Oil Politics & Renewable Energy


I realize I was a little snarky with my comments yesterday about the U.S. – Chinese deal on cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Maybe it is my inherent distrust of “gentlemanly handshake” agreements between two of the worlds’ three leaders-in-contest for world hegemony. Maybe it was because our own ex-Senator Max Baucus has been eerily silent during his stint as the new U.S. ambassador to China.

Run a google on Baucus’ accomplishments and statements on his work in China, and you come up with nothing. So of course, after watching him and seeing how he rolled in Congress, it’s easy to see him taking a back-room role in all this, and twisting it somehow to someone’s ($$) benefit. No matter (maybe), I digress.

But this agreement was no watershed moment to me, as there were no treaties signed, no Congressional approval, no third party involvement. It was strictly a political maneuver with a lot of side stories. But taken at its face value, here is what Frank Melum, Senior Point Carbon Analyst at Thomson Reuters had to say:

“We do not expect these new targets to significantly alter the world’s trajectory for emissions growth, but the joint announcement will probably alter the pace of negotiations, and could in time could lead to improved ambition levels”.

“Improved ambition levels.” Nice political double-speak! So, that’s all and good and symbolic, and pressure-setting for other countries and emerging economies. And of course, I remain highly skeptical that either the U.S. or China will meet the expectations set for them by 2030.

But what I find highly informative is the scale of the agreement, and its particulars. China is on a trajectory to become the world’s largest economy in the near future, and its GDP (PPP) is nearly identical with ours. It has nearly a billion people more than the U.S., mostly living at standards of living well below our own.

So what is it that China promised to do? Let’s take a look at what Dr. Jeff Masters at Wunderground had to say:

While the new deal is not binding and doesn’t go far enough on its own to stop dangerous climate change, it is a huge political step forward in the fight against climate change. One of the key arguments being made in the U.S. against taking climate change action–that China was doing nothing to limit their emissions–has now been nullified. 

So it’s a “political step.” Of course, I immediately go into politi-speak translation mode with that, realizing that the statements can mean many things to many people, and nothing to the nay-sayers. It’s all open to interpretation over the next couple decades. Read into it what you will. Fair game.

So ok, we’ve broken the ice on getting China involved in the emissions-regulating game. How exactly is China going to do that? Well, they’re committing themselves to a radical move to alternative energy sources! Again, Dr. Masters:

And over the next fifteen years, China is planning on installing enough renewable energy from sources like solar and wind to power the entire United States–guaranteeing continued explosive growth and price drops in green energy that will make it able to out-compete fossil fuels even with the massive subsidies they enjoy.

What is remarkable here is that China embarks on a program with about the same size economy as our own — and one that will shortly outstrip it — and commits to an alternative energy policy that would “power the entire United States!”

Well, what did we offer in return? Nothing so earth-shattering of course. We’ll just commit to reducing our current carbon output by 26-28% in the same timeframe.

Back to the Baucus back-room dealings. Somewhere, I see a bunch of businessmen wringing their hands in glee as their man in D.C China sets the stage for some mega profit taking as China will probably sell just enough of their technology and goods back to us to help us make our targets — if indeed meeting targets is part of the legitimate goals of this agreement.

But what I really want to know is: Why in the hell can’t our country do the same thing?! Why can’t the United States, over the next 16 years commit itself to an alternative/renewable energy program to power the entire country, and take the bite out of oil politics?

After all, aren’t we the nation of the Manhattan Project and race to the Moon fame? The technological leader of the world?

Unfortunately, oil is too important of a weapon to wield to let go of it. If we were to wean ourselves off of oil, we’d lose the strategic impact of being able to use the price of oil as leverage against our enemies in the new Cold War. We’d lose the ability of using oil as a way to fund middle east wars, and dictate the future of that strategic area. The Koch brothers would quit paying for legislators to do their bidding in Congress — and they would work to tank any meaningful agreements that would negatively affect oil profits.

In short, there is no desire — either politically or policy-wise or from the oligarchs — in our country to move from an oil-based economy to one based on alternative and renewable forms of energy. And this agreement with China just put the whole energy-oil charade on show.

Masters holds out that this agreement will lead to a breakthrough next year:

This gives real hope that a significant binding treaty to limit greenhouse gases can be successfully negotiated in Paris in December 2015 at the critical ‪United Nations Climate Change Conference‬. 

