Sunday, December 20, 2009

Why we should cheer for Copenhagen and fight to protect Earth

As many of you have heard by now, there was an eleventh hour deal between US and the major emerging economies like China, India, Brazil and South Africa when I was looking bleak. Before going through the merits of this deal, I will first explain why this issue is so important to me. I grew up in possibly the most polluted place in the world. CNN ran a story about Linfen, http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/12/15/china.pollution/index.html, which is right next to my hometown. I know there are a lot of questions, especially from the Republicans in America, regarding whether or not global warming is really valid. I think that if ever lived in my hometown, you would think that global warming is a reality. In the span of the 26 years of my life time, the average high temperature of a summer time has gone from mid 20s to mid 30s. The kind of environment degradation in my hometown is truly extraordinary. The water level dropped so much that what used to be a shallow river no longer exists. They had to fill that area with tap water to give the illusion that it's still a river. When it's really hot and dry in summer time, you can see dry land with huge cracks. Even the famous yellow river is completely dried up in the summer time around where I came from. The air quality is so bad that I catch some form of respiratory sickness every time I go back there and can never get well until leaving the country. I can go on talking about how the sinful nature of men have destroyed this amazing world that we live in, but I would be spending the next 4 pages talking about all the bad things i have seen in China alone. I think that the change in climate is partly due to the natural climate change, but mostly due to the damage done by us. If the temperature continues to go up the way it does, there will be increased drought problems around the world. Water will become more and more scarce for certain countries. In other countries, they'd have the opposite effect of too much precipitation leading to hurricanes and tsunamis. And with polar ice caps melting, the international water level would rise to the point where millions of people will be displaced. The sad part is that the developing countries that contribute the least to carbon emissions and can afford the least to help out on emissions cut will end up suffering the most from climate change. There have already been talks about many Pacific islands getting swallowed up by the Ocean in the next 50 years. I'm more concerned about areas like Bangladesh where over 100 billion people could be displaced due to elevation in water level. And what about New York? Manhattan would be swallowed up if water level is elevated as much as the projection.

But what if all of the scientific theories are wrong and all the global warming in the past 20 years are occurring naturally? Even if that's case, the world would become a much less polluted and environmentally damaging place by using less fossil fuel, have more stringent emission standards and use more efficient plants. Who would really complain about breathing in air with less toxin? During the elections, everyone complained about how America is overly reliant on the Middle East for energy usage. At the same time, many of the major oil fields (like Ghawar Field in Saudi Arabia, Cantarell Field in Mexico and Daqing in China) around the world have all hit the so called peak oil and are not declining in production. There are still oil sands in Canada and deep water oil deposits off Florida and the Green River Formation oil shale around Colorado. However, you start running into the problem where the amount of energy used to extract is actually greater than the oil extracted. For example, the core of Earth has the highest grade of untapped iron deposits, but is anyone actually stupid enough to try to extract those iron ore? As a result of the oil/natural gas production decline and the increase need for them around the world, America will be fighting for that shrinking share of oil production with China and India. By necessity, the entire world would have to eventually switch to using renewable or re-usable source of energy.

Because of all the above, I was really nervous leading up to Copenhagen. I knew of the great divide between the developing countries and developed countries, so was really worried that nothing would get worked out. As it stands, the agreement was regarded by numerous European countries as not enough. I think that view is way too pessimistic. Even though China and India have not given a specific year when their emissions would peak, they have agreed to at least set some kind of firm target and have agreed to some form of international verification. When it comes to China, face is an extremely important part of the culture and the communist leaders don't like to look bad in front of others. Under international scrutiny, I really don't see China backing off on the commitments that it made this week to the world. I really think Obama did a great job in emphasizing the idea that this is the first step in concluding something that is truly worthwhile and effective over the long run. I believe that by the UN conference in Mexico City next year, this deal would have moved further along. It would take a while for the last minute concessions by China, India, Brazil and South Africa to really put in a legally binding agreement. I don't think China will stop at 40-45% energy intensity cut. Having seen their past efforts, they will most likely achieve a larger cut through their current efforts in nuclear/wind/solar power expansion and more stringent fuel efficiency/emissions standards. Of course, it's also important for Europeans to achieve their stated goal of 25% emission cut from 1990 levels. It is also important for US to actually offer something better than a 1.3% emission cut from 1990 levels. Compared to EU and Japan, US and Canada are really not doing that much to help the global efforts. Having lived in these 2 countries for the better parts of my life, I'm quite ashamed of that. In the midst of the great economic downturn in the past 70 years, it's really hard for any country to make sacrifices while others stand pat. I'm just glad that we have finally started the process of really trying to cooperate on this globally. Even if what we have now is not perfect, we can hope for greater international pressure to yield more firm targets and a legally binding agreement that could save our planet.

