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Planet saved … in Brisbane!

November 12th, 2014

It’s hard to overstate the significance of the agreement announced today by Barack Obama and Xi Jinping to limit US and Chinese greenhouse gas emissions. The limits are significant in themselves: not enough to guarantee stabilization of greenhouse gas levels at the agreed target of 450 ppm, but enough that we can get there just by ratcheting up an existing agreement rather than by looking for something new.

I’ll write more later, but I wanted to note this event as soon as I could

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  1. November 12th, 2014 at 21:05 | #1

    The horse is bolting and they are trying to catch it. Some fools will continue to say let it run, we can’t do anything about it anyway. You can tell who they are, they have no brains.

  2. Megan
    November 12th, 2014 at 21:39 | #2

    Hard to get excited. Easy to see right through this BS.

    This is a commitment to seeking a plan to hope to achieve, in terms of going forward, a framework for an ambitious goal toward reaching a final endpoint. One they take very seriously.

    The last paragraph of the joint announcement:

    8. The two sides intend to continue strengthening their policy dialogue and practical cooperation, including cooperation on advanced coal technologies, nuclear energy, shale gas and renewable energy, which will help optimize the energy mix and reduce emissions, including from coal, in both countries. To further support achieving their ambitious climate goals, today the two sides announced additional measures to strengthen and expand their cooperation, using the existing vehicles, in particular the U.S.-China Climate Change Working Group, the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center and the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. These include:

    •Expanding Joint Clean Energy Research and Development: A renewed commitment to the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center, including continued funding for three existing tracks on building efficiency, clean vehicles and advanced coal technology and launching a new track on the energy-water nexus;
    •Advancing Major Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage Demonstrations: Establishment of a major new carbon storage project based in China through an international public-private consortium led by the United States and China to intensively study and monitor carbon storage using industrial CO2 and also work together on a new Enhanced Water Recovery (EWR) pilot project to produce fresh water from CO2 injection into deep saline aquifers;
    •Enhancing Cooperation on HFCs: Building on the historic Sunnylands agreement between President Obama and President Xi regarding HFCs, highly potent greenhouse gases, the two sides will enhance bilateral cooperation to begin phasing-down the use of high global warming potential HFCs and work together in a multilateral context as agreed by the two Presidents at their meeting in St. Petersburg on 6 September 2013;
    •Launching a Climate-Smart/Low-Carbon Cities Initiative: In response to growing urbanization and increasingly significant greenhouse gas emissions from cities and recognizing the potential for local leaders to undertake significant climate action, the United States and China will establish a new initiative on Climate-Smart/Low-Carbon Cities under the CCWG. As a first step, the United States and China will convene a Climate-Smart/ Low-Carbon Cities Summit where leading cities from both countries will share best practices, set new goals and celebrate city-level leadership in reducing carbon emissions and building resilience;
    •Promoting Trade in Green Goods: Encouraging bilateral trade in sustainable environmental goods and clean energy technologies, including through a U.S. trade mission led by Secretaries Moniz and Pritzker in April 2015 that will focus on smart low-carbon cities and smart low-carbon growth technologies; and
    •Demonstrating Clean Energy on the Ground: Additional pilot programs, feasibility studies and other collaborative projects in the areas of building efficiency, boiler efficiency, solar energy and smart grids.

    So we’ve got MORE fossil fuel emissions, “clean coal”, nuclear, fracking and “sustainable development.

    Sorry, we’re still as doomed as we were yesterday – BUT, someone is starting to get scared and therefore believes these sops are necessary. Now THAT is a promising sign, but that is all it is.

  3. Megan
    November 12th, 2014 at 22:22 | #3

    The first paragraph is promising:

    1. The United States of America and the People’s Republic of China have a critical role to play in combating global climate change, one of the greatest threats facing humanity. The seriousness of the challenge calls upon the two sides to work constructively together for the common good.

    Who could argue with that?

    But it goes downhill after that. The last sentence of paragraph 3:

    Both sides intend to continue to work to increase ambition over time.

    Woohooo! “What do we want? More ambition. When do want it? Over time.” And that’s not even a promise, it’s an intention.

    Paragraph 4 continues the ambitious hope reduction:

    The United States and China hope that by announcing these targets now, they can inject momentum into the global climate negotiations and inspire other countries to join in coming forward with ambitious actions as soon as possible, preferably by the first quarter of 2015.

    My hope has been reduced already!

  4. ZM
    November 12th, 2014 at 23:05 | #4

    I think this is very good news. Australia’s leadership of the G20 is already showing great results! 😉

    The targets are not sufficient but they show that both are willing to move further down that track than before, which is a step in the right direction at this point in time.

    It is also good to start getting moves in this direction made before Paris next December, and Obama will still be President then.

    Also something that prospectively enables peaceful relationship building between China and the U.S. at the moment is to be welcomed.

    Thanks Megan for putting in that detail!

    The City Summits are a good idea and the Demonstration Clean Energy too, since both are practical. Local government is stronger in climate change than state and federal here, so concentrating on cities is a good idea for policy as well as being site specific. And a lot of Chinese policy is city/province specific so it makes sense for China as well.

  5. November 12th, 2014 at 23:47 | #5

    I’m with JQ on interpreting this. The targets are lowball, especially for China, but they are emissions caps – not simple reductions in carbon intensity, which is all China has been prepared to commit to up till now. The Chinese have a record of starting with soft targets, them ratcheting them tighter and more ambitious. The renewable energy targets have been raised more times than I can keep track of.

    In fact it’s hard to see how the régime could survive increasing air pollution for 15 years, and it surely must start reducing it in the next few years. Since China’s coal consumption fell in the first half of 2014 – not as a cyclical glitch, but following longstanding trends – , and evs are making great progress, overall Chinese emissions will surely peak well before 2030 even on current policies.

    Bloomberg thinks that China will install a staggering 8-9 GW of solar in the last quarter of this year. Apparently Chinese entrepreneurs had lined up huge numbers of screwdriver-ready distributed projects, waiting for new regulations which came out in early September. Then wham.

  6. plaasmatron
    November 13th, 2014 at 02:13 | #6

    As stated on this blog by many, it makes Australia’s winding back of commitments look even more stupid!

    But at least Testosterone Tone got to stare down Putin.

  7. plaasmatron
    November 13th, 2014 at 02:17 | #7

    And already the MSM is claiming “Australia’s coal exports at risk” (Fairfax)

  8. Fran Barlow
    November 13th, 2014 at 05:01 | #8

    Meh … much too little, much too late … Likely to be ignored in the US by the post 2016 regime.

  9. J-D
    November 13th, 2014 at 06:18 | #9

    @Fran Barlow

    You don’t have to wait until after 2016 for the US to ignore it: the US Congress can start ignoring it right now.

  10. Fran Barlow
    November 13th, 2014 at 06:31 | #10


    I feel sure it will.

  11. John Quiggin
    November 13th, 2014 at 06:37 | #11

    @Fran Barlow

    In fact, the US Congress has very limited ability to stop this. The 2016 election is what matters.

  12. jrkrideau
    November 13th, 2014 at 06:39 | #12


    I think this is very good news. Australia’s leadership of the G20 is already showing great results!

    Yes, P.M. Tony Abbott must be very proud of his further achievements after his far-sighted action on the carbon tax. He seems to be definably establishing himself as a great environmentalist

    I understand that his good friend P.M. Stephen Harper of Canada was ecstatic when he called Tony from his plane as he rushed back to Canada to hustle votes show his respects at the National War Memorial on Remembrance Day.

