Yesterday a D.C. nonprofit, the Center for Global Development, released an inventory of the world’s power plants. Its nifty database shows that on a national level, China trails only the the U.S. in total emissions of greenhouse gases, and not by much.
This will disappoint the global warming proponents at National Review, who have been predicting for months that China will surpass the traditional emissions champ, the United States, this year.
But both the scoffers on the right and the worriers on the left may be overlooking a central question, which was broached this Monday in a news story from the Wall Street Journal.
Simply put: a high percentage of Chinese emissions are produced manufactured for buyers around the world. Shouldn’t that be considered in the emissions accounting?
The vast majority of the world’s MP3 players are made
in China, where the main power source is coal. Manufacturing a single
MP3 player releases about 17 pounds of planet-warming carbon dioxide
into the atmosphere. IPods, along with thousands of other goods churned out
by Chinese factories, from toys to rolled steel, pose a question that
is becoming an issue in the climate-change debate. If a gadget is made
in China by an American company and exported and used by consumers from
Stockholm to São Paulo, Brazil, should the Chinese government be held
responsible for the carbon released in manufacturing it?
The story hints at the complexity of fault-finding when it comes to emissions, which we as a nation and as a species have barely begun to unpack. Not only must we contend with the fact that carbon dioxide is indivisible, and equally warming no matter if emitted in a Communist nation such as China, a capitalist nation such as the US, or a third-world nation such as India, but there is also what The Stern Review calls the "intergenerational" aspect of emissions. Carbon released today may have catastrophic effects thirty years from now, when the original emitters are long dead. Who will the children of today blame then?