Friday, August 18, 2006

Can A Television Series Impact The Way Chinese And Americans Think About Economics, Civilization, Ecology, And Sustainability?

"Sensible people now agree that climate change creates major risks and that the world should be taking significant steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But there is a neglected obstacle to achieving such reductions, and it is the biggest source of the stalemate in international negotiations.

The obstacle stems from the unusual incentives of the United States and China. As the world's leading contributors to climate change, these are the two countries that would have to bear the lion's share of the cost of greenhouse gas reductions. At the same time, they are both expected to suffer less than many other nations from climate change -- and thus are less motivated to do something about it. And while the international spotlight has rightly been on the behavior of the United States, China will soon present the more serious problem.

In recent years the United States has accounted for about 21 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. China comes in second at about 15 percent. While many countries have stabilized their greenhouse gas levels, emissions from both nations, but especially China, are growing rapidly. Current projections suggest that by 2025 total emissions from the United States will increase by about one-third.

By that year, China's emissions are expected roughly to double, making China the planet's leading source of such gases. (Emissions from the United States will, of course, continue to be far higher on a per-capita basis.) Within 20 years China will account for nearly one-quarter of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. It follows that if an international agreement requires reductions, China and the United States will have to bear the brunt of the expense.

By contrast, the biggest losers from greenhouse gas pollution are likely to be India and Africa. Some of the most detailed, careful and influential projections have been made by Yale University's William Nordhaus and Joseph Boyer. Nordhaus and Boyer show that in terms of human health and agricultural loss, India and Africa are by far the most vulnerable regions on Earth. Because of an anticipated increase in malaria, Africa will probably be hit especially hard, and India is expected to suffer a large increase in premature deaths as well.

If climate change occurs at the rate expected by many scientists, it will have a much less serious effect on the United States, and even less than that on China. In the United States, agricultural production is expected to suffer relatively little. In China, agriculture is actually projected to benefit from a warmer climate.

Both nations are expected to suffer some losses in terms of human health, but compared with projections for other countries those losses will be disproportionately small. A key reason is that the United States and China are not expected to be highly vulnerable to increases in malaria and other climate-related diseases.

In terms of percentage reductions in gross domestic product, India and Africa together are expected to lose about 10 times more from climate change than the United States -- and about 20 times more than China....

But the troubling fact remains: The two nations now most responsible for the problem have comparatively little incentive to do anything about it. That is why, if the nations of the world really mean to take substantial steps to reduce greenhouse gases, they have two options.

First, they might find a way to convince the United States and China that they have a moral obligation to protect the planet's most vulnerable people. The United States has long benefited from technologies that, while promoting its economic growth, are imposing serious risks on disadvantaged people in India, Africa and elsewhere.

Second, the world's nations might try to convince these two countries that emissions reductions are less expensive, and more beneficial for their own citizens, than the recent projections suggest. Environmentally friendly innovations have often turned out to be far less costly than anticipated. (And if persuasive evidence is found that indicates greater losses for both nations from global warming, there will be a stronger incentive to try to innovate.)

It is only with such an incentive, or a sense of moral duty, that the United States and China are likely to participate in serious international efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. And without the participation of the two countries, no such efforts are likely to have a substantial effect on the problem."

Cass R. Sunstein "Limiting Climate Change: The Neglected Obstacle" Washington Post August 21, 2006


design:e2 (the economies of being environmentally conscious) is an original six-part series that explores the vitality of the environment through eco-friendly architecture. Narrated by Brad Pitt and masterfully shot in high-definition, the series introduces us to the inventive leaders and technologies driving sustainable practices worldwide in the design of buildings where we live, work, and play.

The first episode, "The Green Apple," demonstrates how the ubiquitous skyscraper can surprisingly be a model of environmental responsibility. In the second episode, architect and activist Sergio Palleroni continues his mission to provide design solutions to humanitarian crisis regions. “The Green Machine” follows Mayor Richard M. Daley as he strives to make Chicago “the greenest city in America.” The fourth episode takes the notion of the three R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle) to grand proportions by turning Boston’s “Big Dig” waste into spectacular residential design. “China: from Red to Green?” depicts a country at its tipping point and finds a sustainable solution in Steven Holl’s Beijing project. The final episode, “Deeper Shades of Green,” presents some of the most remarkable visionaries who are changing the face of architecture and environmentalism: Ken Yeang, Werner Sobek and William McDonough. Check your local listings to find out when these episodes will air on your PBS station.

design-e2 challenges us to live smarter, live greener and live with the future in mind.

Chinese smog, as seen from space.

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