President Obama’s “landmark” climate (non)deal with China has attracted much attention over the last few weeks, particularly in regards to what the agreement means for this week’s climate meeting in Lima and the prospects of a United Nations greenhouse gas reduction pact in Paris next year. Many critics have already pointed out that this so-called deal requires the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels, while China, currently the world’s largest carbon emitter, can increase emissions until 2030 and then think about whether or not it wants to pursue reductions. A graph from a New York Times article truly captures the ridiculousness of this agreement. The following recreation of the graph provides an even more accurate description:

Ironically, after this wonderful “deal” was announced, the Administration also revealed that China was hesitant to sign the pact because…wait for it…its leaders were AFRAID THE U.S. would NOT be able to meet its self-imposed economic destruction target! Recent history makes it perfectly clear who has a better record on reducing GHG emissions.

EPA’s own data shows that U.S. GHG emissions have been going DOWN for over a decade, with domestic GHG emissions at mid-1990s levels:

                                                     Total U.S. GHG Emissions, 1990-2012

Additionally, U.S. emissions per capita and per dollar of GDP have been going down significantly:

This data means that despite a growing population and economy, and without implementing extreme government energy rationing programs like the cap-and-trade proposals that Congress considered in the not too distant past, the U.S. has become extremely efficient in terms of energy use per person and per dollar of economic growth.

How does China’s history look in comparison? Not too rosy. The International Energy Agency compared China’s emissions and emissions per capita to those of the U.S. The chart says it all:


A relatively brief internet search turns up several other graphs telling the same story. A series of charts highlighted in a July 2013 publication on the Yale Climate Connection website does an excellent job of showing how U.S. emissions track in comparison with both China and the rest of the world.

The significance of these trends cannot be understated. Abundant, affordable energy is the primary pillar of economic mobility, prosperity and the betterment of human condition across the globe. Fossil fuels are the only energy source capable of being used in this manner, using these fuels will generate carbon emissions, and a ton of carbon emitted in Boston is the same as one emitted in Beijing. As countries grow, technology advances allow nations to use energy more efficiently (as the graph above shows has been the case with the United States), but history has proven the reality that energy use cannot be decoupled from economic growth. Manufacturers need natural gas to fuel their factories and make petrochemicals required for plastics and countless other consumer goods upon which advanced and developing economies rely. Automobiles and airplanes run most efficiently and cost effectively on oil. Efficient use of these resources has proven to maximize the health and welfare of mankind, as well as the environment. Overly aggressive plans to extremely ration these resources domestically, while giving others a free pass, will only serve to disadvantage American workers and businesses in a global marketplace, without doing anything to address global GHG concentrations.

America’s purchase of Alaska was dubbed “Seward’s Folly” in 1867, due primarily to the belief that the United States, and in particular then Secretary of State William H. Seward (a fellow New York native), paid a hefty price for a useless piece of land. However, history turned Seward’s Folly into Seward’s Gold, literally when gold was discovered in Alaska in 1898 and again when the great state became a beacon of producing the liquid gold that makes modern life possible: oil. The President’s recent climate pact with China will likely go down in the history books as Obama’s Folly. Unfortunately, time will likely not save the day with a future silver lining.

This completely lopsided deal will only mean hard working Americans pay a hefty price in lost domestic jobs and middle-class economic growth for a truly worthless “deal” with China, an Asian Tiger that will be able to hide behind this paper tiger of an agreement, benefitting from the limitless ability to increase emissions and grow its economy in a global marketplace at the expense of hard working Americans held back by their leader’s decision to shackle their ability to compete.

Brendan Williams

Posted by Brendan Williams

Brendan Williams is the former Executive Vice President of AFPM. To learn more about AFPM, visit AFPM.org.