Looking to China for Environmental Inspiration

By Bradley S. Harn, Staff Member

The 2008 Summer Olympics displayed not only the world’s largest sporting event, but also the rampant pollution plaguing China. Audiences around the world tuned in to find tourists wearing masks and athletes refusing to participate. There is no doubt that the widespread use of coal in China is a major factor in creating these conditions. Roughly 70% of China's total energy consumption comes from coal, but this has lead to severe environmental damage. “China now uses more coal than the United States, Europe and Japan combined, making it the world’s largest emitter of gases that are warming the planet.” Keith Bradsher, China Outpaces U.S. in Cleaner Coal-Fired Plants, The New York Times, May 10 2009, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/11/world/asia/11coal.html. Beijing and Shenyang have some of the highest readings for total suspended particulates and SO2 in the world, with coal burning being a major source of this. In southern China, large areas have growing acid rain problems. Yuhuan 1,000MW Ultra-Supercritical Pressure Boilers, China, Power-Technology, http://www.power-technology.com/projects/yuhuancoal/ (last visited Sept. 19, 2010).

However, despite China’s enormous reliance on coal, they are also a leader in efficient and alternative energy. For example, China now requires power companies to retire an older, dirtier power plant for each new one they build. Bradsher, supra. These new power plants are significantly more efficient than their American counterparts. Id.

Beyond coal, China is making important strides in other areas.They are currently the world’s second largest producer of wind energy, behind only the United States. Lloyd McGraw, GWEC: China is the Second Largest Producer of Wind Energy,
Consumer Energy Report, April 12, 2010, available at http://www.consumerenergyreport.com/2010/04/12/gwec-china-is-the-second-largest-producer-of-wind-energy/.

China is also developing significant solar energy and hydroelectric power technologies. “Last year, China invested about $34 billion in solar panels, wind turbines and other alternative energy technologies, nearly twice as much as the United States, where spending fell sharply.” Andrew Higgins, With Solar Valley Project, China Embarks on Bold Green Mission, The Washington Post, May 17, 2010, available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/16/AR2010051603482_2.html?sid=ST2010051701091

China has established itself as the worldwide leader in the energy sector. Because of this, the United States needs to greatly increase its own efforts in order to remain competitive. President Obama declared in his January 2010 State of the Union address, “I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders, and I know you don’t either.” Bradsher, supra. What do you think the U.S. government can do to become a leader in alternative energy policy?