  13. Hermit
    November 13th, 2014 at 06:39 | #13

    Talk is cheap. I think worldwide coal has still got another 20 years as the main form of stationary energy. US emissions actually increased slightly last year after a few years of gas displacing coal, a trend that may now be reversed. As in Australia conservative opponents may make repeal of emissions policy a winning element of the next election. Also like Australia the US is exporting more coal.

    I think is likely world emissions will peak before 2050 even with no abatement policies… IPCC’s scenario 2.6. Geriatric coal plants won’t be replaced, gas prices will escalate and oil production will go into severe decline. Shame the transition couldn’t have been done in an orderly fashion.

  14. Fran Barlow
    November 13th, 2014 at 06:53 | #14

    @John Quiggin

    But they have the power to ignore it and generally farnarckle about in the meantime.

  15. November 13th, 2014 at 07:01 | #15

    I think it’s definitely a good thing, but I don’t understand why it’s “in Brisbane”, since from what I can gather the announcement was made in Beijing?

    Do you (JQ) mean because the announcement was related to the G20 summit in Brisbane, although not made there?

    It’s a start anyway – certainly puts Abbott on the back foot, though no doubt he is thinking that his Republican friends in the US will stop this as soon as they can.

  16. Ikonoclast
    November 13th, 2014 at 07:06 | #16

    I had to check the category of this post by J.Q. I had suspected that it was in “Boneheaded Stupidity” and was thus ironic. No! Here it is in the “Environment” category.

    Hmmm, wasn’t this announcement made at the APEC summit in Beijing? Point one, that is not Brisbane. Point two, the announcement is meaningless in every sense as Megan points out.

    According to Megan it says in part:

    “Advancing Major Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage Demonstrations: Establishment of a major new carbon storage project based in China through an international public-private consortium led by the United States and China to intensively study and monitor carbon storage using industrial CO2 and also work together on a new Enhanced Water Recovery (EWR) pilot project to produce fresh water from CO2 injection into deep saline aquifers.”

    So these are “Demonstrations” and “pilot project(s)”. That means CCS has gone exactly NOWHERE: a decade or maybe two decades of ZERO effective progress on CCS. It’s because CCS is physically, technically and financial unviable. Always has been, always will be. The laws of physics don’t change, not in this man’s universe.

    With apologies to the Beatles;

    “Nowhere Men”

    They are real nowhere men
    Sitting in their nowhere land
    Making all their nowhere plans for nobody

    They don’t have a point of view
    Know not where they’re going to
    Aren’t they a bit like me and you?

    Nowhere Men, please listen
    Plain reality’s what you are missing
    Nowhere Men, physic’s laws are not at your command.

    You are as blind as you can be
    Just see what you want to see
    Nowhere Men can you see reality at all?

    Nowhere Men, don’t worry
    Take your time, don’t hurry
    Leave it all till collapse destroys your land.

    They are real Nowhere Men
    Sitting in thier nowhere land
    Making all their nowhere plans for nobody
    Making all their nowhere plans for nobody
    Because all that will be left is nobody.

  17. Paul Norton
    November 13th, 2014 at 07:27 | #17

    Catallaxy’s response to this is to channel the Unabomber Manifesto – that that’s how Catallaxy responds to everything.

  18. peter
    November 13th, 2014 at 08:10 | #18

    Yes megan, the only significant positive I can cross my fingers on for the moment is that there is no mention of joint efforts to geo-engineer against global warming…you know sulphur dioxide (so2) into the atmosphere.. iron filings into the ocean…huge space mirrors… small mercies on large possibilities?

  19. Donald Oats
    November 13th, 2014 at 09:06 | #19

    While it is much better news than the usual local news on the topic, you can bet that PM Tony Abbott’s troops will be in constant correspondence with Republicans on this subject, and they will hatch a plan to scotch any chance of an international agreement on such significant (and yet, too little) reduction targets. Colour me cynical when it comes to the LNP’s response to the announcement: Greg Hunt “Welcomed the news”, as did PM Abbott—only one side of their mouths moved when saying that though…

    Still, the China-US announcement is better than a hit in the head with a 4×2.

  20. Doug
    November 13th, 2014 at 09:14 | #20

    Inability of China and the US to agree sank Copenhagen. This suggests that the two biggest polluters are not going to be blockers in Paris. I nearly choked on my cornflakes at Joe Hockey’s assertion that the Australian government is on the same page as the US on emissions reduction.

  21. Ikonoclast
    November 13th, 2014 at 09:27 | #21

    Further to my post above, I intended to mock the world leaders, not JQ’s optimism. I think there is cause for a little optimism but I would not place any confidence in our world leaders, our elites or our current system (corporate capitalism).

    The cause for optimism lies in the natural laws of physics, biology and by extenstion tendencies in economics which we could almost call laws. These laws will soon limit us: limit our population, limit economic growth and limit the damage we do to the biosphere. The pain in the interim will be considerable but long term benefits will accrue from these limits and the new way of looking at things that this reality will enforce. When the masses perceive indubitably that our current leaders and elites have absolutely no idea how to run anything sustainably then the pressure for change from the masses (who will be feeling most of the pain) will be very great.

  22. Jim
    November 13th, 2014 at 09:34 | #22

    And Australia’s contribution to tackling climate change at the G20?

    We put our police force on bikes for a week.

    Planet saved … in Brisbane!

  23. Sancho
    November 13th, 2014 at 10:12 | #23

    I’m on the positive side. The deal nullifies the argument the inactivists run to when the science is clear: that action is pointless because the largest industrial nations aren’t in on it. All we need is India to sign on, even symbolically.

  24. Hermit
    November 13th, 2014 at 10:38 | #24

    Strangely I agree with Ikonoclast that biophysical limits will eventually solve the problem no matter what the movers and shakers do. Where I disagree is that I think nuclear power will soften the pain. It was the G20 or the finance ministers who were to confer on ensuring +2% world GDP growth. What if world GDP growth in 2020 is -2%?. Maybe they are not steering the bus after all but it comes down to factors outside their control.

    It seems one of those pesky polar vortices is about to freeze the US. Maurice Newman this is the global cooling you’ve been telling us about. I’d guess those affected will think about turning up the heaters but refrain because of the new climate commitments, as if. If emissions go up a tad just make the same promises next year.

  25. Ikonoclast
    November 13th, 2014 at 11:20 | #25


    Strangely, we agree, even on nuclear power. Nuclear (fission) power is literally doing all it can to ameliortate global warming. Nuclear (fission) power cannot do any more due to the stalling of the nuclear renaissance which in turn is due to the relatively poor economics of fission power and due to peak uranium.

    They are not “driving the bus”. The world economic system is a system out of control and it will only be brought back to reality by natural biophysical forces, so we agree on that.

    The polar vortex is another phenomenon modified by global warming and now influencing the climate in new ways.

    “The general assumption is that reduced snow cover and sea ice reflect less sunlight and therefore evaporation and transpiration increases, which in turn alters the pressure and temperature gradient of the polar vortex, causing it to weaken or collapse. This becomes apparent when the jet stream amplitude increases (meanders) over the northern hemisphere, causing Rossby waves to propagate farther to the south or north, which in turn transports warmer air to the north pole and polar air into lower latitudes. The jet stream amplitude increases with a weaker polar vortex, hence increases the chance for weather systems to become blocked. A recent blocking event emerged when a high-pressure over Greenland steered Hurricane Sandy into the northern Mid-Atlantic states.” – Wikipedia.

