08 February 2007

China's growing environmental debt still doesn't equal ours

China's massive pollution is a news item that now seems to receive almost as much attention as global warming, to which it is becoming a major contributor. The country is predicted to surpass the United States as the world's biggest greenhouse gas producer within two years.

China is a signatory of the Kyoto Protocol but as a developing nation is currently exempt from a commitment to reduce emissions. Indeed this is one of the reasons the Americans used to opt out. The Chinese insist quite rightly that the developed countries created the problem while enjoying most of the benefits of industrialization, so the developed countries have the greatest responsibility to address the problem. Nonetheless, China's economy is huge and growing, as is its use of dirty energy, and for all our sakes it must reduce emissions proportionately.

Our individual responsibility, however, remains far greater than theirs. China has 4.4 times the population of the United States, so even if the greenhouse gas production of the two countries is equal, each individual American (and each Canadian) is still contributing 4.4 times as much. We have, therefore, 4.4 times the responsibility to cut back. Indeed even more, because we have created a disproportionate amount of the damage and enjoyed a disproportionate amount of the spoils. And we should keep in mind that, because of what we are doing to the planet, the Chinese may never hope to achieve our standard of living without laying waste to the Earth.

So we must ask much more of the Chinese, and the Indians, and other developing nations, but we must ask much, much more of ourselves.

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