An Op-Ed in The New York
Timescontrasts China’s efforts to combat global warming and create a “green” economy with America’s current failures in that area. Because China is an economically modern nation with an undemocratic regime, such a piece leads naturally into some interesting questions about American style democracy and its efficacy.
There is really no debate about climate change in China,” said Peggy Liu, chairwoman of the Joint U.S.-China Collaboration on Clean Energy, a nonprofit group working to accelerate the greening of China. “China’s leaders are mostly engineers and scientists, so they don’t waste time questioning scientific data.” The push for green in China, she added, “is a practical discussion on health and wealth. There is no need to emphasize future consequences when people already see, eat and breathe pollution every day.
Presumably, America’s government has substantially less scientists and engineers because such experts cannot compete with lawyers and businessmen when it comes to campaigning and politicking. Moreover, such experts often have an “elitist” sheen on them, making them unelectable in the modern political climate. Oftentimes, the election of the politicians who are “like us” is seen as a positive consequence of democracy, but perhaps it can also have a dark underbelly.
China is changing from the factory of the world to the clean-tech laboratory of the world,” said Liu. “It has the unique ability to pit low-cost capital with large-scale experiments to find models that work.” China has designated and invested in pilot cities for electric vehicles, smart grids, LED lighting, rural biomass and low-carbon communities. “They’re able to quickly throw spaghetti on the wall to see what clean-tech models stick, and then have the political will to scale them quickly across the country,” Liu added. “This allows China to create jobs and learn quickly.
The idea is that because of China’s authoritarian nature, large-scale projects that require much effort and sacrifice can be put into effect with political ease. In a democracy, where politicians rely on public sentiment, such projects that will make a substantial part of the population unhappy are difficult to undertake. This is again seen as a positive consequence of a democratic system – but sometimes it can also engender inertia and resistance to necessary change.
When thinking about these two questions, we should ask whether solving these problems requires changing the democratic system or the American political culture – or maybe both. Alternatively, perhaps these are problems inherent with democracy and can’t be solved without sacrificing liberty and political equality.
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