Tag Archives: China

Old King Coal

Chinese-coal-miners_2-450x299There is a tendency among critics in the growing Energy Humanities camp to focus almost exclusively on the symbolic politics (and geopolitics) of petroleum. This reflects, I think, the way that the current dominant mode of resource exploitation shapes our consciousness, regardless of differences of time and space.

Yet while oil may be the fuel that drives US culture – and US imperialism – it is by no means the dominant fossil fuel. Coal is still incredibly central to global energy politics, notwithstanding its association with outmoded c25_00RTX1WQmodes of production and outmoded moves of working class organizing in the developed world.

An absolutely crucial and heartbreaking series of articles in The Guardian discusses the impact of coal on rural communities in contemporary China. Coal is still very much powering economies, and wrecking lives, in the present.

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Inter-Imperial Rivalry and Intensified Resource Exploitation

imperialismThe recent Sino-Russian gas deal needs to be seen as part of a broader shift in global power relations. From a uni-polar world dominated after the end of the Cold War exclusively by the United States, a multi-polar global contest is emerging. The major powers challenging US world hegemony are China and Russia, and the recent gas deal helps cement their growing alliance.

As Michael Klare has documented in The Race for What’s Left, the upshot of this emerging multi-polar world is an increasing inter-imperial rivalry to gain access to as much of the world’s hydro-carbon energy resources as possible. This is, of course, terrible news for the environment, and for the sustainability of life on the planet.

Ashley Smith recently published an excellent article tracking these rising inter-imperial rivalries. It concludes with a ringing call to climate justice activists to interrupt the planet-destroying machinations of both new and old imperial powers.

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Carbon Trading Comes To China

china1A recent report by the Asian Development Bank predicts problems for Asian countries resulting from galloping increases in energy needs.

According to the report, Asia consumed 34 percent of the world’s energy in 2010; based on the current growth rate, this figure will rise to 56 percent by 2035, the report predicts.

Serious implications here: Asia’s limited fossil fuel resources mean that most countries there will not be able to produce half of the energy they need by 2035, the report says, adding that Asia will heavily depend on imported fuels, in particular, foreign oil. With only 9 percent of proven global oil reserves, the report says, Asia (excluding Middle East countries) is now on track to almost triple oil imports by 2035. china2

There is likely to be a great deal of global jockeying and rising inter-imperial tensions over oil supplies as a result.

The impact on the people of Asia of all this fossil fuel consumption is also extremely serious. Levels of pollution in Beijing reached record levels this winter. The air is almost unbreathable. In addition, many of the great and growing cities of the region are extremely vulnerable both to water shortages and to flooding and other “natural disasters” resulting from climate change.

china3It is therefore not so surprising to find China experimenting with various green capitalist attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As this article details, the industrial city of Shenzhen recently set up the first carbon trading regime in China. But carbon trading has not worked in Europe, and it is not likely to work in China or Asia in general.

China is trying a variety of other strategies to reduce energy consumption and pollution, but, given its massively increasing power needs, it seems that truly sustainable solutions are not going to constitute a significant part of the solution. As the graph at right suggests, such renewables supply only 0.06% of the nation’s energy needs (as of 2006). Coal supplies a shocking 70% of such needs. Yikes!



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Damming the Third Pole

Woeburn Tenzin presented on Tibet as the third pole of the world because of all of the glaciers there. She is a member of the organization Tibet Third Pole.

She showed photographs of the retreat of glaciers in Tibet as a result of climate change. The result is the formation of huge glacier lakes.

She also showed charts of temperature rises in Llahsa, resulting in shorter seasons. There’s also a rise in permafrost temperatures. As a result, deserts are taking over the grasslands that formerly were sustained by water in the permafrost.

The most terrifying factor she underlined was the fact that glaciers in Tibet contribute to the following rivers: Indus, Brahmaputra, Yellow, Mekong, Yangtse. Basically, the rivers that provide drinking water for a very significant portion of humanity. The Mekong River, for example, supports 70 million people from Tibet to Vietnam. Here’s a useful article that summarizes the seriousness of the impact on rivers.

China is reacting by building dams on many of these rivers to harness hydro-electric power. Hundreds of dams. But when you build dams, you displace people and add to water evaporation.

Construction of the Three Gorges Dam displaced up to a million people, for example. China has bigger dams in mind.

What impact will all of these dams have on the nations downstream?

Woebum then screened a brief film called Meltdown in Tibet that provides narration and images for some of the problems she described. Behind frantic dam building, 70% of China’s lakes are polluted. Its dream is to divert water from Tibetan plateau to provide for its water-starved cities. This is the largest dam-building engineering project ever undertaking.

After Woebum Tenzin’s presentation, Payal Parekh, an expert on climate change and dams, spoke. She drew on research done by the organization International Rivers. There are a host of problems with dams, she argued:

  • displacement of communities: estimates are that approximately 40 million people around the world have been displaced by dams
  • reduced water quality and quantity
  • loss of habitat: dams have major impacts on wildlife habitat, often leading to widespread extinctin

Why is China building so many dams?:

  • Energy for mining and prospecting
  • infrastructure development
  • power for urban China – China is plagued by major energy shortages
  • promotion of rapid development in Tibet (although this isn’t to benefit Tibetans)
  • diversion of water

Dams are based on historical data about river flow, but climate change means that such predictions are not reliable. More extreme weather events are expected.

Someone in the audience explained that China is not the only country building dams: India is planning on building nearly 160 dams, trying to preemptively get access to the water that China is trying to access.

Better solutions exist that diversify and decentralize energy production. These solutions aren’t easy, but they are better than the massive amount of dam building contemplated around Tibet. Unfortunately, though, dams are being brought back by elites as a solution to the climate crisis. We need to struggle against this on international level and on local level.

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