Li Xing

Politics no excuse to block go-green efforts

By Li Xing (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-05-07 19:28
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Most evenings last month, I wore two sweaters while working at home on the computer. Before bed, I sometimes used the air conditioner to warm up the bedroom before getting into bed, which was covered with two quilts.

The chill lingered until the end of the month. Meteorologists said it was Beijing's coldest April in nearly half a century.

Severe winter weather in the northern hemisphere and a chilly spring in many parts of the world have made some people skeptical of "global warming". Worse, it seems to have chilled the enthusiasm of some politicians and heads of government, who are dragging their feet on climate legislation.

In the United States, Senator Lindsey Graham is withholding his support for a climate change bill because Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid has decided to take up immigration reform first. Reid, incidentally, is up for re-election and needs the Hispanic vote.

In Australia, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced last week that his country would put off its plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions until 2013, even though Rudd won election three years ago after campaigning as a green candidate.

In France, trumpeted carbon-tax plans have been put on hold; in Canada and Japan, lawmakers have thrown cold water on similar bills.

In China, the top leadership keeps hammering away at the importance of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Reports of small coal-fired power plants being demolished are familiar fare on local television.

However, the National Energy Bureau recently revealed that industries consumed 28 percent more power in the first quarter this year than they did in the same period last year. Some of this was due to the resurgent economy, but the increase in power usage was more than double the 11.9 percent rise in the national GDP.

Heavy industry was the worst offender, using 31 percent more power than last year.

According to the State Council, some energy intensive, polluting plants have come back on line and are jeopardizing China's plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In China, as elsewhere, politics plays a part. For many local officials, career advancement is job one. They succeed when local GDP rises, even though the increase in GDP may be achieved at the cost of greenhouse gas emissions and environmental pollution.

The Chinese media were still lamenting the wintry spring when Beijing residents experienced the hottest May Day in 44 years, with the mercury rising to 32.2 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit). In Xinjiang, the rapid rise in temperature is causing the snow to melt so fast that serious flooding threatens houses and farmland.

Obviously, the phrase "global warming" does not do justice to the change in climate we are experiencing. "Global weirding" - a phrase coined by columnist Thomas L. Friedman - may be more like it.

We may have reservations about the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, but there is no doubt that our supply of fossil fuels is running out. Harmful substances continue to seep into our rivers; the air we breathe is sometimes appalling.

Meanwhile, government officials continue to feather their nests. It is just possible that the world will survive without a Harry Reid or a Kevin Rudd. How much longer will it survive without a serious, worldwide effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions and pollution?