Daily Archives: July 19, 2007

China is not helpless

ChinesePoliceGrist Mill approvingly quotes Chinese researcher Pang Zhongying‘s essay yesterday in the China Daily, which in its broad strokes copies the Chinese government’s official position that climate change is a very serious problem that it’s not China’s responsibility to address.

You see, even though it’s China where the factories are, and the dirty coal plants feeding them electricity, this whole thing is the West’s fault.

A fact we must remember is that Western countries and industrialized Asian nations like Japan and the Republic of Korea have moved many of their factories to developing countries such as China and India, where cheap labor allows them to manufacture at lower costs than at home. This globalization of production has resulted in the discharge of much more waste in poor nations that otherwise would have been released in developed countries. As a matter of fact, not all of the greenhouse gases released “in China” or “from China” are really “China’s”.

I’m just baffled by this line of reasoning. I’m certainly for putting as much power — and responsibility — in the hands of the consumer, but nobody has forced China’s many state-owned companies to take on all this environmentally unsound business, or to work in such an environmentally unsound way. These economic exchanges wouldn’t happen without a willing supplier.

China’s major advantage is cheap labour, not its lax environmental rules; if the government that runs its still heavily controlled economy wanted to toughen up on greenhouse-gas emissions, it could be done within a year.

Indeed, not only does Pang argue that China’s greenhouse gases are largely the responsibility of the West because of our trade arrangements, but so are yet other countries’:

With a population of only one-fifth of China’s, the United States is the top consumer of natural resources and the leading waste producer in the world. It has benefited the most from economic globalization and developed a production style and life-style based on indiscriminate and care-free consumption of the world’s resources. This “American” production style and lifestyle have spread to the rest of the world, thanks to globalization, like a contagious disease, especially in the non-Western world: Go to any non-Western corner of the world and one will see copied, cloned or even blown-up versions of the American style.

This is written as if “globalization” were a force unto itself, and as if “production style and lifestyle” spread on their own, without anybody else deciding to adopt them. It utterly denies the role of human agency in these decisions. Which might be expected from a state with its roots in as determinist a philosophy as Marxism, but is still bunk.

(Photo credit: “Rule by Law,” Flickr/Luo Shaoyang.)

U.S. petroleum industry wants a carbon tax, your money

The latest report from the U.S.’s National Petroleum Council makes even clearer that contrary to what some optimists might have hoped, the fact we can’t seem to find enough oil anymore won’t be much help fighting human-induced global warming.

The council is made up of executives — dozens and dozens of them — from the oil and natural-gas industries and its financiers, plus a handful of academics, such as chairs of Texas geology departments. Its reports can reasonably be assumed to be the considered wisdom of the industry as a whole, though of course there will be outliers and dissenters.

The body’s latest report is called “Facing the Hard Truths about Energy,” and apparently two of those hard truths are (1) the projections all say that we’ll be screwed for energy by 2030, and (2) … unless maybe we throw a lot more money the industry’s way.

The full PDF of the report is here. It’s 430 pages long, and I won’t pretend to have read anything but the summary and the recommendations, a couple of other bits and pieces, and a couple of news stories about it that possibly quote people who have read it, or have people working for them who do.

(Funny how policy gets made, isn’t it?)

The one bit of good news is that the industry is making a call for sensible — and I’m not being snarky — greenhouse-gas regulation. The petroleum council wants

A U.S. mechanism for setting an effective cost for emitting CO2 that is:
– Economy-wide, market-based, visible, transparent, applicable to all fuels.
– Predictable over the long term for a stable investment climate.

It’s funny to see “visible” and “transparent” next to each other like that, but anyway, the only mechanism I can think of that fits this bill is a carbon tax. I favour a cap-and-trade system for big greenhouse-gas emitters like oil drillers and refiners, which very much does not fit this bill, but the fact they’re advocating a charge for CO2 emissions at all is astounding.

But that, of course, isn’t the only recommendation in the vast report.

The petroleum industry is afraid we’ll run out of energy unless public support somehow convinces it to find and sell more petroleum, a climate of desperate shortage apparently being difficult to run a profitable business in. Among its various recommendations, apparently the U.S. government should:

  • Support regulatory streamlining and research and development programs for marginal wells.
  • Use technology and operational advancements to allow environmentally responsible development of high potential onshore and offshore areas currently restricted by moratoria or access limitations.
  • The Department of Energy should conduct and promote research, development, demonstration, and deployment of industrial energy efficiency technologies and best practices.
  • The research and development tax credit should be permanently extended to spur private research and development investments.
  • Support research into second-generation biofuel crops that have lower input requirements or are suited to more marginal lands.
  • Promote agricultural policies that enhance global production of both food crops and biomass for fuel.
  • Implement the recommendation by the National Commission on Energy Policy to provide $2 billion over ten years from federal energy research, development, demonstration, and deployment budgets for demonstration of
    one to two new advanced nuclear facilities.

Etc. Sigh.

As you’d expect, the petroleum industry is going to fight, wellhead and drillbit, to find new sources of fossil fuels to sell people so they can be burned, even if it takes government subsidies to do it.  This energy-intensive way of life isn’t going to go down easily.