    I was in Canada last winter and experienced the effects of the polar vortex first hand. An ice-storm around Toronto and environs added another 6 hours to a train journey we took. The news reports noted heavy blizzard snowfalls in southern US states hardly used to such events. But when we went to the Yukon it was uncommonly warm for winter in the Yukon. They still had plenty of snow cover from earlier falls but one day in Whitehorse mid-winter it got up to +8 degrees C maximum IIRC. Believe me that is a warm day mid-winter in Whitehorse. Of course, the polar vortex sent cold air down the eastern states and warm air up the western states of both Canada and the USA. What’s more this weather pattern becomes blocked and stationary for long periods and this has kept California and Rocky states in drought. All of this has enormous long-term ramifications for the sustainability (populations and agriculture) of some states in the US.

    Ignoramuses like Maurice Newman have no idea what is really going on.

  26. Ikonoclast
  27. November 13th, 2014 at 11:50 | #27

    I’ll just repeat what I’ve written elsewhere:

    The big news here is not China has chosen a specific date by which they will cap emissions, the actual 2030 target is not at all ambitious and going by current trends China could peak much sooner with little difficulty. The big deal is that China has promised to cap its emissions at all. In the past the ruling party of China would not let themselves get pinned down. They wanted to keep their options wide open. But now they agreed to a hard cap it’s a huge change politically. While targets can always be improved they are definitely not going to want to make themselves look bad by going backwards. (That’s Australia’s job.)

  28. Jim
    November 13th, 2014 at 12:10 | #28

    But Mr Newmans is a very rich and powerful ignoramus. Surely that makes his veiws more compelling than some lowly scientific expert….@Ikonoclast

  29. BilB
    November 13th, 2014 at 12:26 | #29

    Isn’t this the subject that Abbott was determined to completely avoid at “his” G20?

    I would call that yet another broken “promise”.

  30. Ikonoclast
    November 13th, 2014 at 12:52 | #30


    Until biophysical reality trumps social power.

  31. Ken_L
    November 13th, 2014 at 12:55 | #31

    Conservatives in America including the new Senate majority leader have already ridiculed the agreement as meaningless, and vowed to redouble their fight against the “War on Coal”. While some agreement is better than none, I think John’s headline is more than a little hyperbolic.

  32. Newtownian
    November 13th, 2014 at 14:20 | #32

    Its true the war is not over. But hopefully this is the beginning of the end of the Denialism battle that has been such a distraction these past 5 years.

    The change in the polls around 2010 showed the general population only noticed the issue (yet again when you remember Rio 1992, limits to growth etc) at surficial levels and had retreated into a state of mind where they thought climate change would likely disappear into the background along with all those other boring distractions from real news like what how big is a Kardashian bum or whats the best cooking/dance show ….like electronic surveillance, the collapse of journalism, continued war in the Middle East/Palestine, drugs etc..

    But the issue hasnt gone away despite the inability of Labor and the Greens in pushing the underlying message and the rampaging power of the Fin, Murdoch and other dark forces.

    And here we are with all lies of Abbot and co shown for what they are – out of touch products of corruption and narrow commercial vested interest.

    Usefully the dark times of the last 5 years have served to force these ignorant powerful elites typified by Maurice Newman to expose themselves and place their poisonous views on record.

    So hopefully this is step along the way to the destruction of neoliberalism as a coherent philosophy and maybe the saving of the planet as an afterthought.

  33. Ikonoclast
    November 13th, 2014 at 14:49 | #33

    Solutions will come in very innovative ways:


    If only we can toss out the fossil “dinosaurs” and neocon “luddites”.

  34. Tim Macknay
    November 13th, 2014 at 15:09 | #34

    I’m not sure I’d call that particular folly a “solution”. You only need to look at the dirt and grime that’s already accumulated on the brand-new pathway (visible in the photo) to realise the silliness of the idea. Perhaps if there had been a little less ‘innovation’ and a little more common sense they would have put the solar panels above the roadway instread of under it.
    But aside from that, I agree. 😉

  35. Fran Barlow
    November 13th, 2014 at 15:28 | #35

    Let me add that while this is a fairly trivial matter in terms of its substantive direct impact on abatement on the relevant timeline, and likely on current polling to be vitiated in the US by 2017, it is subversive of the aims of the denier and pollution apologist communities, and to that extent, to be welcomed.

    It’s even possible that the momentum this move lends the Paris negotiations will lead to more ambitious cuts and programs in Europe than have already been agreed, and that in that context, effective sanctions can be imposed on putatively free-riding states like Canada and Australia.

    If that occurs denier groups in the English-speaking countries will suffer a blow from which it will be quite difficult to recover, and those holding out will have no choice but to fall into line.

    So from a purely political perspective this agreement leaves some room for optimism, as unambitious as are its terms. If it achieved nothing more than to cramp people like Inhofe, who will likely be chair of the US Senate’s environmental policy committee, there might yet be something positive to come out of Obama’s presidency beyond finally breaching the colour bar.

  36. Ikonoclast
    November 13th, 2014 at 16:28 | #36

    @Tim Macknay

    Yes, there will be folly ideas as well as good ones. Sometimes a folly idea needs a new twist and then it becomes a good idea. But the biggest folly idea and one that is not savable by any twist is burning coal. CCS is also an unsavable folly idea due to the energy economics and financial economics of it.

  37. November 13th, 2014 at 16:33 | #37

    I don’t know about putting PV in them, but footpaths and some roadways around here have definitely gone modular. Given that the price of asphalt is increasing as more and more of it get reclassified as oil and that lower emission concrete takes a long time to cure, then we may end up seeing a lot of modular roadways in Australia, if we had a reasonable carbon price. The PV angle is not really relevant. Of course if one was going to wire up transparent road surface modules with LEDs and heating elements inside them then throwing in some PV as well would probably be a trivial extra cost. After all, it’s not the PV that’s expensive, it’s the wiring and installation. That said, I still recommend putting it on the roof instead.

  38. Ikonoclast
    November 13th, 2014 at 16:33 | #38

    @Fran Barlow

    Yes, probably it is a “foot in each camp” agreement, allowing the politicians the option of side-stepping either way when they see which way reality is breaking. I mean both political reality and bio-physical reality. Eventually, political reality has to come back to more or less match bio-physical reality or the disconnect will become plain to everyone over about 11 years of age.

  39. J-D
    November 13th, 2014 at 17:20 | #39

    @Fran Barlow

    I’m a little puzzled by your reference to the implications of current polling for the US in 2017. Are you aware of polls that suggest a Republican Presidential victory in 2016? If the 2016 elections produce a Democratic Presidency and a Republican Congress, that won’t change things politically, it will leave them just where they are now (or, to be precise, as they will be from January when the new Congress commences).

  40. rog
    November 13th, 2014 at 17:48 | #40

    I don’t think the next US election is critical – what is critical is the COP21 in Paris in 2015.

    Previous attempts at an agreement were scuttled by China and the US – now they are in agreement.

    This agreement sets the tone for the next agreement. The Repugs can rant and rave all they want..

  41. Fran Barlow
    November 13th, 2014 at 18:16 | #41


    I’m assuming that given the low standing of Obama in the polls, the Repug will stand a better than even chance of getting in front of any likely contender from the Dems. Also, 2/3 of congress can overrule a President, if I recall correctly.

  42. jungney
    November 13th, 2014 at 19:19 | #42

    Exactly, right down the line. Well said.

  43. jungney
    November 13th, 2014 at 19:32 | #43

    I don’t agree because your argument derives from the idea that the greater the immiseration of the masses then the greater the likelihood of rebellion. I wish it were so. We have a small ‘window’
    of opportunity in which the trained intellectuals of the professional bourgeoisie can sow the seeds of rebelliousness in younger people. If we fail then their future is slavery.

