Ben Lieberman explains one of the problems of trying to control carbon from the top-down, revealing an international prisoner’s dilemma for the ages:
It is important to note that China isn’t slowly edging past America; it is roaring ahead. Emissions of carbon dioxide, the byproduct of fossil-fuel combustion and the greenhouse gas of greatest concern, are exploding along with China’s economy. New coal-fired power plants are reportedly being added in China at the rate of about one per week, and these facilities are less efficient and higher-emitting than their western counterparts. According to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, which believes China has already surpassed America, emissions in China rose 9-percent in 2006, on top of a 12-percent increase in 2005. Meanwhile, America’s emissions have been growing much more slowly, averaging little more than 1-percent per year. They actually declined by 1.3-percent in 2006, according to the Department of Energy.
The U.S. was easily the biggest emitter during the 20th century, but future carbon-dioxide emissions will come less from American sources, and more from Chinese ones. Even if the U.S. saddled itself with economy-damaging energy constraints, it would barely begin to offset China’s projected increases. But so far, China has adamantly refused to agree to any controls, arguing that economic growth is their top priority. Other fast-growing developing nations have said the same thing.
Thus, notwithstanding questions about the seriousness of the global-warming problem, any bills that single out U.S. emissions will be a fast-shrinking part of the solution. As China’s emissions race ahead of ours, Americans will begin to realize that unilateral action is not the way to go.