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中國歷史顯示的氣候改變警訊 –- Rae Hodge
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下文第二段中,作者列舉考古學界在古時絲路一帶(見Silk Road 超連接)黃土高原 北聯池(mass civil disruptions 超連接)以及良渚文化(Venice-like Chinese city 超連接)等處遺址,發現氣候改變所導致的破壞。她接著引用最近發生的事件與有關機構發佈數據,強調中國政府應採取更有效措施來處理氣候暖化危機。

Ancient Chinese climate change whispers a warning to the world’s green-energy leader

With no second-chances left, we can’t repeat the mistakes of the past — if we lose this history, we lose the future

RAE HODGE, 04/08/24

To survey the vast body of Chinese archeological and cultural antiquities is to forget every fragmented parchment record you’ve ever seen tucked behind European museum glass. Shifting in territorial shape and political contour, China’s 3,500 years of written history trails behind it like a magnificent bridal train across the sweep of human civilization in a marriage to the land which has outlasted the rise and fall of Byzantine, Incan and Ottoman empires. Before the first Roman levee was ever fortified against the Tiber River, a Chinese sage-king had already so artfully tamed the ravaging waters of the Yangtze that he became known as Yu the Engineer.

Most recently, Chinese researchers have unearthed evidence that the country’s relationship to climate change has been fatal to not only many of its dynasties but to the cross-border Silk Road itself — shifting the borders of commerce for the entire early world, shaping the path we now see among its cities and kingdoms. Climate change didn’t stop there, of course. Further studies have shown that climate change from 4,000 ago in the country prompted mass civil disruptions — a discovery hinting at current global protest — and that a Venice-like Chinese city built on a sprawl of canals was yet another victim.

Yet, within the grand tapestry of this legacy, China’s greatest historical foe — responsible for the collapse of dynasties from 9th Century Tang to those of present day industrial princes — has returned. Threatening to unravel not only the country but the world itself, the merciless forces of climate change now bear down on China without restraint, and have called it into what could become the nation’s final battle. But amid the roaring devastation of the elements which now rip through the country’s people and homes, a chorus of voices sing out from the pages of China’s history. And above the din of modern political clamor, we can hear them — shouting from the literal rooftops — issuing a warning which there is still time to heed, and a hope for ingenious resolve for which there are new reason to believe.

Last year, brutal weather extremes dogged China, as destructive events rose in frequency and intensity through the hottest year on record. Relentless heatwaves swept through the country, with catastrophic floods leaving more than a million people displaced, bringing provinces to their knees and the nation itself to a tipping point on climate change action. 2024 is poised to be a watershed year for climate change in a country which now risks suffering the economic chaos of a 3% climate-driven GDP loss as heatwaves bite into its powerful supply chains. China stands at a tense and terrifying crossroads, singularly equipped to become either the world’s greatest climate hero — or its most dangerous foe.

Our most recent hint at which way it will tilt came March 11. The official report from China’s annual lianghui (
兩會) or “two sessions” government meeting has perplexed climate scientists and activists at the country’s radically mixed messages about green energy plans. Leaders failed to meet critically important 2023 targets for reducing the amount of energy consumption per unit of GDP, blaming it on surging economic growth. They also announced a disappointingly ambitious goal for 2024 — setting a benchmark for a meager 2.5% energy intensity reduction — much lower than the yearly 6% it needs in order to meet its 2025 target of a 13.5% energy-demand drop. And the 18% drop in carbon intensity others say it needs to meet by the same year. These numbers seem so tiny — but China produces more greenhouse gasses than any other country in the world. At that scale, every half-percent could make or break its plan.

The Biden administration has been pushing the country to ditch coal quicker, despite China’s decision to keep it in the energy mix. China reportedly has more coal power capacity than the rest of the world combined, worsening the near-term outlook when coupled with its plan to expand oil and gas drilling. China’s coal-burn rate has dropped 70% since 2011, but coal plants still account for around 2.7 million jobs in the country where plant-construction is a common way to boost local economies (whether the plants ever get used).

These are terrifying numbers. Which is why the similarly extreme measure of China’s green-energy heroics are enough to raise the hairs on the back of your neck.

For instance, that 2023 energy-goal failure offers an extraordinary reason: 40% of China’s voracious economic growth last year was in the clean energy sector. Meanwhile, the world’s renewable energy capacity overall only grew 36% (I say “only” — but that’s breaking the record for 22 years in a row). That also means China more than doubled its renewable energy capacity last year, compared to 2022 increases.

Its solar power capacity alone in 2023 was as much as the entire world’s in 2022, with Chinese companies now making 90% of the world’s solar cells — plus 60% of the world’s lithium-ion batteries for the world’s electric vehicles (which it now makes 50% of, with exports hitting a new high and 77% year-over increase.) Meanwhile, China’s wind power capacity reportedly rose by 66% year-on-year. Known as the “new three” in China, the above green energy manufacturing products accounted for 4.5% of the country’s total 2023 exports. This is driving down consumer costs and Chinese consumption is surging — which is fantastic.

The clock is ticking, though. And just as it did in ancient times, weather extremes driven by climate change are again threatening to destroy the Silk Road today, where some of the world’s greatest art and architecture rely on modern leaders to protect it. Perhaps even more pointedly, climate change threatens to destroy the very parts of China which offer some of its most potent wisdom for weathering climate, which tell the story of the country’s resilience through the ages — as rising waters now creep into heritage sites.

The modern re-balancing of mercantile scales in China — shifting the weighty duty of economic-production from one energy sector to another — is a precarious moment for the entire world. Leaders must act with potentially market-rattling speed, ingenious precision and, above all, unflinchingly altruistic discipline. This is, after all, an existential crisis.

But if anyone can turn the fight into a win, it’s not going to be the U.S., nor the European Union. Only China is positioned to lead the world’s charge — either into the safety of a flourishing green-energy economy, or straight over the burning edge. I’m not the only one who sees it, and new research is arriving every week offering strategies on how China can own the moment like the world so needs it to.

In doing so, it stands to teach the U.S. and everyone else how a nation which deeply tenders its history may stand on the shoulders of it, that its children might reach high-ground. But whether or not China answers the world’s cry, it’s already teaching America a harder lesson. If we don’t learn from our history on climate change, we aren’t doomed to repeat it — that would be the luxury of a second chance we no longer have. This time it’s for keeps. We learn from our history or we lose it altogether.


Rae Hodge is a science reporter for Salon. Her data-driven, investigative coverage spans more than a decade, including prior roles with CNET, the AP, NPR, the BBC and others. She can be found on Mastodon at @raehodge@newsie.social.


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