Red, Brown, and Green: China’s Bid for Cleaner Energy
China is the world’s biggest energy consumer and carbon emitter. It needs more energy, and it wants it cleaner. So it’s pursuing the biggest push for low-carbon energy the world has ever seen. But China’s green drive is messy and uncertain – full of geopolitical fighting, technological uncertainty, and investor risk. What’s happening? Who’s profiting? And will it do much for the planet?
Journalist Jeffrey Ball’s experiences with air pollution in China are almost cliche today, with air so chock-full of particle pollutants that basic face masks don’t do the trick. Yet there’s more to the picture, as Ball explains. China is in the midst of a self-imposed green revolution, and the Chinese government has set audacious goals for reducing pollution in almost every sector of their economy.
Big IdeaChina is pursuing the biggest and most important push for clean energy the world has ever seen. It’s not clear yet if that push is going to succeed.Jeffrey Ball
Now that China has embarked on this unprecedented mission, the questions remains if it will work. There are no comparable plans in history to use as benchmarks for success, and even then scientists are skeptical that China’s plan alone will make enough of a difference to counteract the damage that climate change is causing in China.
China took the world by surprise when it decided to take on clean energy in ways that many other developed economies haven’t. Jeffrey Ball thinks that there are a couple answers as to why, none of which is a moralistic understanding of their role in climate change:
It seems a like a contradiction at first: a country that has the most ambitious clean energy goals in the world also ranking as one of the largest polluters. To solve this contradiction, Jeffrey Ball explains, you have to remember where China started.
Change Comes Every Five Years
Ball uses the example of China’s coal power plants to illustrate this phenomenon. Despite China’s massive efforts to update and even phase out coal power plants, China’s emissions from coal are still some of the highest in the world. When China started their clean energy push coal was the principal driver of their economy and their industry, and disrupting that level of pollution will take extraordinary effort.
China is often cited as the world’s largest producer of solar panels (which it is), but Jeffrey Ball points out that until the late 2000s almost none of those panels were being installed in China? . Although solar has immense promise as a clean energy source, Ball describes how international economics and national priorities, not reducing pollution, led to solar’s rise in China: