What Beijing’s Horrendous Traffic Jams Say about Green Energy

Andrew Leonard of Salon visited Beijing and, in one of the rare moments that he wasn’t stuck in traffic, he asked a Chinese diplomat about his country’s green energy policies:

So in between nibbles of pig ears and freshwater shrimp, I asked the ambassador what he thought about U.S. complaints that Chinese government subsidies aimed at boosting the renewable energy sector were illegal trade practices under the terms that members of the World Trade Organization are supposed to abide by.

He frowned. He thought it was unfortunate. And he delivered the Chinese proverb, which suggested that American focus on the technicalities of how the Chinese government was promoting renewable energy development missed the big picture — the overriding challenge of reducing fossil fuel dependence and limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

If your priority is climate change, that’s no doubt true. If your priority is American jobs, your answer may be different. Cheaply produced Chinese solar panels manufactured by companies with extraordinary access to land, low-interest loans, tax breaks and other perks are making it very difficult for American solar power technology companies to generate profits.