I think that Conference may reveal more hope than change, as oil politics is far mightier than the desire of some NGOs and a few pesky green politicians to acquire a meaningful treaty to fight greenhouse gas emissions.

I maintain my skepticism that all of this is anything more than mere posturing meant to maintain the status quo. If it were real, why would not China ask from us what they are willing to give: an alternative energy future equal to the size of our energy needs? Why would we yield the obvious victory of being the first nation to gain true energy independence unreliant on fossil fuels?

But I hope to be proven wrong next year if the UN Climate Change Conference results in tangible and enforceable goals. We’ll see.

  1. Matthew Koehler

    Here’s a BIT on what Baucus has been up to in China.

    Proposed U.S.-China Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) Would Expose U.S. Laws to Extrajudicial Attacks by Chinese Corporations, Incentivize More U.S. Job Offshoring

    Chinese Acquisitions, Establishment of U.S. Subsidiaries Growing at 80 Percent Annual Rate with 820 Major Deals Totaling More Than $37 Billion Since 2000


    (edit: photo added by request — JC)

  2. China Vows To Begin Aggressively Falsifying Air Pollution Numbers http://onion.com/1BbZaFu

  3. Turner

    Obama’s statement about Keystone yesterday seems to indicate that he’s going to veto the congressional effort to jam the project through. In his statement he briefly touched on some of the main arguments against it.

    Now he’s pledging another $3 billion to help developing countries that are most impacted by climate change.

    The Republicans are going to have to impeach him, I guess. I wonder how Tester would vote on impeachment.

    • JC

      I don’t know what Keystone has to do with this post, but I’ll play along…

      Obama is saying let the process play out. Which means let John Kerry approve the pipeline with the stroke of a pen. And Mary Landrieu has already asked him to do so. That, coupled with the senate vote on Keystone coming up as a paean to her Senatorial reelection runoff, is the mark of nothing more than sham politics.

      And Obama’s pledge to help mitigate the effects of climate change? Whoopee! If he were a true leader, he’d announce a plan to shift america’s energy future to a non carbon-based system by 2030. Paying mitigation hush money to countries affected by our mega pollution, while slow-walking a national obligation to move past carbon-based systems, is pure hypocrisy.

      And yeah, republicans are going to try and impeach Obama. How would Tester vote on impeachment? Who knows, he’ll never get the chance. The House votes on impeachment, and the Senates tries him and votes on a conviction. And after Senate dem leaders pick Tester to run the GSCC, I doubt he’ll have a bone left in his body that’ll go against the party line. And fwiw, not a single dem voted to convict Clinton during his impeachment trial.

      • Turner

        We’ll see, won’t we. Are you actually hoping Obama somehow lets Kerry approve the pipeline? Do you want him to act in ways that confirm your strong disapproval of him?

        What if he doesn’t? What if he vetoes the pipeline bill? Will that disappoint you? How can you make his doing something right wrong?

        If, like Fox News, your given point of departure on any issue is “Obama is bad,” you can twist anything that happens to fit your bias. It’s hard work and, of course, intellectually dishonest.

        You’re right about who impeaches and who tries, though.

        • JC

          I’m hoping that the decision on the Keystone XL EIS is to take no action. John Kerry would sign that decision. This is how federal law is designed to work. That Congress decides to override the permitting process does irreparable harm to the systems setup under NEPA and other laws. It is no different than Jon Tester using a rider to push through wolf delisting.

          If our Congress insists on gutting the processes it has set in place to guide federal decisions, then our environment will suffer. If Obama vetoes the Keystone XL bill, it is a meaningless vote (and wouldn’t disappoint me), as John Kerry can still sign the EIS decision notice to let the pipeline get constructed. The politics here is all a charade.

          As to “Obama somehow lets Kerry approve the pipeline”, Kerry can and should take independent action, based on the merits of the EIS. That you would suggest that the ultimate authority for an EIS rests higher up than the deciding officer reinforces my belief that corruption in the system is already epidemic. Politics has done our environmental permitting processes great harm by overtly and covertly influencing decisions.

          And I don’t know where you come up with all the insinuations. Where have I implied that an Obama veto would be wrong: “How can you make his doing something right wrong?” You’re building a straw man here, Turner.

          And I don’t take the tack that on every issue “Obama is bad.” I just happen to think that on this particular issue — energy conversion and independence — Obama is just playing politics and is not being any sort of real leader.

