide me for overidealizing China. I tell them: “Guilty as charged.” But have no illusions. I am not praising China because I want to emulate their system. I am praising it because I am worried about my system. In deliberately spotlighting China’s impressive growth engine, I am hoping to light a spark under America.]

Thomas Friedman, columnist for the New York Times, again trots out the "if only we were doing as good as China" story:
[B]because runaway pollution in China means wasted lives, air, water, ecosystems and money — and wasted money means fewer jobs and more political instability — China’s leaders would never go a year (like we will) without energy legislation mandating new ways to do more with less. It’s a three-for-one shot for them. By becoming more energy efficient per unit of G.D.P., China saves money, takes the lead in the next great global industry and earns credit with the world for mitigating climate change.
It is a great story.  Except for the fact that it is not true (see also).


  1. On the same day the Chinese celebrate bringing their 900th Giga watt of generating capacity on line no less. But let's not lose site of the fact that 22 of that 900 gigawatts is windmills.


  2. It seems to me that you are conflating two different things here; international commitments and domestic action.

    As we have learned from Europe the two are not the same. China appears (according to both Revkin and Friedman assertions) to be making investments in domestic action but rejecting international agreements.

    IMO this is an intelligent and likely more effective (certainly more efficient) policy.

    Am I wrong here?

  3. Eric said... 2

    "China appears (according to both Revkin and Friedman assertions) to be making investments in domestic action but rejecting international agreements."

    China sells about half of the worlds carbon credits. So being 'green enough' to keep the Kyoto Carbon Credit market alive is a substantial business for them.

    Of course, that is weighed against domestic energy demands.

  4. The most ridiculous part of the "US is the villain" meme is that the US is doing very well at improving its energy efficiency and decarbonizing its economy without the need for legislation. Between 1980 and 2006, the carbon intensity of the US economy (ie the amount of CO2 per $ of GDP) fell by 43.6 per cent. This was bettered by some countries, notably France, the UK and China, but was still better than the EU-15 reduction of 30.1 per cent over the same period (some countries, notably Brazil, managed somehow to increase the carbon intensity of their economies over the same period).

    The downward trend in the US is set to continue with natural gas being one of the favored sources for new electrical generation capacity. A renewed commitment to nuclear power is going to help as well.