In previous conversations about the American Clean Energy and Security Act, I've heard some people suggest that we'd be silly to hamstring our economy with more environmental regulations while China and our other global competitors chug along with their old polluting energy sources. There's debate about whether ACESA would hamstring our economy (Paul Krugman doesn't think so), but I posed the global question to my friends at RSD and ELPC: Can we afford to impose regulations like ACESA on ourselves in a global market where China, India, and other countries can keep pumping out CO2?
The simple answer: we can't afford not to.
ACESA creates incentives, through carbon cap-and-trade and other policies, to spur invention and innovation in energy creation and energy conservation.
China may wait for the U.S. and other developed countries to act on carbon emissions, but it won't wait to make a buck and take the lead in high-tech clean energy manufacturing. China is investing in solar and building it cheaper than the U.S.; China already makes six times more solar cells than we do. China is becoming a leader on clean-coal technology. The Chinese don't need climate-change arguments to convince them to push for alternative energy. The Chinese see alternative energy technology as a solution to the problems of a bigger population, much worse pollution (including 750,000 preventable deaths each year due to air pollution alone), and fewer natural resources than the U.S. They also see dollar signs:
Moreover, Beijing – just like US President Barack Obama – sees renewable energy as an economic boon. Building out a new global energy industry over the next half century will generate more business than any other sector, Chinese officials predict, and they want a hefty chunk of that business. “This gives us an opportunity to develop a new area for a new industry” says Professor Li [Junfeng, deputy head of energy research at China’s top planning agency]. “It’s good for our long-term development.”
...“China sees [green technology] as an enormous market that is not claimed or controlled by any one nation, and there is an opportunity for them to do it,” says [China Greentech Initiative's Ellen] Carberry. “The combination of urgency; the enormous needs; a focused, systematic planned government; an army of engineers; and access to capital may define China as the platform for the green- technology industry globally” [Peter Ford, "China's Green Leap Forward," Christian Science Monitor, 2009.08.10].
New energy technology is where we will find the jobs and economic growth of the 21st century. The country that takes the lead in producing and using energy more cleanly and efficiently will be the next generation superpower. We do not want to let a tech gap develop between us and China. Remember the S in ACESA: Security. We don't have energy security now with 30% of our crude oil coming from OPEC. We won't have energy security if our solar panels and other low-carbon energy tech are stamped "Made in China."
Remember also that, in a broader analysis, America's reliance on imports is part of why the economy went to heck in a handbag last year. For several years America has made less and imported more; countries like China and Germany consumed less and exported more. China, Germany, et al. thus had growing pots of money saved up in the bank. Those savings became relatively cheap sources of investment capital for riskier and riskier Wall Street games... and those of you with stock portfolios and IRAs know how that turned out. At their meeting in Pittsburgh last week, the G20 leaders talked about exactly that problem and agreed the U.S. needs to consume less and produce more to lower its trade deficit, while other countries need to rely less on exports and buy more stuff.
If we sit back and let China take the lead in building solar panels and other new energy tech, we're asking for more of the same problem that put us in our economic hole. As Constant Conservative's Andrew Tople might say, if you're in a hole, step 1 is to stop digging... and pass ACESA!
China is perfectly relevant to a discussion of the American Clean Energy and Security Act. But far from a reason to oppose ACESA, China is exactly why we should pass ACESA. If you like being #2, go ahead, block ACESA. Let China take the lead. Leave America prone to further economic meltdowns. But if you prefer the top of the heap (and I certainly do), then keep America strong by supporting ACESA.