What if the government had the power to shut you down for a failure to meet national energy efficiency standards? Would the possibility of a shuttered business and a diminished livelihood spur you into action? Or would the lack of quantifiable efficiency standards only lead to confusion and frustration?
While those of us in the US don’t have to worry about mandatory closures anytime soon, the situation in China—where the government recently ordered over 2,000 companies to shut down due to their inefficient energy usage—is certainly an example of what happens when commerce and gross national product collide with energy-intensive industry. Whenever I hear of such extreme situations, I always wonder what lessons might be learned, what pitfalls might be avoided, and how we can make sure we are not headed in a similar direction.
In a way, this all started last month when the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) released data on international energy use that put China at the head of the pack (and ahead of the US) as the world’s largest energy consumer. Although China did not anticipate surpassing US energy use for another five years, according to the IEA, China’s energy consumption has doubled in the last decade. And because so much of country’s power comes from fossil fuels, China is also one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the world. China disputes the IEA’s numbers, but the consequences of the study are being felt across the country—hitting an apex with the closure of over 2,000 Chinese businesses.
On the chopping block are energy-intensive factories that have existed for over 50 years, including steel mills and aluminum factories that employ thousands of workers. The government has warned that if the companies on their list do not shut down operations by the September 30 deadline, they could find themselves without electricity: The government has pledged to override local authorities by cutting power to any of the offending facilities.
These closures come as an energy efficiency program initiated by the government five years ago comes to an end, and the country faces an uptake in energy use after four years of consistent reduction.
So what do you think? Ignoring some of the gaps in knowledge and unavoidable inconsistencies that exist when one discusses the internal workings of another country—especially a country as secretive as China—are there any lessons to be learned from the actions of the Chinese government? At what point does industry lose out to efficiency? Have we been ignoring the inherent and hidden energy costs in manufacturing? The idea behind the carbon footprint and the water footprint is that of educating the public about the total resource cost of a particular product or activity—but what about the true energy cost? And is there a way to effect change on a grand scale without resorting to government mandates and business closures?Click here for more on China’s closures.