by Mark Shulman

The news is full of insights gleaned from the enormous WikiLeaks’ dump of diplomatic dispatches.  Tom Friedman’s recent New York Times column takes a different tact, imagining a leaked dispatch from a Chinese diplomat in Washington.  As he does frequently, Friedman explains some of the subterranean currents that are shaping the world we perceive.  His fictional diplomat takes delight in reporting on America’s dysfunctional political system, decaying infrastructure and costly military commitments abroad.  And then he highlights a serious but under-reported problem in the US policy-making process – the increasing marginalization of science as a basis for shaping strategic priorities.  His Chinese diplomat gloats “America’s politicians are mostly lawyers — not engineers or scientists like ours — so they’ll just say crazy things about science and nobody calls them on it.”  Tellingly, neither Friedman nor the cable spells out the environmental implications of this situation.  But they do make clear that America’s inability to develop policies based on scientific evidence will be costly.

Friedman explains the economic implications of this situation – as viewed by this Chinese diplomat.   “It’s good. It means they will not support any bill to spur clean energy innovation, which is central to our next five-year plan. And this ensures that our efforts to dominate the wind, solar, nuclear and electric car industries will not be challenged by America.”  Echoing this perspective, Ernst and Young has just released its “Country Attractiveness Index for renewable energy,” rating China as the number one choice for the first time.   The E&Y report notes that China has a “carefully planned energy and industrial policy that elevates cleantech to a national strategic level.”  E&Y attributes the US drop to second to the “the financial crisis, low gas prices, and the uncertain medium- to long-term policy environment.”    So while we treat scientists like just another interest group, Chinese leaders are embracing scientific knowledge for lighting the way to more sustainable development.