  44. sunshine
    November 13th, 2014 at 19:43 | #44

    To me China’s declaration seems the important element here as they are the superpower on the rise ,and they arent a democracy so the perception is that they will just do it.

  45. Geoff Andrews
    November 13th, 2014 at 19:48 | #45


    “Nowhere Man, the world is at your command”

    The change from singular to plural in the title; the line above changed to yours and we have the perfect serenade for every politician, particularly our glorious leader.
    However, we don’t have the tolerance of, say, even the Chinese recently in Hong Kong when a peaceful protest was allowed to run to exhaustion.
    Under the new “Brisbane G20 democracy” laws (gee, I hope there’s a sunset clause) it would be illegal for me to organise fifty fellow septuagenarian grandparents, concerned for our grandchildren, to form a choir outside the hotels of twenty of the most important humans on the planet we are told with a straight face, and serenade them with the relevant “Nowhere Men”, a song that suggests to hopefully more than half of them, if they have to wit, that unless they do something, they are men of straw like their predecessors.
    As an acknowledgement to the incredibly tight security measures necessary to protect said VIP’s from the, possibly, millions of outraged world citizens who perceive this gab/gob/grabfest for what it is: going nowhere; my fellow choristers would be prepared to sing naked, thus ensuring no MSM coverage.
    Ikonoclast, Lennon would have approved of your improvements.

  46. Henry L
    November 13th, 2014 at 19:55 | #46

    Ah the men who come behind…


    “And the grandest themes are hackneyed by the pens that come behind”.

  47. Debbieanne
    November 13th, 2014 at 20:57 | #47

    @Fran Barlow
    Two thirds of the senate is required to overturn a presidential veto. and from what I understand, and have read elsewhere, Obama does not need congress at all to implement changes over the next two years, The Clean Air Act is enough. So 2016 is very important. if you can stand wading through the comments, Prof Quiggin has an article at the Guardian.

  48. bjb
    November 13th, 2014 at 21:46 | #48

    It’s going to be interesting to see where the Republican’s go with this. If they repudiate the entire agreement, it’s not out of the question that China might hit them where it hurts by selling down some of the $ trillion or so of US bonds they have.

  49. J-D
    November 13th, 2014 at 22:56 | #49

    @Fran Barlow

    Even if the Republicans were to obtain a two-thirds majority in the House and a two-thirds majority in the Senate, that would not give them a general power to overrule all decisions made by a Democratic President. It would give them the power to override a Presidential veto of legislation, but that’s not the same thing. In any case, there are no polls suggesting the Republicans will win a two-thirds majority of the House in 2016, and even if they did it’s mathematically impossible for the Republicans to win a two-thirds majority of the Senate in 2016, given the current composition of the three classes of Senators.

    Obama is one person we know will not be a Presidential candidate in 2016. There have already been several polls comparing possible Democratic candidates with possible Republican candidates for 2016, and most of them favour the Democrats (admittedly, the pollsters’ guesses at who might be candidates could be way off, which is one reason to place limited credit in these polls, but they are the only ones we have). I’m not saying a Democrat will be elected President in 2016, and I’m also not saying I expect anything particularly good if one is; but you seemed to be suggesting that there are polls pointing to a Republican electoral victory in 2016, and I don’t think that’s accurate.

  50. Megan
    November 14th, 2014 at 00:51 | #50

    The key parts of the “Joint Announcement” are in paragraph 3.

    This is what everyone is getting excited about (emphasis added):

    The US:

    The United States intends to achieve an economy-wide target of reducing its emissions by 26%-28% below its 2005 level in 2025 and to make best efforts to reduce its emissions by 28%.

    They intend to achieve a target of reducing emissions in 2025.

    And China:

    China intends to achieve the peaking of CO2 emissions around 2030 and to make best efforts to peak early and intends to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20% by 2030.

    They intend to achieve a peak in emissions and intend to increase non-fossil fuels.

    You can be held to a promise or a guarantee or an undertaking, but as Murdoch with his ‘poison pill’ and James Hardie with its ‘fully funded’ asbestos fund have shown – an “intention” is worth nothing.

    An intention is the ultimate fairy dust.

    They could at least have lied to us. Sadly they’ve told us the truth.

  51. rog
    November 14th, 2014 at 04:58 | #51

    @Megan I don’t think that “intend” is a get out; it has a legal connotation in that it precedes an action moreover a particular action ie reducing CO2 emissions.

  52. Fran Barlow
    November 14th, 2014 at 06:44 | #52

    If it means the same as ‘commit’ then why not say that? Commit is a lt more … Um committal.


  53. Fran Barlow
    November 14th, 2014 at 06:46 | #53

    Oops .. is a lot more … Damn those train carriage typos …

  54. Crispin Bennett
    November 14th, 2014 at 07:07 | #54

    There was never the remotest chance of the US and China agreeing on a text whose details would pass scientific muster. That’s just a given, so picking holes in the announcement is shooting fish in a barrel.

    But an agreement like this is at least as much an intervention in political dynamics as it is a contract, and in that respect there are some grounds for hope. Firstly, as several have pointed out here, it adds much-needed political momentum to international moves limiting greenhouse gas emissions, at a critical juncture. Secondly, it’s surely going to be a useful fillip to the divestment movement (especially coming the same day as India seriously floated the idea of ending coal imports within a few years).

    There just is not going to be a single breakthrough agreement that provides a watershed moment saving the globe. Analysing yesterday’s announcement as if it could be that is just a unrealistic frame to consider it within.

    Personally, I think we’re probably stuffed, but if there is an chance of maintaining a stable climate, it’s going to happen like this: an accumulation of positive but individually inadequate events.

  55. Hermit
    November 14th, 2014 at 07:14 | #55

    This article confirms my suspicion that Chinese coal consumption has got so much momentum it will hard to slow
    China’s per capita emissions are now higher than the EU. They have 800 GW of coal fired generating capacity, half built since year 2000. I think we now have less than 25 GW of active coal capacity with plants about 30 years old on average.

    If most of the manufactured hard goods we buy are made in China then we are our outsourcing emissions without any sense of guilt. Our national carbon accounts should be supplemented to reflect emissions embodied in imports. Some advocate BCAs or border carbon adjustments to correct this. I suggest there will not be much of a global emissions slowdown as long as the West gets China to do its dirty work.

  56. Troy Prideaux
    November 14th, 2014 at 08:07 | #56

    So, we’re the biggest CO2 emitters in the world per capita and we’re outsourcing our emissions?

  57. Megan
    November 14th, 2014 at 08:39 | #57


    I disagree. That’s why I gave the examples of Murdoch and James Hardie. They both solemnly told courts that they “intend” to do, or not do, something. The courts accepted this and gave them what they wanted, whereupon they both promptly went right ahead and did the thing.

    In both cases their response to outrage was “we really did intend that at the time, but later we decided to do something kind of the opposite.”

  58. Nevil Kingston-Brown
    November 14th, 2014 at 09:24 | #58

    It’s important to note that these are largely actions Obama doesn’t need Congress to approve. As such they have a much higher chance of being enacted than loftier goals which would need Republican approval and a squadron of flying pigs.

  59. Ken Fabian
    November 14th, 2014 at 10:10 | #59

    Congress may not be able to prevent but it can and will impede and undermine Obama’s efforts. Tony Abbott may feel like his is the template upon which the successful resurgence of the crusade against the paganistic eco-socialists will be built; campaigning on every issue but climate, remaining close mouthed by preference and vague and contradictory when pressed, with a well timed “look out, terrorists” to divert attention and never ever clearly stating openly an intention of eradicating climate as a consideration in government business. An ‘adult’ US President that is certain that climate science is wrong, leading an ‘adult’ Congress that opposes climate action has to look tantalisingly close. With the US firmly onside the beginning of the end of the alarmist climate emergency has to look achievable.

