Tuesday, September 3, 2013

China's Economic Policies, Global Warming, And The Universal Problem Of Altering The Economy

This article suggests that air pollution, which affects everyone in China, has become such a big problem that China may decide to take more aggressive steps to reduce carbon emissions.  China has become the largest emitter of carbon because its rapidly growing industrial economy is based upon energy from coal.  Unless China shifts to cleaner forms of energy, and makes significant changes in its industrial structure, its share of global carbon emissions will continue to increase.

The article describes some of the actions that China might take to limit carbon emissions and some of the obstacles to those plans.  My takeaway from the article is that growth in carbon emissions is not uniquely related to capitalism, or to a nation's form of government.  China's state operated firms have a powerful incentive to continue growing, and the hold that its government has over its citizens is dependent upon increasing the standard of living of its citizens.  The imperative for economic growth is universal.  This article was published because the air pollution problems in China are visible today.  That might enable the government to alter its economic policies today in order to provide a relief to a current problem.  It is very difficult for any government to take actions that will limit economic growth in order to prevent something bad from happening in the future.  There are examples, however, where governments have been able to alter behavior in order to prevent bad things from happening in the future.  The US government has been very successful in reducing the consumption of tobacco despite opposition from the tobacco industry and the dependency of many of its citizens on nicotine consumption.  High taxes on tobacco products, along with a host of efforts to alter the culture which reinforced tobacco consumption has reduced tobacco consumption dramatically in the US.  Efforts to discourage tobacco consumption that depended solely upon educating citizens about the dangerous effects of smoking that might affect them in the future were not effective.  We need something similar to the actions taken by governments to reduce tobacco consumption in order to reduce carbon emissions.

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