China's pollution record sheds light on Obama climate agenda

This past week, when the President wasn’t busy talking to the United Nations about ISIS (er… ISIL?) or bidding a fond farewell to the Attorney General, he managed to sneak in some speeches about the pressing need to deal with climate change. Such a busy period in foreign affairs might be the best time to kick a few green initiatives into action when you think about it. In his speech, Obama stressed the importance for everyone else to get on board, even as he prepares the US for potentially costly moves to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

One has to wonder, however, if he was including China on that list. After all, no matter how much cash we dump into slight reductions in carbon emissions, it’s difficult to imagine how much good will be achieved when China is now flushing more pollutants into the atmosphere than the United States and the European Union combined.

China is for the first time emitting more carbon pollution per person than the EU, birthplace of the industrial revolution. In a notable turning point for the world’s most populous nation, China produced 7.2 tonnes of planet-warming carbon dioxide a head last year, compared with 6.8 tonnes in the EU. Its total C02 emissions outstrip those of both the EU and the US combined, scientists reported. The news emerged as thousands of people took to the streets around the world on Sunday to demand more action on climate change.

Reuters also noted that China is now setting all time records in pollution, even as other nations talk (without concrete action) about investing heavily in what are essentially cosmetic reductions by comparison. With so many other bills to be paid, one has to wonder how much credence the rest of the western world will put in Barack Obama’s leadership on this issue. America’s Power puts a rather fine point on the answer to that question.

“The Obama Administration claims to be leading on climate change, but as other major industrial and economic powers sit on the sidelines, it’s clear that the president is leading a cause that no one wants to join,” said Laura Sheehan, senior vice president for communications at the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE). “By going all-in on unnecessary and overzealous regulations that will hamstring our nation’s economy, the president and his administration are putting pressing issues like jobs, the economy and our national security on the backburner. Other foreign leaders recognize the importance of affordable, reliable energy to move their nations forward: to combat disease and poverty; provide potable water, suitable housing, and power appropriate healthcare facilities; and grow their economies. Their absence at the UN talks speaks volumes to the president’s misprioritized agenda and his complete disregard for the challenges of America’s working families and still-struggling economy.”

India, one of the most densely packed bastions of human habitation on the planet, isn’t having any of it either. As for China’s part, they are totally on board with reducing global emissions… as long as the United States pays for it. Perhaps it’s just me, but there’s something awfully familiar about this tune.

It’s nice that President Obama seems interested in taking the lead on global affairs, but one key element of demonstrable leadership is evidence that someone is following you. There are plenty of world leaders – many with a deep, vested interest in the American dollar – who are more than willing to pay lip service to this cause. But if everyone is either going to sit on the sidelines, as most of Europe is doing, or blatantly flaunt the efforts – as we clearly see in the case of China – the issue of global leadership is in question.