The Blame China Syndrome

Tipping Points 

Beneath the regular din of more overtly political current events, the slide into anthropogenic climate disaster continues. Last May sensors atop an Hawaiian volcano found that average carbon dioxide concentrations in the Earth’s air had reached 400 parts per million – “a level,” NASA’s Web site reports, “that hasn’t been seen since around 3 to 5 million years ago, well before humans roamed the Earth. Human burning of fossil fuels continues to increase the amount of carbon, a potent heat-trapping greenhouse gas, in our atmosphere,” NASA explains, adding ominously that “as a result our planet is warming, and that warming is pushing Earth systems past critical points.” 

NASA says that its satellite-equipped researchers and other scientists the world over are documenting the planet’s accelerating, human-generated drift into a number of arctic “tipping points”—rapid and irreversible changes that tip Earth’s climate into a state that is contrary to long-term human survival. Potential climate tipping points listed on NASA’s Web site include an ice-free Arctic summer, the irreversible melting of the Greenland ice sheet, the rapid thawing of the permafrost in Alaska (releasing vast stores of carbon-rich methane), and shifts in the Atlantic Ocean’s circulation and chemistry.  “Within a few decades,” NASA reports, “the Arctic will be unrecognizable to any explorers who had seen it in centuries past. Scientists are already seeing the signs.” 

The near-term prospect of ice-free summers in the Arctic is chilling in its implications for livable ecology. As NASA notes, “Ice-free Arctic summers will cause major changes in ocean ecosystems, boosting, for example, the growth of phytoplankton, which bloom as sunlight penetrates the ice. Ice-free summers also mean there is less ice to reflect sunshine back out into space, meaning that instead the ocean absorbs that energy, becoming even warmer…not good news for the already stressed ocean.”

As for melting tundra, there are 1700 billion metric tons of carbon stashed in Earth’s northern permafrost, “more than twice the carbon currently in the atmosphere.”[1] 

Another NASA report tells us tropical eco-systems generate significant new carbon dioxide when temperatures rise – another viciously circular process whereby symptoms of global warming become causes.[2] color:black”>Ultimately,” WDM argued, “playing a game of ‘blame China’ simply won’t work. Pointing the finger at large developing countries while at the same time citizens in rich countries voraciously consume imported manufactured goods makes little…sense. The responsibility to act first and do the most must lie with the industrialised world, not only because of historical emissions and unsustainable levels of resource consumption, but also because these [rich] countries hold many of the other key cards in the negotiations, such as the ability to transfer technology and financial resources to those who need it. All these cards will need to be played well if [climate] negotiations are to have any chance of reaching a successful conclusion.”[6] 


Paul Street’s next book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, January 2014). Street is also the author of part 1 (“Capitalism – The Real Enemy”) in Francis Goldin, Debby Smith, and Michael Steven Smith, eds., Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA (Harper Perennial, January 2014)


Selected Endnotes 

1Megan Scudellari, “An Unrecognizable Arctic,” NASA, Global Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet (July 25, 2013_ http://climate.nasa.gov/news/958 

2. Ruth Dasso Marlaire. NASA Ames Research Center, “Tropical ecosystems boost carbon dioxide as temperatures rise,” http://climate.nasa.gov/news/957 

3. Paul Street, “Chomsky at Left Forum,” ZNet (June 23, 2013), www.zcomm.org/chomsky-at-left-forum-by-paul-street. Quote from Street’s notes on the talk. 

4. Phil Gasper, “The Growing Climate Crisis,” International Socialist Review, Issue 87 (January 2013), 17. 


6. Peter Hardstaff and Tim Jones, Blame it on China? The International Politics of Climate Change (London, UK: World Development Movement. November 2009), www.wdm.org.uk/sites/default/files/blameitonchina30112007.pdf 

7. Al Gore, interview by Jeffrey Brown, PBS Newshour, January 31, 2013, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/environment/jan-june13/gore_01-31.html 

8. Noam Chomsky, Making the Future: Occupations, Interventions, Empire, and Resistance (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2012). 


  1. grandgather February 14, 2014 7:19 pm 

    […] we bother reducing our CO2, when China is polluting more? Paul Street gave it the acerbic nickname “the Blame-China Syndrome“ in his introduction to the World Development Movement’s 2007 paper “Blame It on China?“, […]

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