Sino-American obstacles to addressing climate change 中美在应对气候变化时面临的挑战

Daniel Mikesell

October 29, 2019

NANJING, China — In October 2010, Chinese leaders were infuriated with the United States after the American Embassy in Beijing tweeted about “crazy bad” levels of air pollution. The embassy’s air pollution data showed that air pollution in Beijing was much worse than the official Chinese data suggested. To Americans, this episode seemed to prove China’s negligence and dishonesty regarding its environmental problems. Eight years later, Chinese mocked the resurgence of climate change denial in American politics. To many Chinese, the fact that someone who actively disregards science (or at least pretends to for the sake of economic growth) could become America’s commander in chief is evidence that American democracy is fundamentally flawed.

2010年10月,美国驻北京大使馆发布的有关北京空气污染的信息惹怒了中国领导人。该消息表示,北京实际的空气污染程度比官方发布的信息严重很多。在美国人眼里,这件事证明了中国在处理环境问题时既草率又不诚实。八年后,中国人也频频调侃美国一些政治领导人对气候变化的否认。许多中国人认为,如果一个否认科学的人,或者说一个为了经济利润而假装否认科学的人能成为美国总统的话,那么美国民主一定是有缺陷的。

As the United States and China struggle to address climate change, they have encountered different types of barriers. U.S. climate policy must contend with climate-change deniers and vested corporate interests, whereas in China, climate policy is often at odds with economic development goals.

美国和中国在处理气候变化时,面临着不同的挑战。美国有两个障碍,一是有人公开否认气候变化,二是既得利益集团的阻挠;中国则面临环境政策与经济发展之间的冲突。

In the U.S., part of the problem is denial. About one in six Americans think climate change “is not a threat” to America at all. That’s not precisely the same as saying climate change “isn’t real,” but both statements demonstrate a similar degree of disregard for the international consensus on climate science. 

在美国,否认气候变化是一个较大的问题。至今仍有六分之一的美国人认为地球不会受到气候变化的威胁。虽然这不等同于否认气候变化,但这两种叙述都在一定程度上违背了有关气候变化的国际共识。

Since 2013, climate change has become a major concern for Democrats but not for Republicans.
Image Credit: Pew Research Center

This phenomenon can be understood in terms of the influence of partisanship on the American public. Worldwide, there is a strong positive correlation between one’s level of scientific knowledge and one’s belief in the risks posed by climate change. However, American Republicans are an exception to this pattern. Whether or not a Republican believes that climate change will harm the planet has no relationship with the degree of his or her scientific knowledge. 

党派对美国民众的影响力可能是解释这一现象的原因。一般来说,人们对气候变化的想法受到教育水平的影响。也就是说,一个人具有的科学知识水平越高,他就越有可能承认气候变化带来的危害。但是美国共和党人是个例外。无论他们具备怎样的科学知识水平,大多数共和党人都认为气候变化不会给地球带来伤害。

Democrats with more scientific knowledge are more likely to view climate change as a threat, but most Republicans don’t view climate as a threat, regardless of their scientific knowledge.
Image Credit: Pew Research Center

Why do so many American conservatives deny the effects of climate change? Some researchers attribute this to the so-called “conservative white male effect” in doubting anthropogenic climate change; in other words, a growing body of research suggests that conservative white men around the world are less likely to believe in climate change than other demographic groups.

为什么否认气候变化危害的美国人那么多?一些研究指出所谓的“保守白人男性效应”是原因之一。保守的白人男性相比其他人群更有可能否认气候变化。

Political and business interests also play a key role in American climate denial. Efforts from the fossil fuel industry to obfuscate the conversation on climate change have successfully confused the American public. Campaign finance contributions by the oil and gas industries are primarily directed to Republicans, further leading Republicans to less stringent climate policy. 

政治和企业因素也是美国人否认气候变化的重要原因。化石燃料工业为盈利而故意混淆,这种宣传成功地迷惑了美国人。同时,他们还为共和党候选人提供竞选的经济支持,进一步导致共和党针对气候变化的政策也不太严格。

In China, widespread climate change denial is not the problem. The Chinese government “wants everyone to believe in climate change,” said Pan Siran, a Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC) student from Hainan. In China, climate change “is not a political issue,” she said. According to Fang Jianyu, an HNC student from Inner Mongolia, climate change is taught in freshman high school geography, so anyone with a high school education should know about it.