    Just as nothing of Gillard’s or Rudd’s Green-Labor climate policies will survive Abbotts term as anything but hollow examples of folly, the expectation that none of Obama’s will survive the turning of the US political tables must seem more than possible. With the world’s most powerful and influential media magnate on side, it may even seem inevitable. Of course it’s all predicated on the science of climate being completely wrong but this kind of conviction politics permits no insidious cultivations of doubts. With the certainty that only comes with conviction, the collapse of the green hyped climate emergency must look inevitable, and being misleading and deceptive to avoid open debate and the indicisiveness of gridlocked democracy will be lauded as foresighted and noble when global cooling kicks in.

  60. John Quiggin
    November 14th, 2014 at 10:16 | #60


    This is surely true of any commitment about the future, however it is worded. Are you saying that the choice of some word other than “intend” would have led you to conclude that the statement was a substantive step towards mitigation? If so, what word?

  61. rog
    November 14th, 2014 at 10:17 | #61

    Comment from Grist

    According to a statement from the White House press office, the U.S. will reduce emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, with “best efforts” to hit the higher end of that range. China will have its CO2 emissions peak around 2030, “make best efforts to peak early,” and increase the share of non-fossil fuels in its energy portfolio to “around” 20 percent by 2030. You might notice a lot of wiggle room in that language. There’s more. The White House release refers to these goals as statements of “intent.” They don’t promise or even “agree” to hit these targets, they merely “intend” to.

    That may sound a little weak, but it’s necessary. Remember, foreign treaties require approval from a two-thirds supermajority of the U.S. Senate before they can be ratified. There’s no way Senate Republicans would vote for an emission-reduction treaty. But by merely jointly announcing with China their intentions, the Obama administration avoids signing an actual treaty. So the Senate can’t formally stop this agreement.

  62. Megan
    November 14th, 2014 at 10:43 | #62

    @John Quiggin

    No, that’s taking my position too far.

    I’m highlighting that the, very deliberately chosen, wording doesn’t even meet the requirements of a “commitment”, “promise”, “guarantee” or “undertaking”.

    “Intend” is a weasel word here.

    I hope they meet these goals, and much more, but I’m also aware that “delay” is a core principle of proponents of BAU.

  63. Megan
    November 14th, 2014 at 11:20 | #63

    Risking eternal moderation, here is the wording.

  64. Hermit
    November 14th, 2014 at 11:53 | #64

    @Troy Prideaux
    Yep it’s bizarre. We send coking coal from the east coast and iron ore from the west coast and odds are they meet up somewhere in Asia to make steel and CO2. That’s thermochemical smelting. We do the same for alumina which requires electrochemical smelting no doubt supplied in part by Aussie thermal coal. We get some cash but no emissions on our books.

    The town of Whyalla immortalised in song by former trade minister Emerson has a token steel mill but they now send far more iron ore to Asia than they use locally. Perhaps the ore ships and coking coal ships pass by each other en route to what is in effect a carbon tax haven.

  65. John Quiggin
    November 14th, 2014 at 11:59 | #65


    The clause to which you object begins with “Today, the Presidents of the United States and China announced their respective post-2020 actions on climate change”. That’s about as clear-cut as you can ge.

  66. Megan
    November 14th, 2014 at 12:19 | #66

    @John Quiggin

    Then it goes on to state those “clear-cut” “actions”:

    The United States intends to achieve an economy-wide target of reducing its emissions by 26%-28% below its 2005 level in 2025 and to make best efforts to reduce its emissions by 28%. China intends to achieve the peaking of CO2 emissions around 2030 and to make best efforts to peak early and intends to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 20% by 2030.

    The “action” words there are “intends to achieve” and “make best efforts”.

    If they intended to say something stronger than that they would have. There is no reason to imply into the wording something that isn’t there.

    As I pointed out before, the best part of this announcement is paragraph 1 read in its entirety:

    1. The United States of America and the People’s Republic of China have a critical role to play in combating global climate change, one of the greatest threats facing humanity. The seriousness of the challenge calls upon the two sides to work constructively together for the common good.

    If anyone cared to ask my opinion, I would strongly suggest shouting that paragraph from the roof-tops and bashing deniers over the head with it.

    That bit is unequivocal.

  67. Donald Oats
    November 14th, 2014 at 12:19 | #67

    While taking Megan’s point, namely that “intends” is a weasel-word when used in a statement of commitment to do something, the agreement as I read it states clear measurable objectives for the USA, and arguably clear objectives for China, to achieve on specific time frames. Even with the weasel-word in the statements, we can nevertheless measure progress, or the fairly there-of, along the way to meeting those objectives. In the case of the USA, we really can expect to see progress within the next two or three year, or we can point to their failure to get change happening rapidly enough. For China, it is a bit more challenging to measure, for the nature of their target means it has a post-hoc measurement problem, i.e. the assessment of whether they will achieve their target is done after the (f)act: it is impossible to measure a peaking of emissions until we are over the hump and trending downwards; on the other hand, should that situation occur well before 2030, then China has arguably met its commitments as stated. Either way, both China and the USA have set targets which allow them to be tracked for success or failure. That’s a heck of a lot better than what we’ve had in the past.

    To inject some cynicism though, I’d say the fairly broken token democracy of the USA could quite easily undermine these objectives even before they begin the task.

  68. Donald Oats
    November 14th, 2014 at 12:22 | #68

    Damn spell checker: in “or the fairly there-of” I of course meant “or the failure there-of”.

  69. Donald Oats
    November 14th, 2014 at 12:40 | #69

    Mindful of the Greens’ position a couple of elections ago, I think the ALP have done the right thing in walking away from negotiating with the LNP on what is a broken promise in the first instance. I just hope Bill Shorten talks with the various independents to explain why it is important to stick to the RET as originally agreed. The absolute target of 41TWh was set for a reason, and it has been working brilliantly.

    The argument over whether that is a “real” 20% relies on confusion over whether that 20% is measured at the commencement of the RET scheme, or after it has succeeded in driving out the dirtiest of the fossil fuel GHG emitters (or forced them to adopt cleaner technologies, either way same deal). Measuring the whether we’ve achieved 20% at the end of the RET target date does two things: a) it pre-supposes we can successfully predict the national mix of energy production ahead of the end point—a difficult feat of occult reading; b) if the RET is even more successful than we expected, we are penalising it for that potential extra success if we cut the target energy production back now.

    In fact, those two points invite a further consideration: if we predict that the RET is not going to meet its final target, does that mean we’ll have a big meeting and raise the target to a higher TWh of RE production? That is a rhetorical question, of course.

  70. rog
    November 14th, 2014 at 12:52 | #70

    @Donald Oats Tony Abbott frequently uses the argument that a pre election commitment amounts to a mandate post election. The Coalition Govt are mandated to maintain RET and other objectives regarding renewables.

  71. Megan
    November 14th, 2014 at 12:53 | #71

    @Donald Oats

    I agree that it is better than the nothing at all we have had so far. I’m just not as excited as I’m presumably supposed to be about what it actually IS.

    In the case of the USA, we really can expect to see progress within the next two or three year…

    If it is accepted that the wording was chosen very deliberately, what do you make of the choice of the word “in” rather than “by” immediately before “2025”?

  72. Tim Macknay
    November 14th, 2014 at 13:04 | #72

    I’m told there will be a stinker of a heatwave in Brisbane this weekend. Strangely appropriate.

