By Adam Belz
Growing pressure on the government in China to deal with air pollution may offer the world its best long-term shot of heading off the economic consequences of climate change, a University of Chicago economist said.
Michael Greenstone, arguing in bleak terms to an audience of about 200 at the University of Minnesota on Thursday night, laid out the case for an inevitable rise in global energy consumption as hundreds of millions of people in developing countries join the middle class.
Americans and Western Europeans have so far emitted the largest share of all greenhouse gases, with the U.S. alone accounting for around 22 percent of historic emissions. Per capita energy consumption in the U.S. is four times that in China, and at least 20 times that in India.
But more lights are going on in India and China. Energy use — such as coal-fired electricity — will rise in the world’s two most populous nations. By 2050, they will account for 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions while the U.S. will account for 16 percent, Greenstone said.
“That’s not to say that the U.S. doesn’t play an important role in all of this, but what it underscores is that where we need the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions going forward are the very places where people are today the poorest, and that is a painful truth about climate change,” he said.
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