In his article last week in the New York Times Magazine on the greening of geopolitics in America, Thomas Friedman brought up a very important point on the battle between “Mother Nature and Father Greed.” While the United States may shift to a greener energy policy as awareness grows and political power shifts towards a more liberal agenda, the effects may be relatively insignificant. The problem with this is that the West is more inclined to ponder the effects of global warming because it can afford to do so. Countries like China will continue growing their per capita energy usage, but will still have millions of people living on a very meager salary; the government will not spend money on systems of energy production that minimize CO2 output. As world consumption swings from the hands of the technologically advanced Western powers and into the grasp of the poorer, underdeveloped masses of the East, the West may start to see its own advances in conservation as somewhat inconsequential. This tipping in influence however, should not blind our own efforts.
In the U.S., Wal-Mart has just introduced compact fluorescent bulbs, which use ¼ the energy of regular bulbs and last 10 times as long. The company has a reach of 100 million customers; if everyone bought just one bulb, they would be indirectly cutting CO2 emissions by 45 billion pounds (not to mention saving $3 billion in the process).<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[i]<!–[endif]–> Since the company will be saving money, this is a logical move for Eastern companies who hold a similar influence in their respective countries. However, the East has even more reforms to offer.
The People’s Government decided, in 1978, to reform their economy by encouraging the privatization of businesses and fostering education. This is indisputably the reason for China’s growth, with per capita income nearly quadrupling in the past 15 years.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[ii]<!–[endif]–> With the reforms also came the liberalization of performance quotas, where industries and companies were allowed to set there own quotas as they are the most knowledgeable on their respective products and markets. Even so, the government still maintains control over other social policies, not excluding the natural environment. Seeing the result of pollution first-hand in the levels of smog in Shanghai and Beijing, the government has recently voiced its concern.
The results were evident in April of this year at the Shanghai auto show. Chinese automakers unveiled prototypes for fuel cell cars, gasoline-electric hybrid cars and electric battery cars. Meanwhile, our own staggering giant, GM, among others European companies, is cooperating with Chinese firms in order to develop hybrid cars to the government’s liking. The government of China has also raised its consumption tax on gasoline inefficient cars (i.e. American trucks) to as much as 20%, while cutting it to 1% for those with high mpg figures.<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[iii]
While these figures are ahead of the U.S.’s own policies, this kind of initiative is only apparent in China’s transportation industry. In order to further steer China, India, and other developing behemoths in the right (green) direction, our own policies have to be ahead of theirs. While the world’s consumption and growth figures may be weighed down increasingly more by the East, China and India still look to Western consumption standards, practices, and desires. To this effect, Western governments have to raise the standards of their country’s companies, thereby providing a model for the rest of the world’s production objectives. So far, Europe has set the pace in the world, while the U.S. has consistently been a laggard (in this form of innovation). This is the real problem; our reforms are too slow. America has seen the lowest performance in its automotive industry this decade. While we cannot attribute this all to the lack of better federal regulations, we can certainly see that perhaps a libertarian approach to CO2 emissions is, as the world has proven, a stale idea.
<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[i]<!–[endif]–> Glenn Prickett of Conservation International, a Wal-Mart advisor, quoted in “The Power of Green,” New York Times Magazine, April 15, 2007, section 6.
<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[ii]<!–[endif]–> The International Monetary Fund
<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>[iii]<!–[endif]–> International Herald Tribune