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Do We Need Green Authoritarianism?

| Thursday December 31st, 2009 | 8 Comments

On Saturday the Chinese legislature passed an amendment to a 2006 renewable energy law that requires utilities to buy power from renewable sources, if it is available. The amendment should provide a major boost to renewable energy development for the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

The new legislation is also an example of how centralized, non-democratic government can move quickly to exert its will on a pressing issue.

Power enterprises refusing to buy power produced by renewable energy generators will be fined up to an amount double that of the economic loss of the renewable energy company, according to Xinhua. The law also “requires the government to set up a special fund to renewable energy scientific research, finance rural clean energy projects, build independent power systems in remote areas and islands, and build information networks to exploit renewable energy,” the state news agency said.

Details of how exactly the new law would be implemented and enforced were hazy. Xinhua reports that the amendment says the State Council energy department, in conjunction with the state power regulatory agency and the State Council finance departments, should “determine the proportion of renewable energy power generation to the overall generating capacity for a certain period.”

In 2007, the Chinese government set the goal of sourcing 15 percent of the nation’s electricity from renewable energy by 2020, from 9 percent currently.

Big Brother to the Rescue

China is not the only country to pass such a law. Some, like Germany, have “feed-in tariffs,” which incentivize the purchase of renewable energy to the point where any available is quickly purchased.

But China’s speed in passing such landmark legislation — Xinhua reported on a draft of the amendment on the 22nd, and four days later it was law — and its national reach must make Western environmentalists green with envy. Just imagine trying to get a similar national law passed in the U.S.

Of course, part of the impetus for the new legislation is that rapid, state-sponsored development of renewable energy, which has led to oversupply in some areas. In the same news release, Xinhua reported that up to one third of installed wind power in the country is unusable because there is not enough demand where it is located, especially in underdeveloped Northwest China, and no grid to connect it to the areas where there is demand, primarily densely populated Central and Eastern China.

Such inefficiencies are the price paid for centralized, non-democratic power. But when it comes to saving the planet, that may be a small price to pay. The previous Presidential administration played fast and loose with the democratic process out of fear of terrorism. If global warming gets out of hand, it will make 9-11 look like a walk in the park, and leaders might be tempted to resort to even more drastic measures.

What do you think? Do we need authoritarianism to solve the climate crisis?


▼▼▼      8 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • nickaster

    I suspect some commenters will lose their minds on this one. You have a great point, but at the same time, I'm glad I'm not a subject of the Chinese government. It's a real tragedy that many of our politicians just don't seem to give a darn.

  • http://www.viagra-prices-comparison.com/ pharm

    1) Vitriolic climate skeptics who sound VERY similar to Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and the rest of the right-wing noise machine.
    2) People who think climate change is an urgent problem that requires global response.

  • caseyverdant

    The Chinese legislator's amendments to the 2006 renewable energy laws will definitely be a major boost for renewable energy development in China. Already the top polluter, it could help China be the greatest reform story in the history of green tech and alternative energy.

    If you’re interested in alternative energy, check out http://www.greencollareconomy.com. It has hundreds of case studies on emerging green technology. It's also the largest b2b green directory on the web.

  • http://twitter.com/gfriend Gil Friend

    Snap out of it! Authoritarian vs “no action”? As if there were no other alternatives? Like organizing, winning elections, keeping the heat on the electeds, ending pollution subsidies, running boycots and buycotts? Should I go on? Oh yeah, let's not forget: talking to people who disagree with you and persuading them to your perspective. China may seem effective but I don't think you'd like it there.

    As Winston Churchill once said, democracy is the worst political system in the world. Except for all the other ones.

  • http://sirisaacnewton.com/ Newton

    At this point, given what we know about Peak Oil and climate disruption, should it even be legal for cars to get less than 40-50 mpg?

    Should it even be legal to buy a styrofoam cooler that's used once and thrown away?

    Like Nick, I'm glad I'm not a subject of the Chinese government.

    That said, I'm also aware of polls over the last couple of years that have indicated that a shockingly minuscule 3% of Americans have taken the basic step of switching their incandescents to much more efficient CFL's. While Americans are also resoundingly against being required to switch bulbs, if they are not going to do it on their own, and we have very real climate and energy problems to solve, then what's the answer? To me, it's that the inefficient, polluting, toxic, or habitat destroying technology or product needs to be phased out and not even available anymore.

    I've been watching all the web sites and tip sheets and whatnot about live greener this and that crop up for several years now. They are nice, and no doubt have some impact. But I just don't see them working at the massive level needed to make a serious dent in our most urgent sustainability challenges. People are just too comfy with their habits, not to mention busy with things that are more important to them — their kids, their sports, etc.

    At some point, if the market isn't working at the level needed to solve the environmental, economic, health, security and other ills caused by unsustainability at the speed at which we need change to happen, it's time to discard what's not working and try something else.

    We've certainly come a LONG way in the last decade, but I'm coming to the conclusion that to realistically solve our climate, energy and land use crises, governments have to work with business to develop smart approaches that regulate what's best for the public interest. People will still find plenty of ways to be happy with their material goods — except they'll have lower production and use impacts, and greater re-use potential.

    Mandates won't be required in every consumer or business sector. But at some point if sustainability goals aren't being met by the best voluntary and market-based measures people can come up with to reduce pollution, waste and habitat destruction, then it's time to work with the relevant businesses to develop smart regulatory approaches that balance carrot and stick to help business successfully navigate a mandatory transition to sustainability…

    This way, people won't any longer have to spend time considering what's more vs. less sustainable. It will all be. Oh, in some other world maybe… :-)

  • http://www.planetfinancechina.org/ Gabrielle Harris

    I am not a citizen of China but I live there and work in renewable energy. As others have pointed out, between the extremes of authoritarianism and doing nothing there are other choices, and this applies to China, too. I wish people would stop treating this country as a homogeneous monolith. Yes, there are directives from above, directives which are followed to different degrees. What I have noticed in working on spreading biogas projects in rural areas is that citizen education and buy-in are absolutely vital to good and meaningful implementation, otherwise the tendency is to just “go through the motions” to appear to be compliant. In the case of renewable energy in rural China, showcasing success stories, holding participatory trainings (yes, with the innovation of Q&A!) really spreads the effects and promotes buy-in. In the case of purchasing by utility providers, this is absolutely vital in order to incentivize potential small/medium private investors in renewable energy to produce and to be able to sell their surplus fuel or electricity – and this is especially relevant in the case of methane-producing dairy farms, etc.

  • Irene Schmid

    Authoritarianism vs. democracy ? There are many political models in the world, and it is difficult to classify them as either authoritarian or democratic. The role of special interests in many free-market democracies leads to political and economic outcomes that are not in the public interest. Political reform that reduces the influence of well-connected, wealthy elites and represents the public opinion in a more direct way (in democracies as well as more autocratic systems) would go a long way to introducing urgent reforms in an expedient manner.

  • Irene Schmid

    Authoritarianism vs. democracy ? There are many political models in the world, and it is difficult to classify them as either authoritarian or democratic. The role of special interests in many free-market democracies leads to political and economic outcomes that are not in the public interest. Political reform that reduces the influence of well-connected, wealthy elites and represents the public opinion in a more direct way (in democracies as well as more autocratic systems) would go a long way to introducing urgent reforms in an expedient manner.