Paul Krugman on Why the U.S.-China Agreement on Carbon Emissions Is a Really Big Deal

The climate deal reached by the U.S. and China at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting this week is a very big deal, Paul Krugman writes in his Friday column. The opposition to doing anything to save the planet has been long, idiotic and stubborn, and of course will continue in Republican circles, especially as Senator James Inhofe, who believes climate change is a hoax, takes over the leadership of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.


Climate change denialists have even pursued witch hunts against climate scientists.

There have also been the economic scare tactics, which argue that limiting emissions will destroy jobs and end growth. "This argument sits oddly with the right’s usual faith in markets," Krugman writes. "We’re supposed to believe that business can transcend any problem, adapt and innovate around any limits, but would shrivel up and die if policy put a price on carbon. Still, what’s bad for the Koch brothers must be bad for America, right?"

There are those, like new Senate leader Mitch McConnell, who wring their hands over the “war on coal,” which is not making a lot of impact, Krugman points out, since coal mining employs few people, and they've already been defeated. 

What makes the agreement truly meaningful, Krugman argues, is that even Americans who are worried about global warming (most people) have felt helpless to fight it with other developing countries like China continuing to pollute. And, until now, no one thought China would get on board to help protect the climate. In some ways, this has been understandable, Krugman writes.

America is not exactly the most reliable negotiating partner on these issues, with climate denialists controlling Congress and the only prospect of action in the near future, and maybe for many years, coming from executive orders. (Not to mention the possibility that the next president could well be an anti-environmentalist who could reverse anything President Obama does.) Meanwhile, China’s leadership has to deal with its own nationalists, who hate any suggestion that the newly risen superpower might be letting the West dictate its policies. So what we’re getting here is more a statement of principle than the shape of policy to come.

Still, though, there is a lot to cheer here, Krugman concludes.

Until now, those of us who argued that China could be induced to join an international climate agreement were speculating. Now we have the Chinese saying that they are, indeed, willing to deal — and the opponents of action have to claim that they don’t mean what they say.

Needless to say, I don’t expect the usual suspects to concede that a major part of the anti-environmentalist argument has just collapsed. But it has. This was a good week for the planet.

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