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Why is the U.S. Losing the Clean Energy Race to China? Blame the Climate Cranks

Why is the U.S. Losing the Clean Energy Race to China? Blame the Climate Cranks

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.”

Stumbling blocks

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.

Bright spots

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.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint.


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Photo credit: phault via flickr through Creative Commons
By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

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99 comments

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12:38AM PST on Jan 25, 2013

The problem on this planet is the military/industrial alliance of America who wish to own/control everyone and everything on this planet and they invent words like greenhouse gases to facilitate this agenda.

2:56PM PST on Dec 16, 2012

Being spread out in an emergency is NOT a detriment, being shoehorned into mega cities is. Terrorism, floods, electrical outages, plague, etc. are all much more easily handled in a dispersed population.

When NY lost power for three days it was complete chaos. When Sandy hit, it was a massive economic hit. When I lost power for three days, I just ran the generator on occasion.

3:16PM PDT on Apr 20, 2011

Not everything is a competition, the US is a bunch of losers running around scared, Its not about Over population, theres plenty of resources if people would control themselves.. but the masses dont change, and people hardly give up their lives as they know it for a better cause. America is too comfortable to do anything, so many others are in chaos, the animals and plants and earth suffer because of HUMANS. We are complacent and stale. So go into the woods if theres any left and say your sorries.

9:31AM PDT on Apr 20, 2011

It's bad enough BEING in one of the countries that consume the most. I'm embarrassed to think that the rest of the world is waiting for us to get our act together so that they don't continue to suffer because of us.

8:07AM PDT on Apr 20, 2011

One long term design we can consider comes from thevenusproject.com which suggests we should start surveying our land before raping it and move to an economy based on stricter consideration of our resources. I know debt slavery seems like it is here to stay but I think gradual slow shifts in the consideration of our resources such as CO2 emissions aren't going to do it. The current confinements of our economy are stifling progression too much. I think our time is running out.

There are some that only value the comfort of THEIR present and don't want to consider the sustainability of OUR future. That would require effort and investment but more damaging, financial risk.

7:44AM PDT on Apr 20, 2011

Travis, telling corporations to forget about money is like telling you to forget about air. It's perpetual and dynamic. We live in a world that suggests we have more freedoms if we have more money. I almost wonder if I shouldn't have had kids because I'll never be able to give them the freedom they deserve because I cannot provide them the wealth they need to obtain it. So yes, money is only as valuable as we perceive it to be... well... when money is woven into every facet of our lives including the tribulations to scrap coal, oil and nuclear, it becomes increasingly difficult because in order to move companies and societies into a clean energy world, acts of persuasion are used... but that only gets us so far. People are making changes every day. I'm buying a reel lawn mower today. I don't know why I never thought about it before. We need constant reminders of routine actions where we burn and don't consider our actions. So I think I personally have made great reduction in emissions from various small changes but I'm not done yet.

what does a corporation need to make the change? Incentives or strong arm government. Both involve economical considerations and the corporations hold so many jobs that we are always afraid of deterring them from making job cuts yet they still make job cuts, they still get bonuses, bailouts and loopholes. CO2 tax maybe? Seems obvious but still just short term fixes.

5:31AM PST on Feb 22, 2011

"Clean Energy Race", why does everything have to be a competition with people

its not a race, its our obligation as a species to make sure the environment is cared for

forget about money, possessions, land, and staying one step ahead, pull it together and start working together!!

7:14AM PST on Feb 3, 2011

fantastic and very informative article! thanks! :)

4:07PM PST on Jan 27, 2011

Big oil& their lobbyists are definitely our biggest obstacles. I really do hope what Obama mentioned in the state of the union about stopping subsidies for old technology, ie oil c

11:48AM PST on Jan 26, 2011

The United States has always been the single biggest obstacle to saving this planet from the worst ravages of climate change. China is going to have to enforce strict sanctions against the U.S.'s anti-environmental policies. If the U.S. is unwilling to see the "carrot" that is the survival of our species on this planet, then perhaps what it needs is a healthy dose of the "stick."

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