9 comments:

Eric Z said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jiang said...

Feng, I live in the US. Many republicans do not like the idea of global warming, they think it is not true. They feel that developing country are robbing western countries's wealth by setting emmission standards.

Feng, I lived in China for 16 years and I know what you are talking about. The air quality is not as good as the US, also the water is not as clean. But I do not know if the situation has improved or not. I left China in 2001, so its almost 8 years now and I have not been back at all. Since you been back many times, perhaps you can tell me if things are getting better?

If things are getting better, then we should spend more money on Nuclear power, and wind power to speed up the process of cleaning our enviorment. I heard from my friends and relatives in China telling me that the public transportation system, education system, health care system and finical system all got much better.


Thank you :)

Eric Z said...

Feng, what do you think about china's role in Copenhagen - is it good or bad?

For example, today I read a paper (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/copenhagen-climate-change-conference-2009/news/article.cfm?c_id=1502875&objectid=10616725), and the feel was that there was some frustration towards the PRC for stifling talks at Copenhagen a bit...
(Asked who was to blame for blocking the introduction of controlled emissions, the director-general of the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, Lars-Erik Liljelund, replied: "China. China doesn't like numbers.")

And apparently the british energy secretary has singled out China on dragging negotiations, not wanting a deal to be signed.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/8423831.stm

Feng, what do you make of China's role at Copenhagen?

Please and Thank you!

Feng said...

Well, most of the Western countries expected China to behave like a developed country and accept larger cut, but China does not want to do that. I personally think that China would be better served if it does accept larger cuts and set a peak emission date, but this is a country that still favours economic growth above all. If you look at China as a wealthy country (which can be made with its export surplus + reserves), then it does deserve to be blamed. However, if you look at it as a developing country (which is what it sees itself as), then it did more than anyone else did. In terms of energy intensity, it is offering a greater cut than India and other BRIC countries. In fact, US did a good job of deflecting attention, because it's offer of 1.3% cut is really pitiful compared the EU and Japanese offers.

Eric Z said...

Thanks Feng, you're right - the US really is doing quite pitifully in it's emissions cutting comapred to the EU and Japan..

But if I may ask, do you know why countries (the UK namely in this case) would accuse the PRC of sabotaging and dragging it's heels in Copenhagen negotiations? I've gone on a number of news sites and even wikipedia, but I've found no real indicators of China being a big burden at the talks...

odessaguy said...

I have spent a lot of time in China going back to 1988.In many of the larger cities really suffer from pollution. It seems to always get worse than the previous year. I believe that pollution is perhaps the most serious problems facing much of the population. The government is making step towards solving the problems but the steps are very small. Regardless of any international agreement the Chinese need to try harder for their own good. I personally don't know if man is changing earth's climate but I doubt it.

Feng said...

hmm, China is an easy target and in many ways it really was doing less than a lot of countries, but US's efforts were weak too. I think people are expecting China to make more cuts because it looks at China as this huge productive economy. Whereas China still looks at itself as a poor country, so still should be allowed to grow like it wants.

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edmund said...

Although China and U.S. are the largest polluters, they are very different. The major producers of CO2 in U.S. come from the consumers themselves (major CO2 comes from motor vehicles). China is the factory for the world. Their CO2 comes mainly from factories and we buy many of their cheap goods. So we as consumers are obligated to help as well. If we close down all those factories in China, will it help? The answer is that it will then only shift the polluting problems from China to other countries. Can you live without those goods? Some other third world countries will then set up factories and start producing those goods again because there is always a demand for these products. So the best way is to help China solve that pollution is by using better green technologies.
China is still a developing country and it is not fare to ask her to be treated as a developed country. What you see in Beijing, Shanghai and other major cities are only a fraction of the population. Many of the rural folks survived less than US2 a day. Although China has millions in US treasury as reserve, those money cannot be touched. It is used to stabilize the world and its own economies. If China withdraws that money and spend it, the US dollars will collapse.