Consider the graph above. The way the European Union tells the story, the countries of Europe were able to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide by putting prudent policies in place including conservation, a carbon market, and so on.
The graph tells a somewhat different story. Every decrease in emissions, either in Europe or the United States, has been more than matched by an increase in emissions in China. In other words the Europeans and Americans have exported their heavy industry to China and along with it their carbon emissions. This hasn’t solved anything but it has put it safely out of sight and, unfortunately, out of our control.
A couple of days ago I posted a story about how the plastic in the world’s oceans was getting there by floating down China’s and India’s rivers. What the story didn’t tell us was how the plastic was getting to China and India in the first place. I’m sure some of it had domestic origins but for decades American and European cities have been sending their trash to China and, more recently, India, Nigeria, and elsewhere under the mistaken assumption that the Chinese, Indians, etc. would sort the recyclables and dispose prudently of the rest. What has actually happened is that they’ve used what was easily recyclable and thrown the rest into their rivers where it makes its way to the oceans.
For the last several decades our lifestyle has been a very convenient one of disposable diapers and neat packaging. That’s going to come to an end because the alternative is intolerable.
All of this isn’t due to some malice on the part of the Chinese. They’re just following their incentives. It isn’t their job to solve our problems for us and we shouldn’t expect them to.