          As my analysis above shows, if we think China can produce enough alternative/renewable energy to power the United States, then why aren’t we demanding something similar of our country?

          Do you like the current energy status quo, Turner? Do you not want to see our country forgo fossil-fuel by 2030? Or have you been mollified by democratic party politics for so long you can’t demand more out of your government?

    • Eric

      I’m not sure Turner –

      Obama has no more elections to deal with, and after he got the environmental wackos cheering for him because of the China handshake, he may decide to go along with Keystone just to make some deals with the GOP.

      Or he may simply let it sit on his desk and let it become law without his signature.

      I think for all his bluster, that he really has no appetite for a congressional showdown.

      It should be interesting.

  4. Oil is at 74 dollars a barrel(14 yr low). And on the way down. Alberta and Montana production will soon follow suit making the Pipeline a Kubuki theatre over ideology. Coal is also on the way out, thanks to the “externality” known as climate change. The irony is that the Chinese Communist Party is the only one who knows how to save capitalism from itself, through command and control.
    Of course Tester and the rest of America will continue to worship neoliberalism, but China will hold the note and will certainly have the last laugh. Maybe all those Montana oil and coal workers become fishing guides? Or work for a non-profit?

  5. steve kelly

    The grassroots base will continue to unelect Democrats unless they get the energy/climate/environment policy right. http://www.nationofchange.org/2014/11/14/message-democratic-party-time-face-reality/

    The “spoiler” tactic is no longer working.

    Many are realizing that power is vested in people, not politicians. Tester, now “leadership,” will need to “get the message” quickly to shake off his poor showing since 2006. Or, he could continue his neoliberal, Texas two-step, and wonder what happened after it’s too late. Faking it won’t work.

    • Watching Obama’s behavior since the election, it is almost as if he has been set free. Is he bucking power for real, or for distraction?

      • mike

        Bucking power, laughable, he intends to wield power with his pen. Fortunately if the other 2 branches quit shitting themselves he will be neutered.

        What you progs fail to realize is creeping executive powers won’t end well when an R gets the big chair in a couple years and acts without congressional approval the on an issue like abortion.

        Your whole arguement is BOOOSSHHH. and I agree he also overreached constitutionally. but your arguement that it;s ok for Obumbles because TOPMEN happen to be on your side is utterly absurd.

        It does not matter which team rapes the Constitution (trigger warning), but progs are unaware of unintended consequences as are team red when either bunch pass stupid laws or pen stupid executive orders..

        After nearly 60 years on this planet, if it involves the fedgov it will be fucked up , cost way too much money and fuck the people that the original legislation intended to help.

        If you are stupid enough to buy into your arguement I won’t cry when you reach retirement age and discover that the 13 percent of the wages that you donate to SS yearly are not there. Yet under alternative plans your money would go into an account with your name on it, like it’s your money. Seems logical to me that that you would like the money that you put into a retirement system to be in an account with your name on it. If that 13 per cent of your dollars was in your control you would be free to invest it wherever you choose.

        Statists like you think the rank and file are too stupid to look out for their own interests and need asswipes like you that know better to make life better for the masses.

        You are a prog which makes you deluded. You progs might be 5 per cent of the population yet you deign to be a vanguard of a some kind of proletariat.

        And forget about about 100 million dead last century that dared to buck the system in china, russia, prk or cuba.

        • I ran this thru Google translate and it came back “???”.

          I suggest you engage me elsewhere as the topics you broach here are broad. It does appear that your views are a sampling of renderings from talk radio. That alone disqualifies you from having polite tea with the enemy. You seem irrational.

  6. steve kelly

    Some people quit smoking, drinking, doing drugs, etc. Can Obama quit lying and killing innocents? We’ll find out soon enough. Maybe he’s figured out that he is The President. Maybe his kids had a talk with him. Not too late to have a good late run, and do some good things before he hands it all over to his successor.

  7. people elect the government they deserve and they deserve the government they elect….

  8. Turn your back on mother nature.

    Every body wants to rule the world.

    • Thank you for reminding me how much I hate Phil Collins and that godawful song that Pat Stimson used to use. Now there was a stupid man, down to his boots, in every nuance on his camouflaged SUV. That kind of stupidity is called “aggressive” stupidity, the kind that cannot listen, analyze or do anything more than surface skim and react with anger and hostility.

      I guess I just described talk radio.

      Anyway, what was the point of your little video here? I could not sit through it, as Collins grinds on me. I am sure it was profound.

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