Krugman To China: Go Green Now Or Else

Paul Krugman appears to be channeling Al Gore in his editorial in the New York Times today. The good professor suggests that it is past time to clamp down on evil Chinese polluters before they choke us all to death.

It seems Dr. Krugman spent the last week in China and was shocked at the amount of carbon generated by the Chinese economy. He has discovered that a great deal of the energy that the Chinese produce comes from coal-fired electricity plants. As if that weren’t bad enough, the Chinese told him that they intend to go right on producing electricity in this manner. 

Dr. Krugman asks indignantly what is to be done about this?

Nothing, say the Chinese. Each time I raised the issue during my visit, I was met with outraged declarations that it was unfair to expect China to limit its use of fossil fuels. After all, they declared, the West faced no similar constraints during its development; while China may be the world’s largest source of carbon-dioxide emissions, its per-capita emissions are still far below American levels; and anyway, the great bulk of the global warming that has already happened is due not to China but to the past carbon emissions of today’s wealthy nations.

And they’re right. It is unfair to expect China to live within constraints that we didn’t have to face when our own economy was on its way up. But that unfairness doesn’t change the fact that letting China match the West’s past profligacy would doom the Earth as we know it.

So, I think this is the “end is nigh” argument. We, the West have sinned but found religion and all others must follow for if you emulate us we are all goners. Sorry, your arguments make a lot of sense but, valid though they may be, our view trumps all others.

Having dived into very deep waters, Krugman then writes that the Chinese have no alternatives and if they do not comply will pay the consequences:

As the United States and other advanced countries finally move to confront climate change, they will also be morally empowered to confront those nations that refuse to act. Sooner than most people think, countries that refuse to limit their greenhouse gas emissions will face sanctions, probably in the form of taxes on their exports. They will complain bitterly that this is protectionism, but so what? Globalization doesn’t do much good if the globe itself becomes unlivable.

Dr. Krugman is playing with fire here. He may well believe the extremist views he’s espousing, I hope not, but if he does that’s his right. Unfortunately his assertion that crippling China’s export engine in the name of environmentalism is a concept that will come to no good end once the political process adopts it. I’m sure that he is not a protectionist but affording an environmental excuse for tariffs to those who seek to limit trade is irresponsible to say the least and that is precisely what he has done.

There are lots of ways to lead the Chinese to the promised land of clean energy. Even Krugman admits that they may be slowly coming around. Force, however, is not one of those methods. Quite frankly, the U.S. is not in the position fiscally to be demanding much of anything from its largest creditor. Time and peer pressure will probably bring the Chinese around. Pounding on one’s chest and issuing threats will not.

more: here (Tyler Cowen’s thoughts on the article)

It’s time to save the planet. And like it or not, China will have to do its part.

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