– an op-ed for my American friends –
While America dithers on climate change, China is winning the fight for the biggest economic pie of the 21st century – the clean energy economy. Worse, China is playing the US for a fool. And Fox’s very own Glenn Beck, that most bellicose defender of the free market, is an unwitting stooge.
The US has walked into a trap. To placate the far right, the US has stated it will not commit to hard emissions targets as long as China refuses to do the same. The Chinese know this, and use it to their advantage. By refusing to agree to binding targets, China ensures the US remains politically hamstrung, unable to pass the carbon legislation that would unleash American industrial might.
Beck’s far-right, paranoid, climate-scam rhetoric may make great populist theater, and bring high ratings to Fox. But the net result is to help China keep the US on the sidelines, while they capture the lucrative clean energy market, and all the jobs and investment that goes with it. Beck and Fox are hurting America’s economic recovery.
Make no mistake, China may be recalcitrant in climate negotiations, but the Chinese leadership fully understand the threat of climate change. Like most of the world, they know a global economic transformation to low-carbon energy is now inevitable. The centrally-controlled Chinese economy is pouring more investment and state support into clean energy than any other country. By far. While America bickers, China is quickly and strategically building a clean energy industrial powerhouse.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called the low-carbon economy the ‘third-industrial revolution’, following coal and oil. It will be the single largest global market in human history. Tens of trillions of dollars will be deployed to replace our fossil fuel infrastructure. Countries that move early to create the market conditions needed to seed this new industry will be net sellers of clean technology. Countries that don’t will be buyers.
Creating the market conditions to nurture a new industry is nothing new. Silicon Valley grew out of academic and military demand for the microchip. The aerospace industry was long supported by the military. Even the auto sector’s economic dominance stems from the decision to build the US Interstate Highway System. Supporting strategically important industries creates wealth, and can establish lasting global leadership.
Markets are not like trees or tigers, natural kinds operating under laws we seek to discover. The market is more like an iPod, it’s an engineered artifact. We invented currency, banks, credit swaps, public markets, taxes, loans, and all the other assorted and sundry associated with a modern economy. We created the market and can engineer ways to create long-term, sustainable value.
While Beck rages against the climate ‘scam’, China pours low-cost loans into state-owned wind farms, leveraging their demand for turbines to give Chinese manufacturers global advantages in scale. While Beck rails against a perceived communist-driven conspiracy, China establishes a massive lead in low-cost solar production. While Beck ridicules our scientific elite, providing comfort to those who would ignore their warnings, another American solar company closes its local factories and moves to China.
Beck’s ignorance of climate science, and his paranoid populist rhetoric of marxist conspiracies, beggars our democratic free market. A price on carbon is not a left-wing conspiracy to control the world. It is the single best tool in our arsenal to unleash the might of our industry, capital and entrepreneurs against the very real threat of catastrophic climate change.
In sapping our political will to act Beck plays right into China’s hands. By the time China plays nice, and agrees to hard targets, they’ll own the clean energy sector. So when the US finally passes its own legislation, it will meet those targets by buying low-cost Chinese technology. We’ll go from sending oil money to the Mideast, to sending clean energy money to China.