Do We Need Green Authoritarianism?

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?

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.