China and Europe are getting more and more aggressive in their clean energy push. Meanwhile, Republicans and some Democrats in U.S. Congress and state leadership are steering the U.S. towards economic suicide with anti-clean-energy policies and proposals.
While it is widely known that a large portion of the U.S. is not very informed on what is going on in other countries, one would think (and hope) that key U.S. politicians would be aware of such things to a greater extent and would help lead the U.S. to a more prosperous future in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. From recent political moves (i.e. the U.S. Congress launching a full-out attack on clean air, the climate, clean energy, our health, and the economy; New Hampshire likely pulling out of a successful regional cap-and-trade program; and Florida Gov. Rick Scott joining the crew of Tea Party governors who have killed high-speed rail, economic growth, and jobs in their states), it seems many U.S. politicians don't have a clue.
While we seem to be going backwards, the other leading economies of the world, however, are moving forward at a faster and faster pace.
China Taking the Environment More Seriously?
The New York Times recently reported on announcements that China is going to work to more aggressively protect the environment. Why? In order to help the economy.
“In China’s thousands of years of civilization, the conflict between humankind and nature has never been as serious as it is today,” Environment Minister Zhou Shengxian wrote. “The depletion, deterioration and exhaustion of resources and the worsening ecological environment have become bottlenecks and grave impediments to the nation’s economic and social development.”
Prime Minister Wen Jiabao made similar remarks during a widely-publicized Internet chat.
“We must not any longer sacrifice the environment for the sake of rapid growth and reckless roll-outs, as that would result in unsustainable growth featuring industrial overcapacity and intensive resource consumption,” said Mr. Wen.
China's New 5-Year Plan
China is committed to reducing its energy intensity 40-45% on 2005 levels by 2020 and in its next 5-year plan, for 2011-2015, it is looking to reduce it by 16-17%. It is also reportedly going to set a cap on emissions and is likely to set up a cap-and-trade program.
As part of its new 5-year plan, it is likely to invest about $1.5 trillion in cleantech such as high-speed rail, green cars, and clean energy.
Energy Giants in Europe Pushing EU to Cut More GHG Emissions by 2020
Europe, which has been a green leader for years, is actually doing so well with its clean-energy and energy-efficiency efforts that it may soon increase its green targets. It set a target years ago to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 20% on 1990 levels by 2020. Now, however, several countries are arguing that it could up that to 30% and that doing so would grow the EU's GDP by €620 billion ($866.4 billion). A couple of dirty-energy-dependent countries, most notably Poland, where I currently live, are holding up such a change, but a compromise may be on the horizon.
EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard is going to issue a statement on Tuesday that is likely "to highlight that energy saving measures could put the EU on track for a 25 percent cut at little cost to industry." However, going even further, several of Europe's largest energy companies are pushing the EU to actually make 25% a formal target.
"As leaders of utility companies, we know that the benefits of early action far outweigh the costs of inertia or delayed action," the heads of the companies said in their joint statement. "Private investors take their signals from such targets, and more ambitious targets will stimulate more low carbon investment."
Identifying that the EU sends approximately €270 billion ($374.9 billion) a year to outside countries for oil, and €40 billion ($55.9 billion) for gas, the companies pointed out that cutting its oil and gas dependency would help improve the economy.
The companies also urged that the cap on emissions in place under the continent's world-leading cap-and-trade program be tightened as well. Imagine that.
"For the period after 2020, the cap must be aligned with the pathway set out in the roadmap," the firms said.
U.S. Congress Out of Touch with Needs of the Country
Why are China and Europe moving forward so aggressively on these "green" efforts? It's not only (or even primarily) to help the environment for the environment's own sake. It is out of a recognition that society relies on a healthy environment for economic prosperity, as well as the recognition that we have hit or will very soon hit peak oil and that, combined with the political instability in the oil-rich Middle East, means they need to move towards less oil dependency fast.
The U.S. needs all the same things. Unfortunately, a number of our "leaders" don't seem to know that,.. or just don't care.
Photo Credit: Peter Fuchs via flickr/CC license