  73. Donald Oats
    November 14th, 2014 at 13:39 | #73

    @Tim Macknay
    Weather isn’t climate, that ol’ trope, but weather is certainly dependent upon climate, as we all know. On that note, it is sadly ironic to read of the Brisbane mayor advising the G20 participants to slip, slop, slap, and then apologising that of the things we can’t control, one of them is the weather.

    I agree Tim, strangely appropriate.

    Megan, I’m hardly jumping for joy myself, I’m simply noting that in their “commitments” they have at least given some numerical targets (in the case of USA) and some time frames, which means assessing performance is possible. Honestly though, this should all have been happening many years earlier, but we can’t change that sad historical fact. I’m just happy that they have shirtfronted our egregious PM Tony Abbott as a moment of comedy, and here’s to the Bondi Beach ostriches with their heads in the sand, protesting PM Abbott’s intransigence on all things climate related.

  74. Fran Barlow
    November 14th, 2014 at 13:59 | #74

    There’s an interesting discussion here of the concept of wiggle room that is germane to this discussion:


    Now clearly, any politician, no matter what words are used, can say they mean less or more than their normal meaning as it suits them at the time.

    I note that Australia had binding commitments under the MDG process and totally squibbed on them.

    Megan’s point was, AIUI, that if they aren’t even using strong language now, then even at the start of the process, when backpedalling ought to be hardest and the desire to make splash greatest they are using equivocal language. That shows bad faith.

  75. Fran Barlow
    November 14th, 2014 at 14:06 | #75

    That said, I have greater confidence that China will meet its ‘intent’ than that the US will meet its stated intent.

    One of the advantages of a stable autocracy is predictability. The Chinese regime doesn’t have to worry about public opinion — well not much anyway. They know their resources. They tend to put the best people in charge, punish failure harshly and get stuff done — for good and ill.

    They are determined to cut their pollution, because that’s one area where public opinion ir germane. They have the freedom to design their abatement entirely as they please. If there are deniers in China, they are keeping quiet.

    So only technical constraints can stop them.

  76. Ikonoclast
    November 14th, 2014 at 15:11 | #76


    I do think the proposition holds that “the greater the immiseration of the masses then the greater the likelihood of rebellion”. Rebellion could mean open, violent rebellion or a kind of peaceful rebellion against bourgeois politics at the ballot box where the ballot box is effective.

    This likelihood increases IMO when the people being immiserated are the Western middle-classes collapsing into poverty. There is no doubt the middle class is collapsing in the USA and it is being seriously squeezed in the other Anglophone countries. The educated middle class will not take kindly to the collapse of all its hopes.

    The trained intellectuals of the professional bourgeoisie are mostly bought and suborned by corporate capital. There is no hope there. A revolutionary intelligentsia is now more likely to come from highly educated but unemployed youth and from older intellectuals made redundant. If you are well employed and part of the system then by definition you have no stake or incentive in changing the status quo. The unemployed, dispossessed and rejected will have to combine with rapidly growing working poor (downwardly mobile middle class people) against the corporate oligarchs and their apparatchiks.

  77. Ivor
    November 14th, 2014 at 16:09 | #77

    Planet – not saved.

    But a small step in the right direction.

    The wording “intends” and “best efforts” – may fool some and tempt them to claim victory, but wiser minds should wait and see.

    No child will live in poverty.

  78. Donald Oats
    November 14th, 2014 at 16:58 | #78

    One bit of news that suggests why China is willing to look at peak emissions occurring before or around 2030: perhaps the PTB (Powers-That-Be, an “Angel” thing) think their economy is likely to be suffering from the debt boom overhang, making a peaking of emissions sufficiently likely for them to “intend to commit to potentially probably peaking before/near/on/around/in an open neighbourhood of/close to 2030” and feel that it isn’t too onerous a stretch to ensure that outcome.

    Colour me cynical, as always.

  79. J-D
    November 14th, 2014 at 17:50 | #79

    @Fran Barlow

    I am puzzled by the suggestion that the Chinese regime tends to put the best people in charge. I’m not affirming that it’s false — I’m wondering how any of us could possibly tell one way or the other.

  80. Fran Barlow
    November 14th, 2014 at 19:49 | #80


    As I understand it, the education and qualification structures imposed on people seeking to rise through the ranks mock those imposed here. Tony Abbott’s qualifications wouldn’t be good enough for a low ranking village official in China. This applies as much to the CCP as it does to officialdom, and given they are interchangeable, that’s probably as well.

    Hubby is a course adviser at one of our universities and gets to see the academic records of some of the overseas students here from China and those that appear to be angling for careers boast academic accomplishments that would make most of us blanch — multiple languages, several kinds of engineering or science or maths, plus political theory and economics, piles of post graduate stuff. These are people at the bottom rungs of their careers, who might become an assistant to some district official after they done the hard yards in some menial position.

    Schmoozing and nepotism n a system like that won’t get you anywhere.

  81. jungney
    November 14th, 2014 at 20:17 | #81

    My real concern with the idea that immiseration equates to rebelliousness is that sometimes it doesn’t. It leads to its opposite. Still, I agree with your general assessment of the available forces on the ground. Every member of the professional bourgeoisie, the managerial class and the ruling class we can win over is a good win. There is a new class of radical intellectuals being mentored and very well from what I have seen.


  82. John Goss
    November 14th, 2014 at 22:00 | #82

    The Chinese system is fundamentally (though not entirely) a meritocracy. For example, it is the top students in high school who are invited to join the Communist Party. This is the Mandarin tradition.

  83. J-D
    November 15th, 2014 at 06:32 | #83

    @Fran Barlow

    What would lead you to think that schmoozing and nepotism can provide no assistance in the accumulation of certificates and diplomas? The campaign the Chinese government is currently mounting against corruption implies that they see it as a widespread problem, and it seems unlikely that the purveyors of educational credentials are unaffected.

    But even supposing the educational credentials were awarded impartially, what further conclusion does that support? Are the most skilled engineers best suited to be in charge? Does multilingualism make a leader? Do we want economists to run the country? Wait a moment — are economists not already running our country? And do I need to remind you that Tony Abbott is a Rhodes Scholar?

    On the other hand, Abraham Lincoln and Lázaro Cárdenas were both autodidacts.

  84. Fran Barlow
    November 15th, 2014 at 07:12 | #84


    Let me say clearly — even if someone could show me that such a system better approached the production of tangible benefits than could any other system, I’d oppose it on the grounds that it was deforming of individual possibility. I accept inefficiency, if I must, as the price of having humane and respectful society.

    You ask whether the most skilled engineers are best suited to be in charge. I’d say that wherever high skill in engineering most closely matches the demands of a position — absolutely. They may need multilingualism and skill in economics too, or need ready access to those skills and they should have it.

    Officially at least, economists are not ‘running our country’. Officially, ‘our country’ is being run by people who have merely heard about it and apparently find it tedious, or feel they need to pretend to things they barely grasp. Hockey’s interview on BBC’s ‘Hard Talk’ underlined this very point. Officially, ‘our country’ is being run by spivs and buffoons. Unofficially, it’s really being run by bankers, extractors of minerals, property developers and their brokers in the mass media, here and elsewhere. They aren’t for the most part economists either, and whatever merit they have serves, so far as they can manage it, their interests alone.

    It is true that Abbott gets the title ‘Rhodes Scholar’ but it demands only a cursory glance at that title to see that it refers barely at all to anything most would associate with cognitive accomplishment and indeed, in so far as some of it was awarded for his ability to swing wildly at the heads of other men with gloves on, it was awarded for both demonstrating the want of it and the desire to diminish it in others.

