China – Does It Matter What We Do? Laser Talk

We should not have any illusions about China’s energy use. This one country with 1.3 billion people (to our 0.3 billion) [1, 2] accounts for almost half of the world’s coal consumption (and growing fast) [3], yet is suffering horrible environmental impacts because of it [4-6].

At the same time, China is also investing heavily in low-carbon energy. In 2014 they invested $89.5 billion to our $51.8 billion [7]. China is now the leading investor in renewable energy, trumping Europe.

Today they produce more than half of all solar panels, and in 2012 installed more solar panels than any country except Germany [8]. What’s more, China has debuted a regional cap and trade program, or emissions trading scheme (ETS) [9, 10], and also plan to institute a carbon tax by 2015 or 2016 [11].

Because of all this investment in low-carbon energy, we risk losing out on jobs, profits, and production of hardware to China. Because of our under-investment, ideas that are born in the US become reality in China. The products of those realized ideas are then manufactured in China and sold to the US, with the majority of jobs and profits staying in China, not in the US.

Skeptic Claims and One-Liners

Carbon Fee Skeptic Claim: Why should we move if China isn’t moving?
One-Liner: China is moving, and is already selling their solar panels back to us.

Carbon Fee Skeptic Claim: It doesn’t matter what we’re doing because China and India are burning so much coal.
One-Liner: They’re also making huge investments in renewables, so if we don’t move, we will permanently miss the opportunity to establish the jobs, manufacturing, and intellectual communities that come with being the world leader in an industry.

  1. National Bureau of Statistics of China. “China’s Economy Achieved a Stabilized and Accelerated Development in the Year of 2012”.
  3. China consumes nearly as much coal as the rest of the world combined”. Jan 29, 2013. U.S. Energy Information Association.
  4. Will Oremus. “In China, the Pollution Is So Bad It Broke the Air-Quality Index”. Jan 14, 2013. Slate.
  5. A Bay of Pigs Moment”. Mar 12, 2013. The Economist.
  6. “Pollution Documentary, ‘Under the Dome,’ Blankets Chinese Internet.” Mar 2, 2015. Wall Street Journal.
  7. “Clean Energy Investment Jumps 16%, Shaking Off Oil’s Drop. Jan 9, 2015. Bloomberg Business.
  8. James Montgomery. “100 GW of Solar PV Now Installed in the World Today”. Feb. 12, 2013. Renewable Energy World.
  9. Adam Dean. “China Carbon Debut Defies Carbon Doubters”. Oct 12, 2012. Bloomberg Business Week.
  10. Brad Plumer. “Around the world, cap-and-trade is still alive and kicking”. June 5, 2012. The Washington Post.
  11. Will Oremus. “Even China Will Have a Carbon Tax Before We Do”. Feb 26, 2013. Slate.