Paul Krugman considers China a mortal threat in one key respect: climate change.
"If you worry about climate change and stuff like that, then China is -- Chinese growth is a wonderful human success story that could kill us all," the Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist said at the New York Times DealBook conference on Wednesday.
He also noted, "To some extent actually, we are hurt by Chinese growth. ... There are scarce natural resources, and we are in fact competing for limited supplies of oil, minerals, etc."
But instead of being confrontational, the U.S. needs to give China more of a voice in trade policy, Krugman said. "You can't deny them a position that corresponds with their size."
The alternative, he suggested, is much less appealing. "Even if we conclude that Chinese growth hurts us, what are we going to do? Bomb them?" he asked. "Going out for all-out protectionism is probably not going to be to our benefit."
China -- which plans to flatten 700 mountains for development, according to China Daily -- is the largest polluter in the world, and most of its electricity comes from coal, the Associated Press reports. But the average American still has a much larger carbon footprint than the average Chinese person, according to a July report by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. A significant percentage of China's greenhouse gas emissions are produced by its export industries.
Because the country was considered a developing economy when the Kyoto Protocol was written in the 1990s, China is not obligated to cut greenhouse gas emissions under the treaty. The U.S. has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol.