Articles by Christina Larson
Christina Larson is a contributing editor at Foreign Policy magazine and a Schwartz fellow at the New America Foundation. Her reporting has brought her throughout China, as well Southeast Asia, and her writing has appeared in The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, The New Republic, The Washington Monthly, and Yale Environment 360 among other publications.
David linked to the Reuters report about China's refusal to accept binding emissions caps in any international agreement. On the topic of China and climate change, last week I got some face time with the head of the World Bank's energy unit in Beijing, Dr. Zhao. Too much for one blog post, but here are some highlights:
According to his research, the World Bank's go-to guy on these matters believes: "It will be difficult or even impossible for China to reduce CO2 emissions in absolute terms." Depressing conclusion. As he saw it, "The question now is, what can be down to reduce China's growth rate [of CO2 emissions]?"
While refusing to sign international agreements on carbon caps, Beijing has issued some fairly ambitious goals of its own. One is to have 15 percent of energy come from renewable sources by 2020. Of course, whether this target is based in reality is another question. As Dr. Zhao told me, "In most other countries, you do the analysis first, then set goals. In China, you set the goal first, then you do the research and set the policy to try to achieve it." Translation: the temptation to fudge numbers to reach preordained conclusions is dangerously high.
I arrived in Beijing in late October, in time for the last days of the Communist Party's 17th National Congress. That's the top political conference that takes place once every five years, and the city was swarming with national and international visitors and press.
That day there were blue skies in Beijing. No kidding. The streets were swept clean, the sidewalk vendors gone, the DVD hawkers on holiday. There were many more police on the street, fewer cars. The sunset looked oily, a slick translucent glow to the clouds -- but the last time I visited Beijing in April, I hadn't even seen the sun through the smog.
Beijing during the Congress. Photo: Christina Larson
I spoke with a representative from the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau the following Monday who neither confirmed nor denied -- typical here -- what everyone else told me: In time for the big event, the city had ordered official cars off the road and shuttered surrounding factories. And voila, brighter skies. (As a test, I even went for a run.)
Two days later, the conference was over. The skies were grey, the sun obscured. There were once again cigarette butts and orange peels on the sidewalk; the clack-clack of sidewalk cobblers, and the men waving "Bourne Identity 3" DVDs. I coughed as I walked down the street; the air left a strange aftertaste.
A few years ago, Boeing was struggling. Sales were slipping, financial forecasts grim. Meanwhile Airbus, a foreign competitor, passed the former champ in total sales. Now the tables are turned. There are several reasons for the stellar advance sales of Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner, but I can't help but point out one:
After years of research into lightweight carbon-fiber, which now replaces heavier aluminum for the jet's fuselage and wings, the Dreamliner can sail with an estimated 20-30 percent less fuel per passenger. What's the company's reasoning behind increasing fuel efficiency? It's better for business, of course.
You can watch Disney and the Department of Energy's co-produced energy-efficiency PSA here. It's half an ad for Ratatouille, half a push for compact fluorescent lightbulbs.
Maybe the marketing theory is, "Hook 'em while they're young." Works for soft drinks and breakfast cereals. Perhaps it will work for Energy Star, too.