    I have no doubt that there is corruption in China, and one may even suppose that some of the corruption that Chinese officialdom really qualifies for the title. There are however, savage penalties for perceived failure in their system so one would need to have a care to just whom you endorsed as worthy. In Australia, failed executives get golden handshakes. In China, you and everyone you’ve ever been close to might get death and official dishonour. Eddie Obeid was lucky not to be an official in China. He now follows me on Twitter.

    China, a backwater in 1980 and a semi-feudal country recovering from occupation in 1949, and from massive purges in the mid 60s and 70s is now one of the world’s leading economies. That suggests they learned a fair bit about what needs to be done to enter the modern world. Since 1980, the US has stagnated, with its working folk going backwards in relative income. In the last five years, the building programs of the Chinese have utterly dwarfed those of the US and the US is in debt to them, having spent much of its wealth attacking and destroying lands far from its shores. One doesn’t have to admire Chinese usages — I certainly don’t — to see that China is rather better governed that the US.

  85. J-D
    November 15th, 2014 at 07:46 | #85

    @Fran Barlow

    You write that in the US ‘working folk [are] going backwards in relative income’. The Gini coefficient has been increasing in the US. The Gini coefficient has also been increasing in China. If increasing inequality is the index of bad government, then both the US and China are being badly governed.

  86. Donald Oats
    November 15th, 2014 at 16:47 | #86

    Mitch McConnell, the new majority leader of the Senate (USA), reckons this new agreement is an ideological war on coal. Now, sure, McConnell is playing politics in calling it an ideological war; however, to simply factor environmental issues into the economic picture is hardly an ideological stance, more a recognition of how neglecting the costs to the environment—which we live in and use every day—allows for a distorted market, one in which fossil fuels become economic. How on Earth is it an ideological war on coal just to finally recognise the free discount fossil fuels have received over cleaner alternatives, and to move to take it into account (finally)?

    We should not let this be framed as a war against coal, for it manifestly isn’t; it is about avoiding or diminishing the consequences of emissions of greenhouse gases into the environment. It is hardly our fault if coal happens to be one of the worst choices for clean energy production. It is hardly our fault that people of like mind with Mitch McConnell have ignored warning after warning that we need to shift to cleaner energy production options. And it is hardly our fault that, once GHG emissions are costed in an economically meaningful way, the relative price advantage of fossil fuels is severely eroded.

    Any fool who has invested heavily into fossil fuels has only themselves to blame, quite frankly. You would have to be deaf, dumb and blind to miss all the information streaming in about how risky it is to keep on increasing GHG emissions, and even then you would probably find out about it.

  87. November 16th, 2014 at 00:02 | #87


    You don’t necessarily need the best academic qualifications to run the country, but you have to be able to think. Some sort of filtering process to weed out contenders who can’t think is useful. My main problem with Joe Hockey as treasurer is that I think (a) he is no smarter than me (although much harder working), and (b) his heart is in the wrong place.

    I always thought that Keating was much smarter than me, and that Hawke was infinitely better with people than me. Howard, he was fantastically pragmatic, but took us the wrong way. Rudd, way smarter than me, but huge personality problems. And Julia, just fantastic at getting stuff done.

    Now maybe Tony and Joe are smart, but they do an awfully good job of pretending not to be.

    Of course the really smart people in the Australian government should be the public servants.

  88. November 16th, 2014 at 06:04 | #88

    Oh really? I have three independent sources suggesting that China’s coal consumption may have peaked already: here, here, here. It’s not any cyclical downturn, though hydro production has had a good year. The change reflects a permanent transition to a modern service economy.

    If that’s so, why did the Chinese only accept an emissions peak in 2030, if it’s going to come much earlier anyway? My take is that the Chinese diplomats got too clever, defending the freedom to run a policy that is both obsolete and unacceptable to the Chinese people. I speculate that Obama may have realized this, counting on internal Chinese politics to tighten the target.

  89. Fran Barlow
    November 16th, 2014 at 08:55 | #89


    You write that in the US ‘working folk [are] going backwards in relative income’. The Gini coefficient has been increasing in the US. The Gini coefficient has also been increasing in China. If increasing inequality is the index of bad government, then both the US and China are being badly governed.

    Context is key here. As an egalitarian, I see inequality as always a bad thing and something that policy should always seek to abate. We ought to settle the burdens and benefits of both social labour and private work as equitably as we can, but that doesn’t stop me from distinguishing between varying instantiations of inequality and evaluating them accordingly.

    As noted, in 1949 China was amongst the poorest countries in the world and had a quasi-feudal set of arrangements relating to labour. It was a largely agrarian economy with some deeply mediaeval practices in relation to women. It had been occupied by the Japanese regime.

    The US emerged from ‘WW2’ as the most powerful and wealthy country of the world, declaring that this would be ‘the American Century’. There was full employment, and though spatial and racial inequality were obvious and brutal, the average difference between the wealth of CEOs and full time employees was on average a factor of around 25. This persisted until about 1971. The top tax rates at the top ran at or above 80%, and briefly, over 90%. The proportion of government revenue from corporations was much higher than now. America was not an egalitarian society, but it was less inegalitarian than than today.

    Inequality in China today largely reflects spatial inequality — the urban rural divide — whereas in the US gross inequality is a feature of urban life as well. Whereas in China, the wealthy have got relatively more wealthy by capturing larger shares of high year in year growth and labour productivity, in the US, especially since 1980, the rich have got rich substantially by immiserating the middle classes and those below them, in circumstances where growth has tended to track population quite closely. The closer you get on the timeline today, the more pronounced this effect is, with the richest 10% often capturing more than 100% of growth in GDP. This represents a radical and regressive maldistribution.

    In China, inequality is seen as a serious problem for the elite to solve, whereas in the US it’s often seen as a badge of honour and the driver of productivity, or at best, an intractable problem. In the US, policy settings remain blind to maldistribution and the party more unambiguously keen in inequality has advanced in the mid-terms.

    So these are different and tell us different things about the two instances of governance.

  90. Ikonoclast
    November 16th, 2014 at 09:41 | #90

    There is an enormous difference in the current trajectories of China and the USA. Quite simply, the Chinese are out-smarting the Americans by a wide margin. China is rising and the USA is falling relative to China. The reasons for this are complex. I can only give an outline here. At the same time, limits to growth will favour the USA against China so there are countervailing forces to the rise of China.

    China is an old culture. As Confucianism makes a comeback in China the view that the state is fundamentally important is reinforced. Cummunism is giving way to a new Confucian culture. The USA continues to support extreme individualism and great concentrations of welath at the expense of good governance and at the expense of the common people. China has a cohering tendency, the USA a disintegrating tendency.

    Beginning in the 1990s (or maybe earlier) China sent out cadres of students and functionaries (numbering in total 100,000 or more IIRC) all over the world to gather information, study every society and bring back all knowledge and ideas for study and evalutation. We can be sure they also trawled the internet for very piece of knowledge obtainable in that manner. At the same time, China has pursued a policy of rapid industrialisation, the concomittant result of which is the progressing deindustrialistion of the rest of the developed world. The USA in particular is de-industrialising rapidly in heavy engineering and perhaps now even in electronics as its electronic consumer goods are more and more made in China.

    China is pursuing a policy for economic domination. It is pleased to see the USA de-industrialise and squander its productive power on ruinous and pointless wars. Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake! It’s bad mannners. China currently does not have to do anything to destroy the USA. It can sit back and allow the USA to destroy itself.

    On the other had, the limits to growth (LTG) threaten more danger to China than the USA. The major regions already badly overpopulated according to footprint analysis are Africa, the Middle East, the Indian sub-continent, China, S.E. Asia and even much of Europe (sans Russia).

