Thursday, January 05, 2006

It Won't Be Easy to Be GeoGreen
The Hidden Columnists--Tom Friedman Edition (06 Jan 06)

But Mr. Friedman reminds us that going all treehuggery green (as some in the BushCo administration might poo-poo it) needs to be a necessary fact of governmental policy and it isn't just a hippie dippie philosophy (here's the link to the full column for Times Select subscribers):

The biggest threat to America and its values today is not communism, authoritarianism or Islamism. It's petrolism. Petrolism is my term for the corrupting, antidemocratic governing practices - in oil states from Russia to Nigeria and Iran - that result from a long run of $60-a-barrel oil. Petrolism is the politics of using oil income to buy off one's citizens with subsidies and government jobs, using oil and gas exports to intimidate or buy off one's enemies, and using oil profits to build up one's internal security forces and army to keep oneself ensconced in power, without any transparency or checks and balances.

When a nation's leaders can practice petrolism, they never have to tap their people's energy and creativity; they simply have to tap an oil well. And therefore politics in a petrolist state is not about building a society or an educational system that maximizes its people's ability to innovate, export and compete. It is simply about who controls the oil tap.

In petrolist states like Russia, Iran, Venezuela and Sudan, people get rich by being in government and sucking the treasury dry - so they never want to cede power. In non-petrolist states, like Taiwan, Singapore and Korea, people get rich by staying outside government and building real businesses.

Our energy gluttony fosters and strengthens various kinds of petrolist regimes. It emboldens authoritarian petrolism in Russia, Venezuela, Nigeria, Sudan and Central Asia. It empowers Islamist petrolism in Sudan, Iran and Saudi Arabia. It even helps sustain communism in Castro's Cuba, which survives today in part thanks to cheap oil from Venezuela. Most of these petrolist regimes would have collapsed long ago, having proved utterly incapable of delivering a modern future for their people, but they have been saved by our energy excesses.

No matter what happens in Iraq, we cannot dry up the swamps of authoritarianism and violent Islamism in the Middle East without also drying up our consumption of oil - thereby bringing down the price of crude. A democratization policy in the Middle East without a different energy policy at home is a waste of time, money and, most important, the lives of our young people.

That's because there is a huge difference in what these bad regimes can do with $20-a-barrel oil compared with the current $60-a-barrel oil. It is no accident that the reform era in Russia under Boris Yeltsin, and in Iran under Mohammad Khatami, coincided with low oil prices. When prices soared again, petrolist authoritarians in both societies reasserted themselves.

We need a president and a Congress with the guts not just to invade Iraq, but to also impose a gasoline tax and inspire conservation at home. That takes a real energy policy with long-term incentives for renewable energy - wind, solar, biofuels - rather than the welfare-for-oil-companies-and-special-interests that masqueraded last year as an energy bill.

Enough of this Bush-Cheney nonsense that conservation, energy efficiency and environmentalism are some hobby we can't afford. I can't think of anything more cowardly or un-American. Real patriots, real advocates of spreading democracy around the world, live green.

Green is the new red, white and blue.

As a counterpoint, the Alternative Energy Blog has a lengthy post discussing China's growing hunger for oil:
Compared with the United States, which consumes 25 percent of the world's annual oil output, China burns only 6 percent of the world's production. Yet its energy use is rising steeply.

China exported more oil than it imported until 1993, when imports began to surge. This year, it's importing 3.4 million barrels a day, and some estimates say that within a decade it'll need 7 million barrels a day. Within two decades, demand could reach 12 million barrels a day, which would equal U.S. imports today. China's oil thirst since 2000 has accounted for 40 percent of the global demand growth for crude oil.
And yet, it understands that to keep its economy growing, it will need to rely on just the dwindling reserves of oil. Thus, in addition to turning to coal, the government is making a concerted effort to utilize and create movement toward renewable sources:
Reuters resports that a Chinese state-owned energy firm plans to invest at least $2.48 billion over the next five years in biomass, garbage treatment and other alternative energy projects.

China Energy Conservation Investment Corp. made the plans to take advantage of a new law promoting renewable energy, which sets tariffs in favor of non-fossil energy such as wind, water and solar power and is due to take effect in January.

"We see tremendous business opportunities from the new law," the China Daily quoted Wang Yi, a senior company official, as saying. Coal provides some 70 percent of electricity in China, the world's second-largest energy consumer and producer of greenhouse gases. The state-owned company has started building two wind farms and a new facility that would harness steam generated from garbage and sewage treatment to produce power, the newspaper said.

The firm had budgeted about $1.1 billion to build the garbage-powered plant underway in eastern China and 10 others like it in other parts of the country over the next five years, Wang said.

Another $1.1 billion would go toward constructing up to 30 biomass energy projects in major agricultural provinces, which use organic or woody material such as straw to make fuel or generate power.

China has set a goal of getting 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, though it has acknowledged that coal will remain its primary source of electricity for decades to come.


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