New apartments in southeast China's Fuzhou. Housing boom means a boom in coal plants, too.
Together, the US and China are now responsible for 40 percent of the world's emissions of carbon dioxide, with China now in the lead. That means even if everybody else stops emitting carbon entirely, the earth will still continue to heat rapidly unless these two giants can get their emissions under control.
What's a body to do?
State Department climate envoy Todd Stern just got back from a brainstorming session with his Chinese counterparts. At a press conference today he said the meetings didn't produce any breakthroughs, but he does now have a deeper appreciation of what China's up against.
Half of all housing in the world is going to be built in China over the course of the next couple of decades. They are building housing at the rate of two Bostons a month.
To feed that demand, China is building coal-fired power plants at a ferocious rate, too. Officials there say they're not willing to sacrifice economic growth to address a problem the rest of us created. Not with hundreds of millions of Chinese still in poverty.
"If you understand what they're up against, you can't help but be sympathetic," Stern said. "And yet.... the atmosphere is unforgiving. There's only so much stuff we can throw up there without tipping into potentially catastrophic danger."