On Chinese Fuel Efficiency

Newspaper editorial on China's plans to implement strict fuel efficiency standards

Published: 21-Nov-2003

IN THE very long term, what really matters is the biological and physical basis of human life. Long after today's headlines are forgotten, the human species will still have to deal with the consequences of its abuse of nature. Some of these consequences are already plain - a depleted ozone layer, polluted rivers and lakes, deforestation, smog and global warming. The single biggest cause of environmental degradation is the burning of fossil fuels.

The internal combustion engine has done humanity much good, but it has also wreaked havoc on nature. Mainstream scientists are agreed that if something is not done soon to reduce the use of fossil fuels, the earth's atmosphere will be 1 to 3.5 degrees Celsius warmer by the year 2100. That may not seem much, until one reflects that an average of only 2 to 5 degrees separates the clement present from the depths of the last Ice Age about 20,000 years ago. If earth could have been so uncomfortable 10,000 years ago because it was a mere 3 degrees cooler on average than now, imagine how uncomfortable it can get if it is 3 degrees warmer in just 100 years. Polar ice caps will melt; the mean sea level will rise between 15cm and 95cm; much of low-lying countries like Bangladesh will be submerged; there will be droughts in some arid and semi-arid areas, and floods in many temperate and humid zones; and varieties of eco-systems the world over will change dramatically, more often than not, for the worse.

A New York Times report on Tuesday detailed some good news that may well help the world avoid these horrid developments. 'The Chinese government is preparing to impose minimum fuel economy standards on new cars... and the rules will be significantly more stringent than those in the United States, according to Chinese experts involved in drafting them,' the newspaper reported. Though Beijing does not seem to be motivated primarily by global warming, its decision will have far-reaching implications for the global environment.

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