U.S. and China Make a Climate Deal: Thanks Obama!

The U.S. and China recently announced a significant deal to slash carbon emissions in both countries. The agreement entails the U.S. cutting carbon emissions between 26 and 28 percent (measured against 2005 levels) by 2025. China’s goal is to peak its emissions by 2030 or earlier, and then consistently reduce emissions thereafter. The largest contributor to these emissions by both countries is the burning of coal to produce energy. The U.S. has made strides in the past few years to close coal plants or convert them to cleaner natural gas, but at the same time coal exports have increased, and that coal is still being burned for energy elsewhere.

Image courtesy of Reuters

Image courtesy of Reuters

While China’s commitment to peak emissions before 2030 might seem arbitrary, Chinese citizens and policy makers demonstrate a real belief in human-generated climate change. Global Trends Survey results indicate that over 90 percent of the Chinese population believe that climate change is real and caused by human pollution.  The United States ranked dead last among all 20 countries surveyed, with around 50 percent acknowledging the threat of climate change.

China’s motivation to reduce carbon output benefits the country directly. Smog pollution has been a problem in Chinese cities, and the thickly polluted air is a health hazard to citizens. As many as 1.2 million premature deaths in China are attributed to air pollution. So, there is solid evidence that China understands that emissions have serious consequences. If the country acts on pollution now, it will increase the quality of life for all citizens and clear the air for the country on the international stage. For China, the deal is a win-win.

Of course, no agreement on progressive action would be complete without political squabbling in the United States. The exasperating issue in the U.S. is the preponderance of climate deniers in positions to make policy or prevent policies in accordance with their climate change “opinions.” The agreement with China seems to address what we should do about climate change, rather than continue the argument of whether or not it exists, and that is a breakthrough (especially from the two largest carbon-producing countries in the world). With this deal, neither the U.S. nor China is bickering about whether or not emissions are a hazard; they are acknowledging the need to eliminate them altogether.

So it should come as no surprise to anyone that American skepticism, and outright disbelief, of human-caused climate change is rearing its ugly head in response to the deal between the U.S and China. The Senate’s loudest, if not most irritating, Climate Denier James Inhofe (R – OK) who has made such claims as, “With all of the hysteria, all of the fear, all of the phony science, could it be that man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people? It sure sounds like it,” now argues that the new agreement is simply a “non-binding charade.” This guy is definitely dead wrong on climate science, but (I can’t believe I’m about to say this) he might have a point when it comes to the countries’ accountability under the agreement. There does not seem to be any ramifications for either country if they do not honor the deal’s provisions.

Mitch McConnell also chimed in on the deal, which he believes is an egregious mistake by President Obama, “This unrealistic plan that the president would dump on his successor would ensure higher utility rates and far fewer jobs,” he said.  As if it is uncommon to dump unrealistic expectations on incoming presidents? I’m not sure that’s a solid argument.

It’s important for those of us who do believe in science to continue educating everyone: climate change is not a matter of opinion. John Oliver summed that up perfectly back in August, 2014,

You don’t need people’s opinions on a fact . . . The debate on climate change should not be whether or not it exists; it’s what we should do about it. There is a mountain of research on this topic. Global temperatures are rising, heat waves are becoming more common, sea surface temperatures are also rising, glaciers are melting, and of course, no climate report is complete without the obligatory photo of a polar bear balancing on a piece of ice.

While Oliver delivers his message in a funny and satirical format, every word of what he says is true. Even Bill Nye agrees, and the Science Guy wouldn’t steer us wrong.

Obligatory photo of a polar bear balancing on a piece of ice.

Obligatory photo of a polar bear balancing on a piece of ice.

Republican opposition is so strong that even China is nervous about how the U.S. political divide could impact the agreement. Since China is far more serious about reducing air pollution than the U.S.

What’s your take on the U.S. – China climate deal? Is it a “game changer” like so many news outlets call it, or is it just more talk and no action? Personally, I’m not convinced it’s the landmark climate action of the century, but it’s definitely a strong step in the right direction.

Let us know! We’ll post about your opinions later!



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