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.