    Regions still in a passable ecological footprint condition (as opposed to the parlous ecological condition of the above regions) are Russia, the Americas and Oceania (mainly Australia and N.Z.).

    Climate change is the final wild card. It’s very hard to tell which countries will do well or badly out of it. Australia and China will be hard hit by climate change. The USA will take a fair hit too. Russia might suffer less than most as the temperate zone moves north and opens up Russia’s cold regions.

    But on current political and economic trends the USA is heading for severe trouble and probably martial law to stem collapse. Europe is headed for collapse as are Africa, the Middle East, the Indian sub-continent and S.E. Asia. The Chinese will suffer but avoid collapse, IMO.

  91. Donald Oats
    November 16th, 2014 at 10:55 | #91

    As Barak Obama has noted, Australia is well placed to be smashed by climatic change. Not only is much of the wildlife adapted to niche environments, the arable land is strongly contingent on the temperature profile. Water is a perennial problem for much of the continent, and some of our best land has urban sprawl built over the top of it. Unless the changes somehow make great tracts of the northern area suddenly agriculture friendly, we will lose a lot of agricultural independence. What then? Tony’s answer is to keep doing what we are doing, only with the average clock-puncher doing the heaviest lifting, the mega-corps doing the most leaning. Tony’s answer is a wildcard bet, hoping against (virtually all) expert analysis that AGW is little or no threat to our current and future economy. Surely we don’t pay prime ministers to make such appalling decisions.

  92. J-D
    November 16th, 2014 at 12:23 | #92

    @Fran Barlow

    It seems to me that, if your analysis is correct, what it tells us about Chinese and US governance is that they are incommensurable. On your reading of the situation, there’s no usable index to compare the performance of the Chinese leadership, facing one set of problems in one set of circumstances, with the performance of the US leadership, facing radically different problems in radically different circumstances.

  93. Fran Barlow
    November 16th, 2014 at 14:25 | #93


    A nice dodge! First they’re comparable and just as poor, and now we can’t say because we haven’t a common yardstick.

    I’d say we do have a common yardstick. Given their constraints and opportunities at each given moment, how much have they advanced the general utility of their citizens over meaningful periods of time? One meaningful period of time would be 1949-1980 and another might be 1980-2014.

    To take a sports analogy, when we assess the contribution of a team coach to a team’s performance we usually look first to compare how many wins, losses and draws a competent coach with the resources at his or her disposal should anticipate and compare that with the actual record. We might look at how well the team plays with unscheduled losses of key personnel, or in circumstances ill-suited to the players’ skill sets. If the coach seems to be able to manage adversity well and keep competitive, he or she is credited more highly than those managing teams who only have to turn up to win.

    The Chinese have had a very steep hill to climb since 1949 whereas the Americans could have coasted and done better. The Americans didn’t coast. They began a social version of the climax in that Marx Bros epic, Go West!’ In which to keep the train going, the Marx Bros cannibalise the carriages to feed the steam engine.

    It’s a hilarious film, but also an apt metaphor.

  94. Hermit
    November 16th, 2014 at 14:41 | #94

    The US House of Reps has just voted to approve the Keystone XL pipeline that would carry diluted tar sands bitumen from Canada to the southern US. When operational an additional 121 Mt a year of emissions is expected split between both countries. The US Senate has yet to vote on it but plenty of Democrats will support the bill. Then it goes to Obama who I guess will think it’s not much compared to China then there’s the happy motoring way of life to consider. Like I say, talk is cheap.

  95. J-D
    November 16th, 2014 at 14:53 | #95

    @Fran Barlow

    You referred to the direction of change in economic inequality, which is something that can be measured (subject to data availability) by the Gini coefficient. I discussed that as a standard for comparison not of my own motion but only because you brought it up, so when you reject it after it proves not to support your conclusion, it looks to me as if you’re the one who’s dodging.

    We can measure a sporting team’s performance by wins, losses, and draws because those are determined by an agreed standard. You can’t say the same of ‘general utility of citizens’. If we were able to measure that, then the advancement of it would provide a common yardstick. But we aren’t able to do so, even without your additional qualification (at least equally unfeasible to measure) of given constraints and opportunities, piling Pelion on Ossa for impracticability.

  96. Ivor
    November 16th, 2014 at 15:03 | #96

    J-D :

    You write that in the US ‘working folk [are] going backwards in relative income’. The Gini coefficient has been increasing in the US. The Gini coefficient has also been increasing in China. If increasing inequality is the index of bad government, then both the US and China are being badly governed.

    So is there a capitalist country where the Gini coefficient is decreasing?

    If not, then according to J-D, all capitalist countries are ‘badly governed’?

  97. J-D
    November 16th, 2014 at 21:27 | #97


    I wasn’t setting up my own standard of what counts as good government. Fran Barlow referred to the increase of inequality in the US as evidence of its being badly governed. For anybody who accepts the criterion of increasing inequality as the standard of bad government, the only consistent conclusion is that every country where inequality is increasing is badly governed, including China. From a more recent comment, however, it appears that’s not Fran Barlow’s position after all.

    So, do you think there’s any standard, criterion, test, or measure that can be used to compare how well countries are governed?

  98. jungney
    November 16th, 2014 at 21:54 | #98

    Megan, breathe deep; because it ishttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rZbvi6Tj6E beyond words.

  99. Megan
    November 16th, 2014 at 23:49 | #99

    I don’t have much time for Lenore Taylor.

    I find her to be as good as an ALP stooge rather than a journalist.

    Given all the excitement about what US/China “intend” to do in the next few decades (I see Lenore refers to that as a “pledge” – so there is another word they could have used if they were serious), it exhibits double-standards to write this about Abbott:

    But in the end, after all the pressure on him to make concessions on climate change, Abbott agreed to communique words that didn’t bind him to do anything. And he made very clear as soon as the leaders were leaving Brisbane that he didn’t really have any immediate action in mind. (The fact he had told them earlier he was “standing up for coal” probably gave them a hint). The Green Climate Fund they had pushed so hard to win support for – just one of a bunch of funds you could give money to, he said. The game-changing emissions reductions pledges by China and the US was also not such a big deal in the prime minister’s mind.

    See that? When US and China release a weasel-worded non-committal sop it’s a “pledge” and we can all just shut up because an “intention” is exactly the same as a “promise” or a “guarantee” or a “commitment” about which we must become ecstatically happy and pleased.

    But when Abbott (who, by the way, I despise) agrees to words that don’t bind him he is a big bad climate destroying fiend who must be replaced by Bill Shorten as soon as possible (OK, again I improvised on that last bit about Shorten – but that seems to be the idea).

    Why else would we not be getting as excited about Abbott’s wording as we were about the other?

  100. Megan
    November 17th, 2014 at 00:55 | #100

    Unless you have a strong stomach, I don’t recommend reading the G20 communique.

    The only paragraph that deals with climate change – the one Abbott is criticized for – is this:

    19. We support strong and effective action to address climate change. Consistent with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its agreed outcomes, our actions will support sustainable development, economic growth, and certainty for business and investment. We will work together to adopt successfully a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the UNFCCC that is applicable to all parties at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris in 2015. We encourage parties that are ready to communicate their intended nationally determined contributions well in advance of COP21 (by the first quarter of 2015 for those parties ready to do so). We reaffirm our support for mobilising finance for adaptation and mitigation, such as the Green Climate Fund.

    I’m afraid the planet has not been saved in Brisbane. And it wasn’t saved at APEC (in Beijing) either. We’re doomed.

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