If you want to see unshakable hope in the face of all evidence, check out the Americans and Brits who consistently promise that China is going green.
One of the most predictable patterns of the past 20 years has been U.S. politicians and media comparing China’s climate action favorably to that of the United States, especially that of Republican administrations, even as China increases its pollution and greenhouse gas emissions at staggering rates that mathematically undo all climate-related reductions the world over.
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The reason for this argument is simple. U.S. climate regulations have the effect of sending manufacturing and other fossil-fuel use to China, where the processes involved are significantly dirtier. This undermines the climate- and environment-based arguments for the U.S. to tax fossil fuels and subsidize green energy.
Here’s a brief history of the “China is Going Green!” claim and the data on the reality.
In the late 1990s, the U.S. stabilized its carbon dioxide emissions at a bit below 6 billion tons, and China began a massive increase in its emissions. In 2004, China surpassed the U.S. in annual emissions and kept climbing. A couple of years later, the U.S. began a slow, steady decrease in its carbon dioxide, but China kept climbing. By 2010, China had nearly reached 10 billion tons annually, whereas the U.S. was down to 5.5 billion.
That’s when then-President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union address, warned that the U.S. was falling behind China in the clean-energy race.
“China is not waiting to revamp its economy,” Obama said. “They’re not standing still. These nations aren’t playing for second place. … They’re making serious investments in clean energy.”
The New York Times declared, “China Leading Global Race to Make Clean Energy.”
“China keeps inching further ahead of the U.S. in the clean energy development race,” declared tech publication Fast Company later in 2010.
“China is prevailing in the global race for green jobs in sectors from solar panels to advanced lighting, and appears to be on an unstoppable upward path,” the Guardian warned at the time, calling it a “‘Wake-Up Call’ for U.S.”
Five years later, in 2015, the U.S. had cut emissions even more, down to about 5.25 billion tons. China? It had blown past 10 billion to nearly 11 billion tons. In the space of a decade, China had gone from fewer emissions than the U.S. to twice its emissions. That’s when Foreign Policy magazine proclaimed “China’s Green Revolution.”
“China’s economic rebalancing away from dirty, heavy industries and its newfound concern for the environment are real and producing tangible results sooner than had been expected,” a study reportedly found.
FP was explicit: China was going green, and so those dastardly Americans had no excuse not to: “Fierce opposition from congressional Republicans has derailed some of [Obama’s] most ambitious efforts,” the article stated. “Many lawmakers say they are loath to curb emissions and risk harming the economy for fear of giving China — the world’s biggest polluter — a competitive advantage over American firms. China, though, is apparently turning last year’s pledge into action.”
“Germany and China are beating the U.S. in energy efficiency,” the liberal website Mashable declared in its climate change section in 2016.
By 2017, when President Donald Trump came into office, U.S. emissions had fallen below 5 billion tons, whereas China’s were still rising above the 11 billion ton threshold. That’s when CNN trumpeted, “China is crushing the U.S. in renewable energy.”
“As the Trump administration yanks the U.S. out of the Paris climate change agreement, claiming it will hurt the American economy, Beijing is investing hundreds of billions of dollars and creating millions of jobs in clean power,” CNN’s tech reporters wrote. It’s as if they were reading from the same old script that had been wrong already for so long.
“While President Trump promises to put American coal miners back to work, China is moving in the opposite direction,” CNN’s reporters wrote. “China is betting big on renewable energy.”
Around the same time, the Center for American Progress informed its readers, “Everything You Think You Know About Coal in China Is Wrong. China’s new coal-fired power plants are cleaner than ours — and stronger on climate change.”
In a 2018 special report titled “The East is Green,” the Economist wrote that “China is rapidly developing its clean-energy technology.”
The liberal magazine Mother Jones laid out the typical argument that same year: “Solar Is the Future. Donald Trump Tied a Bow on It and Gave It to China. And now the Chinese are gaining on the West in the most important arena of all: innovation.”
“China Is Set To Become The World’s Renewable Energy Superpower,” Forbes reported in 2019.
Here’s a U.S. professor scolding Trump in 2020 for falling behind China on greenness.
Reuters sounded the drum beat around the same time: “China calls for global ‘green revolution’ as Trump goes solo on climate.”
The argument is always the same, and the facts always undermine it.
Even the Biden administration has been forced to admit it.
China keeps pledging to go green but doesn’t. The U.S. media keep using the false pledge as an argument that the U.S. should do the same.