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Environment vs climate: Which will China choose?

China's greenhouse gas emissions are rising by 8 per cent per year. That’s an annual increase greater than Canada's total emissions. (Though Canadians emit an annual average of 17.4 tons per capita, while the Chinese emit only 4.6 tons per capita.)

Megan McArdle, business and economics editor for The Atlantic, informs this discussion with the observation that In China, Environmentalism Means Two Different Things

After noting how China's intense urban air pollution "made me a bit nostalgic for my New York childhood, back when coal heaters and incinerators were legal," McArdle writes:

Still, over the long run, I'm quite sure that the Chinese are going to clean up their air, if for no other reason than that governments do: as countries get richer, one of the first things they buy with their income is cleaner water, clearer skies, and less congested lungs.

But among the people we've talked to, the pollution gets wrapped together with the issue of carbon emissions: "clean energy" and "green technology" tend to cover both the need to get rid of the particulate soup, and the need to lower carbon emissions. The one is of prime importance to the Chinese; the other is what the Americans care about.

These are not actually very closely related.

McArdle observed that "Everyone we've spoken to either has a car, or wants one very badly," and concluded:

...the Chinese government considers 8% growth the absolute lowest level it can tolerate; fall below that, and it has trouble generating jobs for college graduates and rural migrants. The government maintains its legitimacy because growth is high; as long as that continues, a lot of people are unwilling to rock the boat. But if growth falls towards that magic 8% line, which will Beijing choose: the environment, or cars and big-screen televisions for citizens who want them?

Monte Paulsen reports on carbon shift for The Tyee.

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