Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Lunch with the Chair of the IPCC, Dr. Pachauri

This past week I had the honor of attending a private lunch with Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, the current Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC is the largest international organization dedicated to gathering the scientific evidence on climate change from scientists around the world. It shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore in 2007.

Dr. Pachauri spoke to a group of about 12 students, so the talk was intimate enough that we were able to ask questions. One student asked him his opinion of the role of the developing world, especially China and India, in the climate change issue. Many developing countries think it is unfair for them to have to curb carbon emissions just as their economic growth begins and so many of their citizens still live in poverty. For example, though China's economy is growing at unbelievable rates, many Chinese still experience a very low standard of living. Is there a way to curb greenhouse gas emissions without hurting the economy as well?

Dr. Pachauri believes that developing countries would be making a mistake if they chose to go through the same trajectory as the developed countries did. They need to find their own way to develop in a sustainable and environmentally-friendly way, without compromising their economy or the well-being of the impoverished. They could possibly try to do this by utilizing new technology. He emphasizes that this is an opportunity for developing countries to divert from the "business as usual" approach and really be innovative.

One step would be to price goods in a fair, transparent manner, without providing subsidies to goods such as oil. For example, the price of our oil does not actually reflect all the expenditures that are spent on our oil supply. Moving in a "green" direction does not necessarily lead to economic loss. The prices of renewables will only decrease, whereas oil prices can only rise in the future. Dr. Pachauri points to Germany and South Korea as examples in which sustainable changes led to economic gain.

I think that Dr. Pachauri makes valid points, but it still will be very difficult for China and India to drastically decrease carbon emissions without compromising their growth, especially if the leaders focus more on short term growth. The environment is a global public good; China will directly gain more by using cheaper and dirtier fuels than it will lose. All countries will share the burden of climate change.

China has begun large-scale initiatives that move it towards sustainable growth, but there will probably have to be some economic incentives in order for it to lower emissions to a level that will acceptable to everyone in the international community.

Do you think developed countries owe the developing countries anything in exchange for lowering emissions?

The image above is from Undergrowth.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Outsourcing Jobs = Outsourcing Pollution

I was talking with a visitor from China this past week about the beautiful weather we have been enjoying lately. She told me she sent a few pictures of Yale back to friends in China. The children that viewed the photos were amazed, not because of the centuries-old Gothic architecture, but because they had never seen a sky so blue.

Now, I was taken aback, because believe it or not, Yale is located in an urban area, and New Haven is considered a city. There are cars, buildings, construction, and streets. When I arrived last year, I remember complaining to my parents that the poor air quality of the city would cause me to develop some sort of respiratory disease. After all, for all of my life I have lived in nice suburban areas full of trees, blue skies, and sunshine.

Obviously, I had never experienced real pollution. This summer, I had a little taste of the air quality problem in China. The skies were always muggy, smoggy, and gray. First I thought it was just heavy cloud cover, until I realized there couldn't possibly be so many cloudy days during the summer months. It was true - if I peeked hard enough I could detect the hard bright glimmer of sunshine blocked by the layers and layers of pollution covering the sky.

The city pictured here isn't even that bad, believe it or not. This is Shenzhen and twenty-something years ago it was just a tiny fishing village. It has only suffered two decades worth of damage.

So my point is, we only see the bad side of companies moving their factories and jobs to countries like China. Yes, our manufacturing sector may be suffering and people may have to seek employment elsewhere, but the corporations are also taking their pollution and carbon emissions with them. By uprooting their factories, we do not have to deal with the immediate effects of smog and particulate matter.

My friend sees it this way: China is the factory of the United States. Chinese citizens may receive manufacturing jobs, but they also are paying indirectly because of the negative externalities. Respiratory diseases have become very common in cities. Buildings only a few years old look run-down and dirty from all the dirty residue from the air. It's another way to look at the debate over moving jobs and factories overseas. As the U.S. moves from being a manufacturing nation to one that provides services and technology, its environment and its citizens are benefiting.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Most Powerful Person on Earth

I was reading this article on Yahoo today called "The Most Powerful People on Earth 2010." Guess who was ranked number one by Forbes? Hu Jintao, the President of the People's Republic of China.

Here's a quote from the article:

"Paramount political leader of more people than anyone else on the planet; exercises near dictatorial control over 1.3 billion people, one-fifth of world's population. Unlike Western counterparts, Hu can divert rivers, build cities, jail dissidents and censor Internet without meddling from pesky bureaucrats, courts. Recently surpassed Japan to become the world's second-largest economy both in absolute and purchasing power terms. Credible estimates have China poised to overtake U.S. as world's largest economy in 25 years — although, crucially, not on a per-capita basis. Creditor nation oversees world's largest reserves at $2.65 trillion — $1.5 trillion of which is in U.S. dollar holdings. Refuses to kowtow to U.S. pressure to change its exchange-rate regime. Heads world's largest army (in size). His handpicked successor, Xi Jinping, set to assume the presidency in 2012."

The people were ranked in terms of amount of influence over people, financial resources, power in multiple spheres, and active use of power. After Hu, Obama comes in number two, followed by the King of Saudi Arabia.

I definitely agree that Hu Jintao is an immensely powerful figure and has basically unchecked control and influence over more than one billion people. However, maybe the rankings would be different if we also factored in influence in international relations and "soft power," the ability to obtain what one wants through attraction and diplomacy. In my opinion, Obama probably has more clout in dealing with international relations. Additionally, he definitely has a lot of "soft power," as many people around the world admire him and believe him to be the "leader of the free world." However, Obama obviously does not have as much direct control over people's lives, and his power is checked not only by Congress and the Supreme Court but also by state governments.

What do you think? Does Hu Jintao have the most power in the world?

This image is from The People's Daily Online.