Check your U.S. voter registration status or register to vote here.

China’s environmentalism — and what it symbolises for the US

The supposedly socialist state is famed for its air, noise, and water pollution, especially in the North-Eastern industrial cities such as Changchun. This is no different to the Western Industrial Revolutions of 200 years ago, but China is under huge pressure due to better knowledge of climate change. How bad is China’s pollution, and is it really getting better?

Dave Olsen
Sep 24, 2018 · 4 min read
Image for post
Image for post
https://www.pexels.com/photo/air-air-pollution-chimney-city-221000/

From the regular pictures of a smog-covered Beijing or the figures such as 1/2 of the country’s rivers drying up over the past 50 years, we generally perceive China’s environment to be one of the worst on Earth. We often hear stories about the lax regulations and government-sponsored pollution, and so believe the situation to be particularly bleak.

That is all true. However, there are several countries that are much worse, even if this is largely due to the vast size of China compared to countries such as the UAE or Qatar. The worst 19 cities for air pollution are not in China, although Chinese metropolises are the majority of the places between 20 and 350. It is clear, then, that there is a lot to be done for this emerging superpower.

If you go on political rhetoric, which does matter, China is moving in the right direction. Xi’s rebuff of Trump’s degenerative climate action last year was loud and clear, saying that China “remained committed” to the Paris Climate Accords. We can only hope that this policy stays in place.

So, have China been doing enough? Well, if official government reports are to be believed, then yes — more than enough. According to Xie Zhenhua, they have long since met their 2020 targets. Carbon emissions have been cut by 40%, while the economy has still grown by 50% since 2005 (until the end of 2015). This trend has continued further since then.

This should show, then, that every country can maintain very good economic growth while drastically cutting emissions. But, if we factor in a few different things, it begins to look a bit less clear-cut.

Firstly, China’s economy has only done so well, compared to others, due to its brave investment package a few years after the financial crisis. The majority of countries didn’t have the funds to do this, and so have suffered.

Secondly, China is a developing economy, and one would expect that the economic multiplier effect would keep growth high, despite having to cut emissions.

Thirdly, China had incredibly high levels of pollution in the first place, and so had lots of room for manoeuvre.

However, China couldn’t just rely on this, especially because, by 2050, when there is a final round of targets to meet, many of these conditions will not apply. Therefore, their carbon cuts wouldn’t be sustainable enough to last.

Therefore, China must have had a significant policy that has driven this reduction in carbon emissions. This policy is the carbon trading scheme.

I won’t go into the specifics now, but essentially, this allows a free market economy, while driving down emissions, using emission credits. It works superbly.

Other countries do use this too — the whole EU is the biggest example of one market. The US hasn’t adopted this policy — yet Trump still wants to repeal it. This is because a few states, such as California, do have carbon trading schemes — and the President loves nothing more than a war with the greatest state in the Union.

Trump can talk all he wants about safeguarding jobs and protecting “beautiful, clean coal”, but if word gets around about his lies, then we will likely see him end up as a one-term President. The people aren’t stupid.

Really, the battle over pollution and emissions targets isn’t about emissions at all. It’s about foreign policy and geopolitics; symbolic of China’s increasingly outward-looking view and the US’ recoiling stance. America First will, eventually, put America last, as other countries, such as China, France, Saudi Arabia, Britain, and Germany steal the leadership role from the US.

That’s the sorry state of affairs in the USA encapsulated within the context of a single issue, climate change. Imagine how much clearer the picture would become in the context of trade wars or the Iran nuclear deal. The fallout the nation will experience won’t be from an Iranian bomb, but rather the idiot leading the country into a game of chicken against the entire world.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch

Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore

Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store