Editorial Missing Point On Climate Change

Daily News-Record, December 31, 2019
Open Forum: Leslie Grady Jr.

The headline of the Dec. 7 editorial was “China Biggest Climate Change Culprit.” While it is true that China is currently the single largest emitter of carbon dioxide ( CO2), is it really the biggest culprit? One definition of culprit is “the cause of a problem.” The severity of climate change is directly proportional to the cumulative human- caused CO2 emissions in the atmosphere. By the end of 2018 the U. S. had emitted 24.8% of that CO2, whereas China had emitted 13.5%. Thus, on the basis of what is actually driving climate change, we are about twice as responsible as China. Of course, there is no single culprit; we are all responsible, although those in developing countries are much less so.

China is a paradox; it is both the largest emitter of CO2 and the leading market for solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles. As of the end of 2018, China had installed 175 GW of solar photovoltaic capacity, or 32.3% of global capacity, versus 62.2 GW ( 11.5%) for the U. S. Also, China had installed 211 GW (35.7%) of wind power capacity, versus 96.7 GW (16.3%) for the U. S. Finally, 2.24 million plug- in electric vehicles had been sold in China by the end of 2018, whereas 1.13 million had been sold in the U.S. While it is unfortunate that China is still building coal-fired power plants, one can’t argue that it is ignoring the need to address the climate crisis.

U. S. CO2 emissions indeed dropped by about 14% between 2000 and 2018, although the reduction was primarily the result of the fracking revolution, rather than policy. Economics led many utilities to close aging coal-fired power plants and replace them with gasfired plants, thereby cutting their emissions in half.

Regarding the Paris Climate Agreement, the editorial states: “… while this country was to be held to strict limits on carbon emissions, China’s commitment was virtually voluntary.” In fact, all commitments under the Paris agreement are voluntary and set by the countries themselves. Furthermore, the agreement is not legally binding and does not penalize nations that fail to meet their commitments.

The U. S. agreed to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by more than 25% below 2005 levels by 2025, while China said it would peak its emissions by 2030 at the latest. Because of the emissions reductions due to the natural gas boom, the U.S. could have easily made significant progress toward its commitment had not the Trump administration withdrawn from the agreement. As it is, because of our withdrawal, Carbon Action Tracker rates our progress as “Critically Insufficient.” the lowest rating. China’s commitment is rated as “Highly Insufficient,” the next to lowest, primarily because it is not consistent with holding warming to 1.5 degrees C. Indeed, China needs to do much more, as do we.

Rather than blaming China for the climate crisis, the author of the editorial needs to ask: Why doesn’t the U.S., the world’s strongest economy, do more to help solve a problem that it played a large part in creating?

Leslie Grady Jr. lives in Harrisonburg.

Copyright 2019 Daily News-Record 12/31/2019