China Is Greener Than You Think

Has anybody noticed how the media harp endlessly on the poor air quality in Beijing? And how they keep televising Olympic athletes arriving at the airport wearing facemasks?

Of course, the air quality in Beijing is poor. Some 300 million people, about the population of the U.S., have risen to middle-class status in China. This doesn't happen without constructing a lot of buildings, roads and power plants

But let's look forward and try to profit. I am focusing on the irony that China is rapidly becoming the world's biggest manufacturer of the technology demanded by the environmental movement. China is now the world's production center for all your green needs, such as carbon-lowering solar cells and wind turbines.

It is already the world's largest producer of solar cells and will be the top manufacturer of wind turbines by 2009. It is fair to say that if you name a green technology, China will have big market share. The central government has been very aggressive in its pursuit of establishing a green technology industry within the country.

Outside of the U.S.-based bellwether and momentum darling First Solar ( FSLR), the sector is dominated by China-based companies such as Suntech Power ( STP), LDK Solar ( LDK), JA Solar ( JASO), Yingli Green Energy ( YGE) and Trina Solar ( TSL).

Pollution Per Person

Yes, China is the biggest global greenhouse gas emitter on an aggregate basis, but that figure is misleading. It is more appropriate to break it down on a per-capita basis. Only then, the true gluttonous nations are revealed. In 2007, the average Chinese citizen emitted 5.1 tons of carbon, the average European 8.6 tons, and -- you guessed it -- the average American emitted 19.4 tons, almost four times the average in China.

I believe there is a big misunderstanding in the industrialized nations that China is not concerned about issues of air quality and global warming. China invested over $12 billion in renewable energy last year, second only to Germany.

To say that China does not care or understand the green movement is to be ill-informed. Recall, this country was a poor, isolated nation just a short generation ago. The first priority in its ascent was to provide food and shelter for its people. If a family does not have food to eat, it will not give a hoot about what kind of air it breathes or if the polar ice caps are melting.

However, as the country moves along into later stages of economic development, it will increasingly focus and work on improving the quality of life. In fact, I believe the Chinese people will demand it. The newly formed middle class is already starting to push back. It's funny how attitudes and values change when people have some money in their pocket and food on their plate. People start to want clean beaches and parks.

Believe it or not, the number of environmental protests is growing in China. For example, thousands of pro-environment Chinese citizens demonstrated and forced the scrapping of plans to build a chemical plant in the southern seaside city of Xiamen.

China's central government is moving, albeit slowly, toward legislating environmentally friendly policies. It has set a goal of lowering the amount of energy used by 20% to generate the equivalent amount of economic output, and it plans to derive 23% of its power from renewable sources by 2020.

View the process as a virtuous cycle of capitalism. The first and early stage of capitalism is the provision of the basics -- the survival instinct of food and shelter. Protect me from the elements, and put something in my belly.

In the second stage, life starts to get better, and the focus turns to improving and enhancing the overall quality of life. People start demanding cleaner air to jog in, or clean beaches to swim in. People increase the level of their kids' education. People start replacing rice and beans for a nice juicy steak. This is the stage that China is entering now.

And finally, there's the late-stage capitalism era, where America is the expert. Here, the pursuit of vanity and pleasure are foremost. It's very easy to understand this phase. Go to your local mall and look around, or pick up a copy of People magazine. This stage is dominated by endeavors such as buying a pair of $200 jeans from True Religion ( TRLG), using Botox parties and other Allergan ( AGN) products, and discussing the latest gossip about Paris Hilton.

Patrick Schultz is a research associate at TheStreet.com. He has previously obtained securities licenses under the NASD's Series 7, Series 24, Series 52 and Series 63 exams and has worked in the financial markets on various trading desks in addition to trading for his own account. Schultz holds a bachelor's degree in applied economics from Cornell University.

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