16 November 2014

A Big Step in the Right Direction: China and the US Agree to Do the Right Thing on Climate Change

Several years before I started hearing about climate change (and way before I morphed into a climate change activist), I made a childhood dream come true by travelling around the world. I took a leave of absence and my plan was to be gone for a year, but China's capitalist economic development had other plans for me.

My date of departure was carefully chosen. I left my home in British Columbia, Canada on the gorgeous September morning that I would normally have been heading back to school as a teacher.  The first stop on my trip was more random. The airline I booked with was about to start flying to Beijing. It seemed as good a first stop as any. I was on their inaugural flight. 

I hadn't thought it through very well. At my very first destination, I found myself completely illiterate and quite helpless. I quickly learned the character (or hanzi) for women's washroom, I can tell you. And I only found out later how blessed I was to spend my week there in sunshine. The Gobi desert didn't want me taking its sand home, and the streets were still filled with buses and bicycles, not cars.

Anyway, I had lots of adventures in China (and a few misadventures), but what I really want to share with you is what I witnessed there: the rapid rise of Chinese capitalism. And it was not a pretty sight. I met two doctors, married with one child, who were making the equivalent of $30 per month between them. They made me an absolutely delicious (and delightful) dinner, and when I suggested that they could open a restaurant, their food was so good, they admitted that they'd wanted to do that, but didn't know who to bribe in order to get the permits.

I wrote in my journal, "The Chinese are adopting all the very worst aspects of capitalism so fast that it's annoying." They just didn't seem to get that I was not going to buy their souvenirs on my way UP the Great Wall, no matter how much they accosted me. 

Not only that, but the Chinese economy was heating up so fast that with my Lonely Planet Guide for China only a year or two old, I spent three months' worth of my savings on only two weeks in China! That's how much the prices had soared. 

All that to say that it makes complete sense to me that China would want to make a commitment to fight fossil fuel greenhouse gas pollution. Over at ClimateProgress, Kiley Kroh explains:
"Late Tuesday night [11 November 2014], the U.S. and China announced an historic agreement to combat climate change, a major step forward from the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters. Not only does the agreement hold the two nations to taking additional steps to bring down the carbon emissions that drive climate change, but China just pledged to deploy a tremendous amount of clean energy."
Of course, it's not enough. Not by a long shot. Neither country is talking zero (carbon emissions) or 100% (renewable energy), but Obama is finally doing what he should have done in 2009 for the Copenhagen climate talks. And China ... well, much of China can barely breathe, so they couldn't hold out much longer either. 

Congrats to both President Obama and President Xi Jinping for taking this step in the right direction. Now, if they could just drag Australia's prime minister Tony Abbott and Canada's prime minister Stephen Harper along, kicking and screaming, we'd really get somewhere.

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I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?