What is Green? What is Brown?

I have a pet peeve. When Californians brag about how much local produce they rely on, I want to say, “Really, that’s funny–the entire country relies on your produce, but it just happens to be local for you.”

Today’s article in the Economix blog on the NY Times, Keeping China (Relatively) Green made me think about this, as it  discusses geographical factors that weigh into environmental impacts. California, for example has the 3 metropolitan areas with the lowest carbon emissions in the nation. Part of that is because they have a moderate climate.

Chengdu from Above. Source: NASA

But even these “low emitting,” American metropolitan areas have 4 to 10 times higher emissions than metropolitan areas of China. So, again, evidence that we have no “moral high ground” when it comes to climate change.

New Yorkers, who generally like to think of themselves (ourselves) as energy efficient urbanites, are still res ponsible for 10 times the amount of carbon dioxide than the most car intensive cities in China. So where is the gap?

For one, China’s energy use seems to be similar to what ours was 100 years ago, when industry was the major polluter. And in their households, heating from coal are the major source of pollution. In their stage of development, heating is more important than cooling.  And in general, appliances that require electricity are still a luxury. But that might be changing as air conditioning starts to look more attractive with rising incomes.

The article is full of specific emission levels in different Chinese and American metropolitan areas, but overall, the point of the article is that China, while now the largest overall polluter of carbon dioxide, pales in comparison to American, per capita and per household pollution levels. But their energy usage outlook for the next 50 years will change drastically. Can technology move as quickly?


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Comments (1)


  1. Mina says:

    The only “emissions” that matter are toxic emissions. Chinese cities and industrial areas smoke the rest of the world when it comes to toxic emissions.

    Carbon hysteria ill becomes you, professor.

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