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Opinion | Would Russia or China Help Us if We Were Invaded by Space Aliens?

What we need instead of an arms race or a space race is an Earth race — a great-power competition over which country is rising fastest and farthest to enable a world of net-zero carbon emissions so men and women can thrive here on Earth. I’d love to see Biden do a real throw down to Xi and Putin in his speech in Glasgow for that race.

Biden could say: “I know that climate change is a global problem and that if we clean our air and you don’t clean yours, there is no way to solve it. But we’re not going to use that as an excuse, or let our oil and coal industries use that as an excuse, to do nothing until you do. Because there are 7.9 billion people on the planet today and by 2030, there will be 600 million more — 600 million more! That means that, climate change or no climate change, just having that many more people to feed, house and transport will guarantee that clean power, clean water and energy-efficient buildings and cars will be the next great global industry. Otherwise, we’ll all choke on pollution. So if you all want to keep burning coal and give our clean industries a five-year head start in the next great global industry, make my day. Myself, I am going to declare America’s intention to win the Earth race, to make America the first country to invent and deploy the most clean-power technologies and drive them down the cost curve so that everyone on the planet can afford them.’’

Challenging China and Russia over who can produce the most tools for global resilience, not just resistance, is a way for America to reclaim some moral leadership on the world stage and focus our economy, and our competitors, on the most important industries of the future. Unless we humans want to be a bad biological experiment, a zero-carbon grid, zero-emissions transportation, zero-carbon/zero-net-energy buildings and zero-waste manufacturing indeed will — and must — be the next great global industry.

And by the way, while Russia is currently not a player in that competition, I would not bet against China.

Hal Harvey, who runs the climate analytics firm Energy Innovation and helps to advise governments on clean energy transitions, notes that the United States has set out a very clear goal of when it wants to get to a net-zero carbon-emitting economy — 2050 — and Biden is now trying to fill in the details with specific plans. Alas, without a single vote of support from Republicans.

China, by contrast, Harvey added, is building incredibly detailed plans on how to decarbonize, which Beijing could scale up very quickly — but it has been less detailed in setting hard dates for fulfillment.

Since Xi right now is focused on keeping the Chinese economy growing while he tries to lock in his third term as president, he is not going to do anything to curb growth in China in ways that could sap his popularity. So China will keep burning a lot of coal for a while. But don’t be fooled: Beijing is also building huge amounts of solar, wind, hydro and nuclear power. It’s game on.

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