President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao touched on energy issues in the bilateral summit between the two countries this week.
“I believe that as the two largest energy consumers and emitters of greenhouses gases, the United States and China have a responsibility to combat climate change by building on the progress at Copenhagen and Cancun, and showing the way to a clean energy future. And President Hu indicated that he agrees with me on this issue,” President Obama said during a Wednesday press conference.
But can the United States step up as a leader on clean energy? The proliferation of politicians whom The Nation‘s Mark Hertsgaard calls “climate cranks” suggests otherwise.
The biggest consumers
In international climate negotiations, the United State and China are the two key players, and if the world as a whole is to move forward on combating climate change, agreement between Presidents Obama and Hu would be a huge breakthrough. Mother Jones‘ Kate Sheppard notes that Hu also said the United States and China would work together on climate changes, but, she writes, “I can imagine, though, that the conversation on this subject wasn’t entirely as chummy as the remarks would imply, however. The US last month lodged a complaint with the World Trade Organization about China’s subsidies for clean energy, arguing that the country is unfairly stacking the deck in favor of their products.”
At AlterNet, Tina Gerhardt and Lucia Green-Weiskel explain the background to those tensions and to the U.S.’s protectionist bent on clean energy projects. They write, “Energy Secretary Chu recently framed the new relationship between the U.S. and China as a ‘Sputnik Moment.’ Referencing the first satellite launched by the Soviet Union in 1957, which demonstrated its technological advantage and led to the Cold War-era space race, Chu warned that the U.S. risks falling behind China in the clean technology race.”
China’s motivations for growing its clean energy sector may not be leafy green; new energy sources feed the country’s rapidly growing economy. But at least the country is committed to green energy sources, unlike our climate change-denying Congress. As Mark Hertsgaard argues at The Nation, this brand of American has become so pernicious, it’s time to stop adhering to the protocol that dubs them “climate deniers” and start calling them “climate cranks.” He explains:
True skepticism is invaluable to the scientific method, but an honest skeptic can be persuaded by facts, if they are sound. The cranks are impervious to facts, at least facts that contradict their wacky worldview. When virtually every national science academy in the developed world, including our own, and every major scientific organization (e.g., the American Geophysical Union, the American Physics Society) has affirmed that climate change is real and extremely dangerous, only a crank continues to insist that it’s all a left-wing plot.
Climate cranks attack
Unfortunately, climate cranks continue to interfere with both climate scientists and forward-thinking energy policy. At Change.org, Nikki Gloudeman writes about the ongoing saga of climate scientist Michael Mann, one of the climatologists embroiled in the Climategate brouhaha, who is still being attacked by climate-denying groups for his work. Gloudeman reports that although Mann has been investigated and found innocent of any misdeeds several times over, a group with a bias against climate change, the American Tradition Institute, is trying to obtain access to his work.
And in New Mexico, the state’s new conservative governor, Susana Martinez, “has attempted to subvert her own state constitution in order to stop [a] plan to begin reducing her state’s carbon emissions,” reports Dahr Jamail for Truthout. The plan, executed through state rules, would have reduced the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 3%, from 2010 levels, each year. The rules should have been made public, but Gov. Martinez kept them from being published, according to Truthout’s report. A local group, New Energy Economy, is fighting to implement them.
In some states, however, the clean energy economy is moving forward. As Care2′s Beth Buczynski reports, Clean Edge, a clean-tech advisory group, has identified the top ten states for clean energy leadership. They include California, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois.
“Rankings were derived from over 80 metrics including total electricity produced by clean-energy sources, hybrid vehicles on the road, and clean-energy venture and patent activity,” Buczynski reports.
And, as David Roberts writes at Grist, there is important work to be done at the local and regional level to both prepare for and prevent climate change. His preferred term for this challenge is “ruggedizing”—strengthening a community’s ability to respond to challenges brought on by climate change, such as flooding, droughts, or food shortages. The solutions to these problem, Roberts writes, often have the welcome side effect of decreasing carbon emissions, as well:
For instance, the residents of Brisbane are discovering that when disaster strikes, it’s not very handy to have everyone spread out all over the place and utterly dependent on cars to get anywhere. It’s more resilient to have people closer together, more able to walk or take shared transportation. It just so happens that also reduces vehicle emissions.
The advantage of this type of work—building the clean energy economy, ruggedizing communities—is that leaders don’t necessarily have to agree on the reality of climate change to move forward. But these are only partial solutions, and to address climate change on an international scale, the cranks will need to be quieted.