Special Report

Auto Emissions

Those skeptical of the data on global climate change point out that there is a lot we still don't know. But there are some things we do know: By 2020, there will be another 700 million additional vehicles on the roads -- many in China. Ensuring that these new vehicles incorporate the latest clean technology will be one of the most critical public policy challenges of our time. The absence of total certainty or consensus on the dangers of climate change must not impede constructive action. Fortunately, scientists and engineers haven't let it. And because of the advances they are making, I am convinced that one of today's most pressing environmental problems will soon disappear.

By 2040, harmful vehicle emissions will be a thing of the past. Those who can remember the dark fumes pumped out of cars and trucks know that we've already come a long way. Lead, sulphur, and benzene have been progressively reduced or removed from new vehicles. In the United States, lead emissions have dropped by about 95 percent. If only a third of the cars in 2050 run at 60 miles per gallon rather than 30 miles per gallon, carbon dioxide emissions will decline by 1 million tons a year.

But the progress won't stop there. New refinery technology is producing ever cleaner fuels. The quality of lubricants -- which allow engines to operate efficiently -- is improving. And engines themselves, whether hybrids or upgraded internal combustion machines, are becoming cleaner fuel burners. The combination of these trends will have a tremendous impact as the world's capital stock of vehicles turns over during the next 35 years.

Vehicles, of course, are only one source of potentially harmful emissions. The static uses of energy -- factories, schools, and homes -- account for the bulk. There, the challenge is to transform both the products that generate energy and the goods produced so that the world's increased energy needs can be met without savaging the environment. It is too early to predict that victory, but work is in progress. And I wouldn't bet against human ingenuity.

Special Report

The Chinese Communist Party

It may appear the Chinese Communist Party has never had it so good. Inside China, the party faces no serious challenges to its authority. Internationally, talk of China collapsing is out, and China rising is in. We are regularly told that globetrotting Chinese diplomats are running circles around their American and European counterparts, cutting deals and burnishing Beijing's image around the world. But inexorable forces are arrayed against the long-term survival of the Communist Party in China, and its chances of staying in power for another 35 years are slim.

Ultimately, the party may fall victim to its own economic miracle. The party's unwillingness to establish the rule of law and refrain from economic meddling may yet slow the remarkable growth of the last decade. But for the sake of argument, let's assume China can continue to grow. Another 35 years of solid economic growth (even at a much slower 5 percent a year) would mean an annual per capita income of about $7,000. Professionals, private property owners, and hard-working capitalists will number in the hundreds of millions. If history is any guide, it will be next to impossible for an authoritarian regime to retain power in such a modern society, let alone one as large and diverse as China's.

If economic success does not end one-party rule in China, corruption probably will. Governments free from meaningful restraints on their power invariably grow corrupt and rapacious. That is true in China today. Party discipline has broken down. Selling government appointments for personal profit has become widespread. The cumulative effects of pervasive official corruption can transform a developing autocracy into a predatory regime. The experience of General Suharto's Indonesia suggests that predatory autocracies have trouble turning high rates of economic growth into political stability. There, even 30 years of impressive growth wasn't enough to save the regime.

Autocracies that are expanding economically contain the seeds of their own destruction, mainly because they lack the institutional capacity and legitimacy to weather economic shocks. In this postideological era, the party's sole justification for its political monopoly is its capacity to improve the lives of the Chinese people. The party still pays lip service to an amalgam of Marxism-Leninism and Chinese nationalism, but with little credibility. A ruling party without core values lacks mass appeal and the capacity to generate it. Even its own elites are growing increasingly disillusioned, cynical, and fearful about the party's future. It is telling that many senior officials, including one provincial governor, regularly consult fortune tellers.

A party capable of reinvention and regeneration might be able to skirt these looming dangers. But the Chinese Communist Party is growing arthritic. By 2040, it will have been in existence for 119 years and in power for 91. Today, the world has no septuagenarian one-party regimes -- and for good reason.

Of course, in democratic societies, political parties undergo major transformations all the time. But one-party regimes have no intrinsic incentive to reengineer themselves and little capacity to correct course. Accumulated strains and ailments are left untreated until they precipitate larger crises. The Chinese Communist Party experienced this cycle once before, and the Cultural Revolution nearly destroyed the party. It recovered from that self-inflicted disaster only by thoroughly reinventing itself and adopting a distinctly anticommunist policy of market reforms.

Will the party be as lucky next time? If the fortune tellers are being honest, they'll tell China's leaders the future isn't bright.