Just read an article written by someone at AP and published on MSNBC, entitled “World feels China’s growing thirst for oil“. I wish they’d publish author names as well! This was a very well-written article, and full of insights into the issue.
If you thought China’s energy demands are small still compared to the US, you’d be right, but what you may not know is that they’re growing at a much larger rate than US demands. What this means is that oil companies in China, a country short of energy reserves of any kind other than coal, have been busy bees for the last decade, striking deals all over the world to meet demands.
China is now competing directly with Japan for energy, and indirectly with the US. All of this leads to tension, especially when China tries to strike up deals that lock the oil reserves only for its use, and when they support abusive regimes in countries like Iran and Sudan, undermining US foreign policy.
If you think this isn’t serious, think again. Here’s a quote from president Bush: “Oil — the dependence upon oil is a national security problem, and an economic security problem.” To back up his words, the US has built a strong naval presence in the Malacca straits, the narrow passage through which most of the traffic from the Middle East and Africa moves on its way to East Asia. This concern isn’t partisan. Democrats – Joe Lieberman being one of them – agree with Bush’s characterization.
I recently read through a World Bank report that I can’t share here, which said that China’s energy demands will only grow. They’re exploring many routes, one of which is hydroenergy, most of their energy still comes from coal, and oil needs will continue to increase.
My take on it is this: the problem is that they’re the biggest manufacturing center in the world. Companies everywhere have shifted their production facilities to China because of its cheap labor costs and lax environmental standards. So it’s a bit hypocritical to expect China to regulate its energy use while they’re making most of the products for the Western world.
The point is, the industrial portion of the global economy has to reside somewhere, and China’s the place right now. I don’t foresee a decrease in that sort of energy consumption as a whole – the world population’s increasing, not decreasing. If China decreases its production, factories will have to be built somewhere else to meet demand.
To see how truly complex this problem is, you have to look at the relationship between China and the US. They’re propping up the US economy by investing heavily in our bonds and economy. We also depend on them for various of our manufacturing needs, whether we like it or not. China could easily hurt our economy by withholding investment. We’ve got a Communist country propping up a capitalist country. Do you see the irony in this? We have to plead with them to regulate their currency price in order to add more value to our dollar, and we threaten them with military force (very subtly, but effectively) in the Malacca Straits and other places, like Taiwan, which is another hot button issue. Isn’t it a messed up world?
While all of this is happening, we aren’t getting our act together when it comes to reducing our energy needs and investing in renewable energy. We complain when the price at the pump goes to $3, when we should think about conserving energy, especially when it comes to automobile use. We are still privileged in the US. We enjoy low prices for energy while the rest of the world pays $5 to $7 per gallon. We, the general public, keep blaming the oil companies and calling them our enemies, when they’re trying to help meet growing demand with dwindling supplies. We expect oil to be there when we fuel up at the pump, yet we don’t realize how volatile oil markets can be, for many reasons, political and environmental ones ranking at the top of the list.
We should wake up and thank God we’re so privileged in the US. Most of us don’t realize it. I’m writing this from Romania, where oil prices are around $6 per gallon, and most people make about $200 per month. Do the math and see if you could live with that! It’s time we woke up and started conserving, and it’s also time automobile manufacturers and other equipment manufacturers started making products that are more energy efficient. It’s also time city planners started building cities that are more pedestrian-friendly, with broad sidewalks and short walks to shops and other public attractions. We should do all this before we get into real trouble because of our thirst for oil. I don’t think any of us want global conflict on this issue.