China has been much in the western press recently, and as usual has been cast in negative terms. It’s remarkable how inverted the Washington and European consensus is from China’s reality. The US is currently engaged in actively inciting responses from China, most notably with Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, the first such trip by such a senior American representative in almost a quarter of a century. China has done various things, but one of them is that it’s broken off climate talks with the US, something that’s being misrepresented as breaking off all climate talks and stopping climate action, neither of which is remotely true.
The infographic from Visual Capitalist which heads this article triggered me to think about this. It had been shared on LinkedIn by Matt Damasceno, an automotive electrification expert and engineer who has been working in refueling of transportation for years. And so, a bit of a romp through some comparisons of note.
China has a sixth of the GDP per capita of the US at present, which suggests that China should be buying, if anything, fewer new EVs if price point were actually a concern. Instead, China is buying 6x as many EVs as the US annually right now.
China has built 25,000 miles of high speed electrified passenger and freight rail since 2007, enough to circle the equator, with 220 mph passenger travel and 80 mph freight travel, and is connecting neighboring countries such as Vietnam into its network. The US has built no high speed rail, and the total miles of electrified rail has declined in the country since its peak in the 1930s.
China has about 500,000 electric buses on the roads of its cities and towns, and the major cities have almost fully electrified freight and garbage trucks. The US might be approaching 1,500 buses, and is just starting to receive the first electrified city and freight vehicles.
China built as much renewable energy as the rest of the world combined in 2021 with 53 GW of solar, 48 GW of wind, and its very high 2030 targets are likely to be met by 2026. The US built 25 GW of wind and solar combined in 2021.
China has over 50 GW of power capacity of pumped hydro under construction right now, just turned on a 3.6 GW facility this year, and has much more firmly planned. The US has no pumped hydro under construction, and none approved or funded for construction.
China turned on the world’s largest hydroelectric facility in 2021, the Three Gorges Dam. The United States is a global leader in tearing its dams down, with 57 removed in 2021 alone.
China built as much offshore wind in 2021, 17 GW, as the rest of the world combined in 2021 alone. The US built no offshore wind in 2021, and has two tiny offshore wind farms totaling 42 MW operating, roughly 0.25% of China’s 2021 deployment.
China is building more nuclear power plants than the rest of the world combined. The United States is seeing a net loss of nuclear power plants, with most of the fleet nearing end of normal life barring significant and expensive refurbishment by 2035.
China has built roughly 21,000 miles of high-voltage direct current transmission since 2009 to bring renewable electricity from sites across the vast country to demand centers, is building an Asian Supergrid to connect its neighboring countries into a continent+ scale grid with 4 billion people in it, and has seriously proposed building a transpolar HVDC supergrid to connect all northern continents. The US recently blocked an HVDC connection from Canada to bring more low-carbon hydro from Quebec to New York and is reduced to vainly attempting to reuse existing transmission from tiny coal-burning towns with hydrogen storage and small nuclear plants because it can’t build new transmission.
Manufacturing Decarbonizing Technologies
China builds about 50% of the world’s electric bicycles, has the majority of brands and far more models of electric bikes than the rest of the world, buys enormous numbers of them for commuting and errands, and manufactures a very large percentage of electric scooters and other personal electric vehicles. The US has mostly been buying electric mountain bikes and leisure bikes, with a limited number of fairly expensive manufacturers.
China has 6/10 of the largest solar panel manufacturers and 3 of the top five spots, and 7/10 largest wind turbine manufacturers. The US shows up in 6th and 10th place for solar, and has only GE on the wind energy list, with it continuing to drop down the rankings.
China refines the majority of most critical metals for batteries including lithium and nickel globally, with 72% market share of battery materials. The US has 8.5% of this market, with virtually no lithium refining.
China has a carbon emissions market in operation that is already three times the size of Europe’s. The United States has no national carbon pricing in place, with 11 states participating in a carbon and trade despite lack of national leadership, and the intended carbon border adjustment disguised as an anti-Chinese protectionist bill which would have included domestic emissions is politically dead at Manchin’s hands.
China is on track to achieve its (admittedly weak) 2030 Paris Accord targets years ahead of time. The US’ weakened bill, if passed and if executed on, would achieve 50% or so of its 2030 Paris Accord targets.
