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I went to a wonderful dinner on Wednesday night with the theme of “India’s Intrernational Agenda.” Late in the conversation, about 10:15PM someone asked the very astute Minister of Finance Palaniappan Chidambaran, about an article in the FT saying that if India and China continued to modernize along the lines of the West, with tens of millions of cars, the resulting carbon emissions would, in effect, cause global warming on a scale that would destroy most of the earth. India and China, in short, needed to find another, better way, of growing.
Wow, the reaction by the Minister of Finance was fierce. He said energy and economic growth are linked and India has the right to grow and the right to consume energy. He said it is unfair to ask developing countries not to use as much energy as the West. India is entitled to grow and to consume energy that emits carbons.
The Indian Finance Minister went on to say that India has agreed to keep its maximum per capita carbon emissions just below that of the West (I believe that is the metric he used. If it isn’t, will folks in India let me know the precise measurement). If the West lowers its emissions, so will India. India’s per capita carbon emissions are currently way below that of the US or Europe so they will be growing strongly as India grows economically.
Of course, the Indian Finance Minister is completely correct—India and all emerging economies have the right to grow and must grow. The challenge ahead for all countries, the US, India, China, Europe, is to change the way we all grow to cut back on carbon emissions. There are huge economic opportunities ahead in this. We can grow our way out of our carbon conundrum. Who will build the first 100 mpg car? The first mass-produced all electric car? The electric jet plane? The newest public transportation system? The lowest priced video-conferencing system that cuts back on travel?
The hybrid Prius outsold the old Ford Explorer last year in the US, a sign that people are waking up (at least waking up to $3 a gallon oil). Transforming the US carbon economy which is sending its wealth and ownership overseas to non-democratic nations is both an economic and foreign policy priority.
And don’t bother asking India and China to do what the West won’t. They won’t. Pressuring them to cut back can only lead to trouble.
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