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    Greater China
     May 6, 2008

Just blame it on China and India
By Sreeram Chaulia

NEW YORK - Two recent pronouncements by US President George W Bush illustrate a new Western tendency to blame China and India for pressing global problems and divert attention from causes that originate in the West itself. On April 17, Bush denied special environmental exemptions for China and India since they "are emitting increasingly large quantities of greenhouse gases, which has consequences for the entire global climate".

On May 3, the American president argued that India's burgeoning middle class is "demanding better nutrition and better food ... and that causes the price [of food grains] to go up". US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had earlier elaborated on the quack doctrine that apparent improvement in the diets of people in India and China and consequent cereal export restraints are among the causes of the current global food crisis.

Bush's implication of China and India in global warming and food shortages has one common theme - that the rise of these two countries is problematic. In his April 17 comment, the US president said the economic growth of the two was "good for their people and good for the world", but suffixed it with the caveat that this is harming the environment. In his May 3 address, Bush said that "prosperity in the developing world is good", but quickly elaborated its supposed negative repercussions on food supplies.

In plain language, the American president is reflecting a deep-seated belief that Asia's rising powers are irresponsible "free riders" as opposed to the more benevolent and magnanimous West. Bush's accusations mask deeper structural malaises in the global environment and economy that can be traced back to Western over-consumption and exploitation of resources.

The US and the EU repeatedly chant that China and India, as the second and fourth largest emitters of greenhouse gases, cannot wash their hands of responsibilities by claiming differential treatment. What they do not highlight is the difference between measuring pollutants on a national basis and on a per capita basis. By virtue of their huge populations accounting for more than 30% of the world's inhabitants, China and India, taken as aggregate units of analysis, do appear as major offenders spewing toxic gases. ( Late last year, data from the International Energy Agency and other research organizations revealed that China had overtaken the United States as the largest source of greenhouse gases,)

But if per capita emission is the unit of comparison, Canada, Russia, Germany, Britain, Japan and Italy, with much smaller populations, are far above China and India in pollutant rankings (see table below). The US is ahead of every other country both in absolute national-unit and per capita-unit pollution.

Top 10 emitters of greenhouse gases on a national basis Top 10 emitters of greenhouse gases on a per capita basis (tons of carbon per person per annum)
1   United States
2   China
3   Russian Federation
4   India
5   Japan
6   Germany
7   Brazil
8   Canada
9   United Kingdom
10  Italy
1   United States (6.6)
2   Canada (6.3)
3   Russian Federation (3.6)
4   Germany (3.2)
5   United Kingdom (3.1)
6   Japan (2.9)
7   Italy (2.5
8   Brazil (1.3)
9   China (1.1)
10  India (0.5)

Source: US Congressional Research Service, 2005

One only has to look at disparities in standards of living among the top 10 per capita emitters for the complete picture. China and India, in comparison to the leading per capita polluters, are the poorest. There is an obvious link between past pollution ("stock" of emissions), present pollution ("flow" of emissions) and economic well being of people. In the absence of greener technologies and alternative development paradigms, the unfortunate implication of the per capita emissions column of the above table is that polluters grow economically and provide better for their populations in material terms. Western colonial empires and industrial advancement rest on the ugly reality of massive plunder not only of the inhabitants of the "Third World" but also of the planet Earth.

The essence of the Bush administration's repudiation of the present climate change regime is that it imperils US industry and jobs, which are facing tough competition from China and India. More broadly, Washington's fear is that the prosperity gap that exists in favor of the leading Western per capita emitters will be reduced if China and India are "let off the hook" on carbon emissions.

As long as attaining and maintaining "modernization" through industries is the main currency of so-called "progress", the US and European Union (EU)wish to retain their lead over the catch-up players, China and India. At the 2007 Bali conference on climate change, Washington threatened to unleash "green tariffs" or trade sanctions on developing countries for failing to meet designated carbon cuts. The very linkage between trade and environmental or labor standards reveals the politics behind scapegoating China and India, which are long-term challengers of American world supremacy.

The Bush administration's innuendos against China and India on the issues of food prices are also misleading. Indians and Chinese are not high per capita consumers of grains and cereals. Food consumption statistics clearly demonstrate that Western people account for the highest rates of nutrition and calorific intake in the world. Restrictions on food exports in India, Vietnam and Brazil are not meant to pacify the swelling middle-class bases of these emerging economies but to provide a safety net for the mass of the poor in these countries. Bush's contention that the protective measures are responses to growing middle-class demands for nutrition is completely misplaced.

Studies also show that wastage of food is most rampant in advanced industrial countries of the West. According to researchers at the University of Arizona, 40-50% of edible food in the US never gets eaten. Every year, US$43 billion worth of edible food is estimated to be thrown away in the country known better for its gas-guzzling habits. A complex phenomenon, wastage of food is not only a sore spot in a phase of escalating grain and pulse prices but also associated with greenhouse gas emissions.

In Britain, environmental activists are campaigning that reducing food wastage could curtail at least fifteen million tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions per annum. Steeped in a consumerism described by economist J K Galbraith as a "culture of contentment", Western people and governments rarely self-introspect while pontificating on China and India as monstrous food and energy consumers.

It is now well-established that there is a relationship between fuel market inflation and food shortages. The per-unit production cost of food grains has risen globally because of the increased input costs of oil, petrol, diesel, kerosene and fertilizers. To what extent is American destabilization of the Middle East, especially the crippling war on Iraq, a contributor to the stratospheric levitation of oil prices? How much has US investment in bio-fuels like ethanol affected food supplies? These important questions are being swept under the carpet in Washington, which has found the alibi of ascribing every major global problem to the doorsteps of China and India.

When economic recession, soaring fuel costs, spiraling food prices, and deteriorating environmental indices occur together like a package of woes, one can expect a blame game in which every country will defend its own innocence vis-a-vis the alleged culpability of others. As shortages, conflicts and crises seem to congregate like a collective plague, there is a natural tendency to search for culprits.

This is especially true of the United States, which has a history of thriving on the construction of mean-spirited and selfish enemies against which American exceptionalism is contrasted. Psychologist Sam Keen observed famously about the end of the Cold War that "we [Americans] were getting desperate in our search for a new enemy".

The erosion of the Soviet challenge opened up a fascinating melange of new scapegoats in Washington, ranging from Japan, the "axis of evil" states, and "Islamofascism" to the crystallizing new consensus around China and India being the causes of plagues. The shift of emphasis to China and India as the new "hit me" toys in Washington is a surface-level manifestation of the realization in American strategic circles that the new competitors of the longue duree come from Asia.

Sadly for humanity, such politicization of survival needs like food, fuel and liveable temperatures continues to divert focus away from the real "inconvenient truths" that Al Gore had the courage to unmask as an American.

Sreeram Chaulia is a researcher on international affairs at the Maxwell School of Citizenship at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York.

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