Monday, November 16, 2009

Obama in China

Election propaganda seen in San Francisco, 2008. It's interesting to see Obama as represented by (presumably) a Chinese fan.

On Saturday, I spent a long time mulling over with friends what we could do to encourage popular resistance a U.S. commitment to an unending Afghanistan quagmire. And later, I gulped down yet more analysis of the implications of health care reform. But really, that stuff is not the most important challenge facing our still new U.S. regime. U.S. relations with and posture toward China very likely will do far more to determine the quality of life for folks in the future.

James Fallows explains what matters as the Prez of the 20th century's top empire visits the ancient and modern empire:

Thirty years from now, the most important aspect of Barack Obama's interaction with China will be whether the two countries, together, can do anything about environmental and climate issues. If they can, in 2039 we'll look back on this as something like the Silent Spring/Clean Air Act moment in American history, which began a change toward broad environmental improvement. If they can't....

Because making the planet -- "our island home" -- far less habitable is something our clever species has not achieved before, it is hard to keep focused on the need to try to mitigate human-induced climate change. But this is certainly what our successors will blame or praise us for.

We may not be very aware of this, but China is working to reduce carbon emissions despite its need to bring vast amounts of energy on line as fast as possible to grow the economy for its billion people. The New York Times reported in May:

China’s frenetic construction of coal-fired power plants has raised worries around the world about the effect on climate change. China now uses more coal than the United States, Europe and Japan combined, making it the world’s largest emitter of gases that are warming the planet.

But largely missing in the hand-wringing is this: China has emerged in the past two years as the world’s leading builder of more efficient, less polluting coal power plants, mastering the technology and driving down the cost.

While the United States is still debating whether to build a more efficient kind of coal-fired power plant that uses extremely hot steam, China has begun building such plants at a rate of one a month.

An expanding economy presents opportunities that we, in our congealed casino, can no longer easily imagine. Rapid movement on anything seems awfully difficult for the United States these day. Signs of an aging empire ... that was quick.

1 comment:

Darlene said...

"Congealed Casino" -- what a fantastic description of our status. I love it.

The trade balance is another China issue that must be resolved.

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