在中国,否认气候变化的人并不多。在中美文化研究中心,一位来自海南的研究生潘斯然说,这不是一个政治问题,中国政府想让老百姓了解气候变化;另一位来自内蒙古的学生方剑宇说,公立学校在高一的地理课上会介绍气候变化的问题,所以读过高一的中国人应该都知道气候变化是什么。

But because high school is not compulsory in China, there are some people who never learned about climate change in school. A 2017 study conducted by the Center for China Climate Change Communication (CCCCC) showed that roughly 5% of Chinese adults don’t think climate change is happening, and a 2012 CCCCC survey showed over 6% of Chinese adults have never heard of climate change.

由于高中不是义务教育的一部分,一些中国人可能从来没有听说过气候变化。据中国气候变化中心2017年的统计,约百分之五的中国人认为气候变化并没有发生;2012年的报告则显示百分之六的中国人没有听说过气候变化。

Taken together, these data could suggest that the main reason some Chinese don’t believe in climate change is that they have never heard of it. This was corroborated by Zhang Haiyan, Associate Professor of Energy, Resources, and Environment (ERE) at the HNC. She said virtually everyone in China who has heard of climate change knows that it’s real, but that some people with less education may not know about it, and hence not believe in it.

总的来讲,这些统计数字都表明,在中国,人们否认气候变化很可能是因为他们不知道气候变化是什么。这个假设符合张海燕副教授(中美文化研究中心能源、资源及环境方向)的观点。她认为,在中国,除了少数没有受过教育的人以外,大部分人都知道气候变化且相信它正在发生。 

Professor Zhang further emphasized that addressing climate change is especially difficult for developing countries like China. Developing countries are still in the process of setting up basic infrastructure and providing basic social services; how can they be expected to be on the vanguard of climate change adaptation? Chinese recognize the need to address climate change, but poverty alleviation based on economic development is a far more urgent priority. This tension is reflected in the concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities,” which dates back to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This concept acknowledges that wealthy, developed countries with greater capabilities must shoulder a greater share of the burden of dealing with climate change.

她也强调,对于发展中国家来说,应对气候变化是一个巨大挑战。发展中国家还在进行基础设施的建设以尽最大能力为社会提供基本服务,因此不能把它们当作应对气候变化的主要国家。从“共同而有区别的责任”这一角度来说,既富有又有能力的发达国家应承担更多应对气候变化的责任。

The problem in China isn’t denial but rather the notion that developing China’s domestic economy is a higher priority than helping the planet. Compared to economic growth, the environment is a small concern. A popular phrase in Chinese media reflects this systemic lack of concern for environmental law: “The costs of illegal behavior are low, but the costs of following the law are high.”

中国的问题并不是否认气候变化,而是对气候问题缺乏责任感。对很多中国人来说,应对气候变化并没有经济发展重要。“违法成本低、守法成本高”,这一中国网络流行用语体现了人们对环境法的系统性忽视。

China and America have the world’s largest carbon footprints, but their barriers to addressing the problem are vastly different. In the United States, those who dispute the facts of climate change have significant political power. On the other hand, climate change is widely accepted in China, but the reaction has been to deny responsibility. China has seen some major environmental protests in recent years, but the push for economic development seems unstoppable. 

中国和美国分别是世界第一和第二大碳排放国家,但它们面临着不一样的挑战。在美国,一些人否认气候变化,却拥有显赫的政治权力;在中国,虽然人们承认气候变化这一事实,但拒绝承担责任。虽然近年来也发生过一些针对污染物排放的抗议活动,但经济发展仍是更大的驱动力。

As key players in the international effort to address climate change, America and China will face enormous environmental challenges in the coming years. Expanding the exchange of ideas between China and America may prove essential for the health of the planet. Such cross-cultural exchanges may also allow each side to avoid the mire of endless criticism and search for mutually beneficial solutions.

中美作为全球应对气候变化问题的重要力量,在未来几年内都将面临巨大的环境挑战。促进中美之间跨文化的交流,不仅有助于地球的健康,还可以推动中美两国寻求双赢的解决之道,而非陷入无休止的相互指责。