Let's Deconstruct the Phantom China v US Cleantech War

wind turbines in china photo

photo: David Schroeter via flickr.

Now here's an article I wish I wrote: While the US vs China rhetoric over who's the bigger cleantech player, the China's gonna eat our lunch talk from the likes of Thomas Friedman et al, certainly has a populist appeal, it's always rang a bit hollow to me. The situation is far more complex than such zero sum logic implies. Not to mention creating what seems to me an unhealthy, unsustainable continuation of fetishizing competition over cooperation. Well, a new piece in Yale Environment 360 by Christina Larson sheds some light on the reality of the situation, revealing nuance often lost. Read the original for the lead-up; let's skip straight to the takeaway:1) China Gaining Green Jobs ≠ US Losing Them
While its tempting to think that the US is going to lose jobs to China in the cleantech sphere, the fact of the matter Larson points out is that most of the green manufacturing jobs that supposedly are going to be lost in the US as wind and solar power manufacturing takes off in China haven't actually even been created yet.

While China undoubtedly will gain jobs here--taking advantage of the low wages and low regulation that has helped them become the world's factory (and world's polluter)--there's no reason to assume that these jobs will come at the expense of the United States. There are plenty of green jobs to be created in the US in installation, sales and support.

2) Intellectual Property Protections Give US a Leg Up
Larson reminds us that the US still has significant advantages over China when it comes to technological innovation. Besides great universities and entrepreneurs, there's companies prefer the US' strong intellectual property rights to China's free for all:

"Intellectual property rights have done a lot to hamper China's development of green technology," says Linden Ellis, U.S. director of nonprofit China Dialogue. "People would rather come to Silicon Valley and develop a technology where they know it will be protected by the law, right down to every line, than go to China and try to develop a technology there where maybe the components will be cheaper and there is a lot of interest, but people do not trust that their findings will be protected."

3) There Are More Green Players Than the US and China
Perhaps the most important thing to remember in all this is that there are more participants in the cleantech race than just the United States and China--even though this isn't played out in headlines: Larson astutely points out that even though Germany is home to the world's top two solar manufacturing companies there aren't headlines about "Old Europe 'cleaning our clock'". Even though European nations have been out-innovating the US in cleantech for the past decade, this doesn't seem to be as much of headline grabber.

When it comes down to it the whole space is more diverse and can benefit all parties:

Even as China's solar panel exports grow, it continues to purchase clean locomotives from an American company, GE. Germany has developed world-class "green" metro cars, with China being a top customer. And French companies are among the world's top innovators in water solutions. In other words, green-tech encompasses a lot more than windmills and solar panels--and progress in developing it can be a two-way street.

Read more: America's Unfounded Fears of a Green-Tech Race with China
Renewable Energy
China's New Renewable Energy Law Should be a Wake Up Call for the US
US Still #1 "Most Attractive" for Renewable Energy, But China is Catching Up
Why China and Europe Invest More in US Wind Power Than the US Does
Green Jobs
"Chinese" Wind Farm in Texas: Green Jobs FAIL?
Higher National Renewable Energy Standard Means Hundreds of Thousands More Jobs by 2025
Renewable Energy Mandate Helps Green Manufacturing Jobs in Michigan

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