South Asia and Beyond

China An Existential Threat To Environment, Life On Earth: Economic Historian Richard Smith

NEW DELHI: China’s already slowing economy before the pandemic, the need to rebound and its competition to be number one is a “race to the cliff with it pumping out emissions to maximise growth and GDP,” says economic historian and environmental author Richard Smith. Speaking to StratNews Global Associate Editor Amitabh P. Revi, he added that “Xi Jinping is desperate and aggressive,” and “can’t maintain this pattern for long.” Speaking about his book ‘China’s Engine of Environmental Collapse’, Dr Smith argues that Xi Jinping is trying to avoid the mistakes that led to the failure of the Soviet Union but in the competition to overtake the U.S. is “focusing on growth over the environment, even if this ends in climate collapse and eco-suicide”.

China’s carbon dioxide emissions are more than twice that of America’s with a GDP just two-thirds as large, said Dr Smith. China accounts for 30 per cent of the global carbon dioxide emissions; European Union 9 per cent, India 7 per cent, Russia 5 per cent and Japan 4 per cent. While the rest of the world’s coal-fired power plants declined by 2.9 per cent in the first six months of 2020, Dr Smith points to a Reuters report that China has 90 per cent of the globe’s new thermal power plants. The economic historian addresses the paradox of China also being the world’s leading producer of solar and wind power by pointing to the ‘compartmentalisation’ of the economy where “each locality sees itself as a separate country” and “prefers to have its own coal-fired power plants rather than rely on renewable energy from a solar or wind power producing province”. China, he says, could have been the world’s renewable energy leader but is facing huge problems of drought, floods and environmental collapse. These environmental crises will hit it even harder in the upcoming years, he adds, saying, “at some point, the party (CCP) is going to crack”.

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After the deadly Galwan clashes, India, this month, has restricted the entry of Chinese mining money through FDI. But Dr Smith warns New Delhi, the problem with coal is it is “accessible, reliable and inexpensive” and is “suicidal to rely on”, adding “it’s not a bridge to renewables but a gang-plank to suicide”.

The author is no less scathing about American policy, saying it’s “a real disaster in the making” with the fracking industry virtually collapsing and abandoning wells that are now leaking methane. He concludes by saying the world just “has to get off fossil fuels and get to renewables” and “has to change dramatically everywhere or we will go extinct.”

Amitabh P. Revi

Russian language speaker and conflict journalist. Amitabh Revi has been there, done that—from the battlefields of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to sublime Russia, Australia and the United States. Along the way he's picked up the Dag Hammarskjöld Distinguished Journalist Fellowship, the Ramnath Goenka award for coverage of the Iraq War and RT's Khaled Alkhateb Award for his reporting from Palmyra, Syria.