Posted by: bmeverett | July 6, 2009

The New York Times flunks math – again

On July 3, then New York Times ran an article headlined “Green Power Takes Root in the Chinese Desert.”  The first line of the article says it all, “As the United States takes its first steps toward mandating that power companies generate more electricity from renewable sources, China already has a similar requirement and is investing billions to remake itself into a green energy superpower.”  The Times also contends that “the rise of renewable energy, especially wind power, is helping to slow China’s steep growth in emissions of global warming gases”.   As always, China, that bastion of liberty, is getting it right, while we waste our time on petty politics.

Keith Bradsher, the Times’ Hong Kong Bureau Chief and author of this article, ought to do the math.  Not graduate-level linear regressions, but sixth-grade arithmetic.  Let’s look at the numbers.

China currently produces 78% of its electricity from coal – the highest carbon source of power.   Low-carbon natural gas accounts for about 2% of China’s electricity, while zero-carbon sources (hydroelectric, nuclear, wind and solar) account for 20%, most of it hydroelectric.  Wind power accounts for less than 1%.

The US, backward though we may be, produces half our electricity from coal, 20% from natural gas and 30% from renewables, mostly nuclear.  US wind contributes about 2%.

OK, but how about ten years from now when China is a “green energy superpower”?  According to the Energy Information Administration, in 2020, China will still be generating 72% of its power from coal, with 3% from natural gas and 24% from zero-carbon sources, including 1% from wind.

The US will generate 47% of our power from coal, 20% from natural gas and 32% from zero-carbon sources with wind still at 2%.

How about total carbon emissions.  Right now, the US electric power industry emits about 2.2 billion metric tons of CO2 per year compared to China’s 2.9 billion mt, even though the US generates about 6% more electricity than China.  By 2020, the US power industry is projected to increase emissions to 2.4 billion mt – a rise of about 10%.  China, on the other hand, despite all its wonderful green policies, is projected to emit 4.3 billion metric tons – an increase of nearly 50% and almost twice what the US emits.

OK, Keith, you’re a better writer than I am, so I won’t redo your article for you.  If you do the math, however, here are the points you’ll want to make:

  1. The US generates less power from coal and more power from renewables than China does.
  2. The US emits less CO2 from power generation overall and less per kilowatt-hour.
  3. The US generates more wind power than China does.
  4. Over the next 10 years, CO2 emissions from US power plants will grow slightly, while Chinese emissions will skyrocket.
  5. In 10 years, the US will be generating twice as much wind power as China.
  6. In both countries, wind power will make a negligible contribution to electricity supply.

Maybe the term “green energy superpower” will fit somewhere in the article, but I doubt it.



  1. I wrote a paper on this in College, had i had your capability to articulate my thoughts and research, I may possibly have received a much better grade. Great Job!

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