JANUARY 18, 2050 (New York) -- In 2009, UK army chief General Sir David Richard told The Times that the war in Afghanistan could last 40 more years. Sadly, he was right, and the fight has been paid for in copious amounts of blood and treasure.
For the past half century, America has spent its once vast wealth on the never-ending conflict, while China -- its main economic rival -- has invested mightily in green technologies both domestically and abroad, with a particular emphasis on investments in Africa. Once famous for its rampant pollution, China has been the world's greenest country since 2009 and has exported its advances in green technology to the developing world.
Along with the Afghanistan money pit, America's hopelessly partisan politics has also hampered any potentially transformative legislation that substantially invests in sustainable development or renewable energy. "While China is already boasting 'All aboard!' on a network of sleek passenger trains that zip 200 mph and beyond between major urban centers, the United States is still fussing about where to install a single high-speed rail line for a proposed California project," wrote Elizabeth McGowan in a 2011 article on SolveClimateNews.com.
"That's just a snapshot of how this country continues to lag behind its Asian competitor on the clean technology front." McGowan wondered, "Can America ever catch up?" Fast forward forty years, and what Asian Sustainable Development Forum director Fan Li recently dubbed the "Sino-American green divide" is now bigger than ever.
"Americans have gotten used to big cars, big houses, big meals, big everything," Li wrote in an email. "The Chinese never went through that phase. They witnessed the fall of a bloated and dysfunctional American empire distracted by far-flung wars, and when their own middle class grew, they avoided that pitfall. They shunned military conflict. They saved their money. And when they spent it abroad, they invested in the future. Chinese companies don't do 'big.' They do 'smart.' China will likely never have to bail out the private sector like America did with the banks and the carmakers during the Great Recession."
"China...has set ambitious targets for wind, biomass and solar energy and, for the first time, took the top spot within the G-20 and globally for overall clean energy finance and investment," according to the 2010 Pew Charitable Trusts report "Who's Winning the Clean Energy Race?"
Noting that "the United States slipped to second place," the Pew report stated, "There are reasons to be concerned about America's competitive position in the clean energy marketplace," adding that, "In all, 10 G-20 members devoted a greater percentage of gross domestic product to clean energy than the United States in 2009."
In 2011, ClimateProgress.org reported that in 2010 China installed about 16,000 megawatts of wind power, compared to only 5,000 in the United States. According to a report by American Superconductor Corporation, a maker of wind machine parts, China was "on a pace to surpass the United States by the end 2010 to become the world's largest wind market, with an installed wind capacity exceeding 40,000 MW."
By early 2011, China surpassed the United States in wind power, and has maintained its position as the world's wind energy leader for the past four decades, with the United States and Germany at second and third place, respectively.
Where does the United States go from here? Considering the nation's sluggish investment in high-speed rails, the sky-high costs of air travel and the relative weakness of the newly-minted Amero currency, it will probably take a long time to get to wherever "there" is. And if the nation ever does bridge the growing "Sino-American green divide," it should probably bring along a Chinese-English dictionary.
[Part of the series " Reports from 2050 ."]