Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Chinese Energy Policy Readings, pt. 1

So in the next few weeks I need to put together a proposal for a Spring course I'm teaching with Steve from Geology on environmental issues in China, which includes a travel component. We want to go to the Three Gorges Dam and to Yunnan province.

The main thing we need to get done right away is a syllabus. I've got stuff on Asian nature attitudes lined up, but I'd also like to include readings on current Chinese energy policy. We are going to be talking a lot about the environmental impact of big Chinese dam projects, and the students need a sense of the role of hydro power in larger Chinese policy. They need to know, for instance, what other energy sources would have to be leaned on more heavily if dams were forgone. So here are some options, drawn solely from books I have lying around the house, first looking at Chinese efforts to acquire oil.

Michael Klare, Blood and Oil, Chapter 6 "Geopolitics Reborn: The US-Russian Chinese Struggle in the Persian Gulf and Caspian Basin. This chapter is pretty much exactly what it says. It spends a little time explaining the scope of Chinese energy demand. But, most useful for our class, it outlines the relationships China is building with Iran, Sudan, and Kazakhstan to secure oil. These efforts consist mostly in supplying arms to reprehensible regimes (in the case of Sudan, a genocidal regime) and buying rights to oil fields through the three Chinese national oil companies. An interesting point that illustrates the severe distrust in oil geopolitics: It would make more economic sense for China to sell the oil it pumps in Kazakhstan and use the money to buy oil from Russia, however China has decided to pipeline the Kazakh oil straight to itself. Why? Because Russia has a habit of cutting off oil and natural gas supplies to neighbors that displease it.

The chapter is only 1/3 about China. It is also about the US and Russia, and it takes for granted that the only reason any of these powers is interested in the middle east is the oil. Americans have no trouble believing that China and Russia are in it for the oil, but for some reason we think that we are unique in the world, and actually motivated by values like freedom and democracy. Klare does a nice job of disabusing people of this myth, largely by showing how all the wars of the 20th century have been resource wars.

William Clark, Petrodollar Warfare, excerpts. This is a book about US oil geopolicy, but it inevitably talks about China a lot. Its main goal is to unmask US foreign policy as driven entirely by the need to control oil, in particular the need to be able to control the price of oil and to ensure that global oil sales are conducted in US dollars. Interestingly for such a leftist, Clark quotes Thomas Freidman frequently and approvingly.

Actually I can tell already I'm not going to use any part of this book. It has some very useful information. For instance, Clark thinks that the Caspian basin contains less oil and lower quality oil than was originally thought, meaning that Kazakhstan won't do it for China. They need Iran.

Paul Roberts, The End of Oil, Chapter 10, "Oil Security". This is one of the best oil books I've read. Written in a lively, journalistic style, it can really bring home the perils of energy politics. This chapter opens with a section on Iraq and terrorism, then moves to talking about how much a developing country like China or India benefits from improving energy services, and how much it will hurt to actually provide those benefits. "In comparison with the kind of energy development that is coming to the developing world, the Three Gorges Dam will in hindsight seem almost benign." China is going to have to rely on coal, and in fact, on cheap, old, dirty coal technologies.

(Mph, Clark says Soviet oil production peaked in 1987, right before the empire collapsed, but Roberts says Russian oil production won't peak until 2015. Whence the disparity? Is it just because the Russian figure excludes oil fields in the former republics that are now in decline?)

Ok, this chapter isn't as focused on China, but it gives a really evocative picture of the global energy situation. Perhaps I can use it in conjunction with Klare. They are both quite readable.

More energy readings later.

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