China and the Other Kind of Disinformation

November 12, 2019 Updated: December 5, 2019


There’s a great deal of talk today about “fake news” and disinformation.

Almost always, the object of the disinformation is someone or something that’s receiving allegedly undeserved criticism. That’s not the only way disinformation can work, however. Sometimes, it can “frame” an object in a positive manner.

As the Russian/Soviet intelligence agencies developed the art of disinformation into what they called a science, it was every bit as important to be able to cast a positive light on an entity or individual (usually the reigning leader) as it was to be able to place someone in a bad light.

It appears that China is engaged in a similar disinformation effort, especially when it comes to carbon emissions and climate change, and that effort has been going on for some time.

In 2007, reacting to an announcement by China that blamed the United States for global warming, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore said, “They’re right in saying that.”

In fact, Gore said, “emerging economies such as China are justified in holding back on fighting greenhouse gas emissions until richer polluters like the United States do more to solve the problem,” The Associated Press reported.

Gore was in China in 2011 to address the Global Urban Development Forum. He praised China’s communist regime for its “unusual success” in carbon-reduction measures.

In December 2017, Gore praised China’s new “carbon market” as “another powerful sign that a global sustainability revolution is underway. … It is clear that we’re at a tipping point in the climate crisis.”

One year later in Poland (not quite a year ago), he praised China’s leadership for tackling climate change, saying that China is “one of the few countries on track to meet its Paris commitment,” according to China’s state-run news agency Xinhua. He went on to explain that China had already exceeded some of its own targets on renewables. (More on China’s targets below.)

In 2011, James Hansen, the retired NASA scientist who has been called the “father of climate change awareness,” called the Chinese regime the “best hope” to save the world from global warming. He even called for an economic boycott to force the United States to match China’s effort. In 2015, Hansen again said that he expected China to provide the carbon emissions reduction leadership that the United States had been unwilling to provide.

While Gore and Hansen aren’t the only environmental activists who have said good things about China, nor are these the only times that they have spoken on the subject, these serve as examples to provide a flavor of the way global warming activists talk about the communist dictatorship in China.

The amazing thing here is that China has had the world’s largest carbon footprint since 2006. In 2017, it was responsible for 27.2 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, according to the Global Carbon Atlas. China also is one of the world’s largest emitters of methane, another greenhouse gas. In fact, methane is 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.

China’s problem is coal. It may be the world’s biggest producer of solar panels, but a lot of them are built for export. China runs on coal. It’s both the world’s leading producer and the world’s leading consumer of coal, and its capacity is expanding. From 1985 to 2016, coal provided about 70 percent of China’s energy. That, of course, came at a high environmental cost.

Coal produces as much as twice the amount of carbon dioxide as other fossil fuels. While China reports that its coal usage has declined since 2014, it still consumes more coal than the rest of the world combined. As of 2017, coal provides over 60 percent of the nation’s total energy use, according to ChinaPower.

Just last year, the Chinese regime approved the development of seven new coal mines. That means that between 2017 and 2018, the nation added almost 200 million tons of new coal mining capacity. Then, this year, China allocated funding for 17 more new coal mines across the nation. China’s CO2 emissions grew by an estimated 4 percent in the first half of 2019. Over that same time period, the nation’s coal demand increased by 3 percent, its oil demand increased by 6 percent, and gas demand increased by 12 percent.

Of course, coal mined in one area needs to be shipped if it’s to be used in another area. China just opened the Menghua Railway, the nation’s longest coal-transporting railway line. This railway, over 1,000 miles long, is expected to carry about 200 million tons of coal annually from the mining areas in northern China to the industrial hub in the South.

None of this expansion in mining or shipping bodes well for the air quality in China, which is already a significant problem. In a recent poll sponsored by state-run newspaper China Daily, more respondents listed pollution as their No. 1 concern than anything else. The expansion also suggests that perhaps China isn’t the model of enlightenment when it comes to combating man-made climate change.

Of course, for the disinformation campaign to succeed, criticism must be suppressed. Recently, the China Meteorological Administration issued regulations prohibiting weather forecasts by anyone other than the state’s official meteorological agencies. Violators are subject to fines of almost $8,000.

Perhaps even more disconcerting, in 2015, a former TV journalist in Beijing released a feature-length documentary titled “Under the Dome.” It has been called China’s version of Al Gore’s climate change documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Millions of Chinese people watched “Under the Dome” online and saw its criticism of the Chinese regime for tolerating poor air quality.

Within a week of it being posted, however, major Chinese websites pulled it down under orders from the Communist Party’s central propaganda department.

Open debate—especially criticism of the government—can’t be tolerated. Even the “progress” that China’s defenders cite when hailing the nation’s environmental record is misleading.

Regarding China’s “targets,” it has pledged to reduce “carbon emission intensity,” but the nation hasn’t promised to impose an emissions ceiling. “Carbon emission intensity” measures the amount of carbon released per dollar of economic activity. Thus, with more economic activity, more emissions can be justified. So, total emission levels might continue to climb, and China would still be meeting its targets as long as economic growth outpaces those emissions.

That isn’t the kind of promise Western nations are making or being asked to make.

In the end, this is a beautiful piece of disinformation. China aggressively pursues its economic agenda using the least expensive energy available to it. It’s able to claim to be meeting its environmental goals, and Western “experts” point to it as an example of environmental responsibility.

Moscow would be proud.

Ronald J. Rychlak is the Jamie L. Whitten chair in law and government at the University of Mississippi. He is the author of several books, including “Hitler, the War, and the Pope,” “Disinformation” (co-authored with Ion Mihai Pacepa), and “The Persecution and Genocide of Christians in the Middle East” (co-edited with Jane Adolphe).

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Ronald J. Rychlak
Ronald J. Rychlak
Ronald J. Rychlak is the Jamie L. Whitten chair in law and government at the University of Mississippi. He is the author of several books, including “Hitler, the War, and the Pope,” “Disinformation” (co-authored with Ion Mihai Pacepa), and “The Persecution and Genocide of Christians in the Middle East” (co-edited with Jane Adolphe).