Updated: May 5, 2021
There is a very important article in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs magazine entitled “Competition with China Can Save the Planet” by Andrew S. Erickson (US Naval War College, Harvard University) and Gabriel Collins (Rice University, Oxford Institute). A sense of despair accompanied by the question, “why bother taking local climate action?” will likely emerge when first embarking on the article. The magnitude and inertia of China’s toxic coal dependency ensnarled with our own consumer reliance on Chinese production, (including renewable energy products like solar panels and EV batteries) is disheartening at best. The article points out that China deftly feigns progress against climate objectives by moving the nasty coal plants out of the now wealthy, cosmopolitan cities of eastern China to the poorer, insular western regions with more vulnerable populations. The principles of climate justice that are finally becoming core to climate action plans across the US and developed nations barely rank as a distant thought amongst Chinese government officials and planners.
Far from placating or coaxing the Chinese behemoth to act responsibly, the authors implore the US and the rest of the world to compete with it. Healthy competition is motivating and can bring out the best solutions in the shortest time frame. To make that competition healthy, we need to go beyond “leveling” the playing field, we need to “change” it – to better account for the real cost of carbon emissions, hazardous waste, ecological inequality, and diversity destruction. Creating a new playing field means creating appropriate universal standards and metrics. This only achieved through cooperation - throughout the country and with other like-minded countries - in driving and adhering to those standards. Cooperation comes through trust. This is just another reason why “walking the talk” at all levels - from individual to global, from grass roots to federal policy, is so important. Therefore, in the shadow of the Chinese colossus, our local and regional efforts are not in vain. Far from it. But, as the saying goes, “change moves with the speed of trust”, and time for meaningful climate action is short – so we all better start “running that talk”.