China’s CO2 emissions per capital are 8.2 tons per year, and with the very rapid electrification and build out of decarbonized electricity, will peak in 2030 at the latest. The US’ CO2 emissions per capital are 13.7 tons per year, and likely never to dip below China’s.
China has reforested and afforested a net 40 billion trees, covering an area larger than the size of France since 1990. The US has increased forest coverage by 0.0016% of that amount since 1990 despite being a slightly larger country by land area.
China has firm goals to cap carbon emissions by 2030 and achieve a net zero economy by 2060, which analysts consider in line with global warming requirements, and is on track to achieve those targets ahead of time, consistently underpromising and overdelivering. The US has asserted climate targets, but has consistently overpromised and underdelivered, and is considered much less likely to stay the course by external observers of its political landscape.
Education & Innovation
China’s literacy rate is 96.8%. The US literacy rate is 88%.
China is producing over 50,000 PhD graduates in STEM subjects per year, and is expected to have double the STEM PhDs as the US by 2025. The US sees about 33,000 STEM PhDs granted annually, and is seeing much slower growth in PhDs candidates.
China’s citizens and companies are filing 1.3 million patents a year. The citizens and companies in the US are filing about 0.6 million patents a year.
China’s GDP is set to be the largest in the world by 2035 or so, and has been investing in healthcare, education, and infrastructure. The US has spent four decades spending money on tax cuts for the rich and its military, has not invested in healthcare, education, and infrastructure, and is seeing declining life expectancy, declining educational outcomes, and infrastructure that is falling apart.
China’s yuan is gaining significant traction as a global reserve and trading currency, with 85% of central bank reserves managers holding it or intending to hold it. The US dollar has been in decline as a reserve currency since 2000, that has accelerated recently with its use of the currency as a weapon of diplomacy (a better choice than military action, but with long-term strategic consequences), and it has been the global reserve currency status which allowed the US to cut taxes for the rich and overspend on its military without significant economic consequences until now.
China’s net immigration has been flat for years, with its citizens spreading across the world, with over 120 million Chinese citizens holding passports. The net immigration of the US has been plummeting since 2015, with the US Census Bureau reporting barely over 200,000 in 2021, almost 50% of the USA’s Fortune 500 were founded by immigrants or their children, and only about 110 million Americans holding passports.
China has brought 850 million of its citizens out of poverty since 1980. The United States has seen real income decline for 80% of its citizens since 1980.
China ratified and remained in the Kyoto Protocol, ratified and remained in the Paris Accord, and ratified the Kigali Amendment, which deals with high global warming potential refrigerants. The US left both the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Accord, the upcoming November midterms might kill all climate action, and any change of administration to a Republican President in 2024 would likely see the US leave the major international climate agreements again.
China has been instrumental to significant new global trade deals and large scale economic and funding institutions, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and its replacement, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, the BRICS-focused New Development Bank, and the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank. The US has backed out of major trade deals such as the TPP, started trade wars, and enacted protectionist trade policies.
China has had massive trade and joint tourism with Taiwan, the island 110 miles off its coast over the past 15 years, and does not send senior governmental representatives to Cuba, an island 140 miles off the US coast, or sell weapons to Cuba. The US continues to embargo Cuba, preventing joint visits or tourism, preventing any US companies from doing business with the country, and the US sells significant amounts of weapons to Taiwan and just had its third most senior official visit the island.
The US maintains 750 international military bases and spends more than the next nine countries combined on its military, spending 3.8% of the largest GDP in the world at present on defensive and offensive technologies. China maintains three international military bases and spends less than 1.8% of its GDP on its military, which includes the 60,000 soldiers it seconded to tree planting a couple of years ago.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative has been joined by 139 countries globally, and China is providing low-interest loans to governments to build and own wind, solar, storage, transmission, and rail projects globally. The US has been attempting to block the Belt and Road Initiative and strongarm countries into not joining, with approaching zero success, and could not sell a Central American HVDC spine to South America domestically to provide some evidence that the US could engage in something of the scale of the Belt and Road Initiative, so abandoned the attempt.
This is in no way to say that there aren’t things that China should be criticized and held to account for, and that every country shouldn’t have clearsighted China strategies — not that many appear to, and the US certainly doesn’t — but that the narrative that Americans and many Europeans share about China and themselves is not aligned with observable reality, and the US is in significant danger of economic decline even as the world improves.
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