Tom Friedman has a new OpEd piece in today’s NY Times, “Can I Clean Your Clock?” which discusses how China is moving forward on energy technology (E.T., per the article). The idea is that China and other nations could take the lead in energy efficient technologies if the US is not careful, and we need to promote these technologies at home by enacting cap and trade of carbon emissions, and other measures.

Friedman is right, but he ignores some of the reasons why China may well “clean our clock” on this score. First, one reason China is so successful economically is that it does little pollution control. Increasing the efficiency of automobiles and factories there will help save money, and will help reduce some emissions, but it does not solve many core pollution problems there. It will continue to be far less expensive in China than elsewhere to manufacture everything, including renewable energy technology, because they save tremendous sums by not doing pollution control.   In addition, wages are extremely low in China, giving them further competitive advantage.

Energy technologies are only one part of the “green” equation.  Being energy efficient can help the planet, save money, and reduce some emissions, but without effective pollution controls on manufacturing, it is only pale green.  And being pale green in this respect will help other countries clean our clock.