Will China’s Hot Growth Burn Us All?

Other title puns considered were: Toasting Chinese Growth until We Are Burned; Let Them Eat, But No More Coal….

Salon’s How the World Works and the FT.com both have mentions of China’s economic growth and increase in greenhouse gas emissions today, respectively here and here. As I have written below, I think that the developed world is outsourcing production and pollution to the developing world. However, despite the fact that so much of the world’s stuff is produced in China, the per capita CO2 emissions here are much lower than in the States. [A fun if disheartening essay from the New Yorker on commuting gives a glimpse of how we consume all of that CO2 with our multiple hour trips to and from work.] I still think that consumption is what is driving increased CO2, and in an economy as export-oriented as China’s, the items created by the pollution that happens here are going elsewhere.

That hundreds of millions of people have escaped extreme poverty is perhaps the most incredible development success story in China and India. The jobs that pulled them out of poverty – making plastic toys, assembling shoes, and now increasingly melting metals for domestic construction – obviously have a negative environmental consequences. A cost-benefit analysis of this growth has to come out on the side of improving the lives of the poor for now. But at some point, maybe nearer than we think, the balance might tilt the other way, and puns, however clever they might be, will not be appropriate.

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