To what extent and how should the United States encourage China to grow in an environmentally sustainable manner?
Yesterday, as part of our first case study on China and climate change, we welcomed the first guest expert of the semester: U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern. Stern is the lead State Department expert on climate change, and he is the lead negotiator in global warming conversations with China and other nations. Students met with Stern after a morning of briefings in rotating discussion groups: What are greenhouse gasses, and how has the international community attempted to regulate them? Is it ethical for the United States to pressure China when some question the U.S. commitment to the environment? What is the history and current state of communism in China, and how does that impact the government’s environmental challenge? How might international relations academics view the balance of power between the U.S. and China, and how does that influence negotiations over climate change?
Stern spoke for 15 minutes and then answered questions for another hour. His purpose was to help students prepare for mock lobbying sessions with two Legislative Assistants (representing Tim Ryan [D-OH] and Randy Neugebauer [R-TX] on the Hill). At one point a student asked him, “Is it ethical to continue our relationship with China when China commits so many human rights violations?” The answer was instructive and powerful: “There can be [an ethical] clarity when you talk about things in the abstract or in the classroom that, when you get in the real world, gets messy.” As a leader, is it better to be an unmovable ideological beacon or to cede ground in order to create at least some positive change? Must one sacrifice practical effectiveness in order to stand firm for a belief?
These kinds of questions are just beginning to percolate.