Is the Red Dragon a green threat?

Ignore the scaremongering of environmentalist writers and thinkers: China should be free to develop as it wishes.

James Woudhuysen

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In 2003 Lester R Brown, the influential president of the Earth Policy Institute, Washington, established the modern green conception of China. Brown wrote in Plan B:

‘If China were to have a car in every garage, American-style, it would need 80 million barrels of oil a day – more than the world currently produces. If paper consumption per person in China were to reach the US level, China would need more paper than the world produces…. If the fossil-fuel based, automobile centred, throwaway economic model will not work for China, it will not work for the other three billion people in the developing world…’ (1)

In Plan B 2.0, Brown redoubles his attack. China’s consumption of oil, and indeed its consumption of everything, is one of the main reasons why he has published a revised edition of his book. The intervening years, Brown says, have shown that ‘there are not enough resources for China to reach US consumption models. The Western economic model… will not work for China’s 1.45billion in 2031’. (2)

It’s true that the Chinese Communist Party’s 30-year resort to the capitalist market has not brought the most rational, smoothest or even the fastest kind of economic development that might have been possible for China. But this is not Brown’s point. His disgust with what he calls the Western economic model is, in fact, a petit-bourgeois American’s distaste for growth itself – and especially for growth in living standards and the whole apparatus of human consumption.

The Chinese, Brown means, should not have a car in every garage, the way he imagines every American does. They should not develop. If, as the opening lines of his book announce, our global economy is outgrowing the capacity of the earth to support it, moving civilisation ever closer to decline and possible collapse; if our ‘preoccupation’ with economic growth means that we have lost sight of how large the human enterprise has become relative to the earth’s resources – then China, which out-consumes the US in grain, meat, coal and steel, must be brought to some kind of halt.

At the moment, China consumes only a third the amount of oil that America does. Yet Brown is particularly unyielding here. The world’s production of oil, he says, will soon reach a peak, and thereafter go into decline. As a result, ‘China’s fast-expanding use of oil is already helping create a politics of scarcity’. In oil as in the other four basic commodities, then, Brown asks severely: ‘What if China catches up to the United States in consumption per person?’ (3)

In his book Black Gold, the delightfully named George Orwel, a senior writer for America’s Oil Daily and Petroleum Intelligence Weekly, spells out the familiar answer to this question. Growing demand for oil, he says, ‘is putting a strain on the global supply system’ (4). At Morgan Stanley, chief economist Stephen Roach thinks that the demands of China and India will make oil prices go beyond $60-70 a barrel. A senior energy analyst at Merrill Lynch accuses China of hoarding oil. (5) Since 2004, in fact, China’s consumption of oil has obsessed analysts throughout the West.

Perhaps China should be less grasping. Or perhaps things are not so simple.

The West’s focus on China’s oil consumption

Thankfully, the authors of China and the Global Energy Crisis are encyclopaedic about, but not obsessed with, oil – the main subject of their book. They refuse to indulge in the alarmism that, along with excessive euphoria, so often attends Western discussions of all things Chinese. According to Tatsu Kambara, for decades Japan’s leading, hands-on authority on Chinese petroleum, and Christopher Howe, a top British academic in Chinese and Japanese economics and technology, there ‘appears to be no fundamental reason why China’s demands on the world energy economy should prove unmanageable’. (6) In that sense, at least, China should have no inhibitions about pursuing the comforts and lifestyles of the West.

Anyway, Kambara and Howe show how it is not just demanding energy users that will affect the future of energy in China. In a slim, lucid volume, written from a free-market standpoint but with impeccable research and excellent charts, they show how, in Chinese energy, it is research, exploration, refining capacity, pricing, inter-regional capacity-sharing, nationwide transport and distribution, and international arrangements for supply that contain the keys to the future. What is important is not just Chinese consumption of energy per person, as Brown would have it, nor even the much more significant use of energy by China’s government, agriculture, services and industry (including very much the energy industry itself). What are also important are China’s human ingenuity, its current and future skills in engineering, and its general level of technological prowess.

We should be talking not just of 1.45 billion mouths to feed in 2031, as Brown imagines, but also of the innovations that literally millions of Chinese scientific brains could bring to the domains of energy, transport and everything else. Brown notes that China is ‘far and away’ the world leader in solar water-heating panels (it has 52m square metres of panels and wants four times that by 2015). But that, apart from China’s strengths in the unrelated field of farming carp, is the sole technological plaudit Brown is prepared to give the country (7).

Also critical to China’s energy future, as Kambara and Howe note, are the institutions of Chinese government, and what they politely term ‘internal reform’. Like Britain, China lacks, in 2007, a powerful energy ministry (though Gordon Brown may well finally create one). It’s facts like these that should incite our interest, and indeed our critique of the Chinese Communist Party. The story of Chinese energy is not that of limited supply and burgeoning demand, but of considerable natural endowments mired in chaotic Maoist ‘planning’.

Take oil. After the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, China’s petroleum sector managed to raise output by 20 per cent a year and, after 1973/4 and the OPEC oil crisis, sent pricey exports of oil to Japan. Yet according to European authorities, by the late 1970s, crises in the petroleum industry alone got so bad that they proved a major factor, if not the major factor, in converting the Communist Party to Deng Xiaoping and his ’Open Door’ policy of marketising and internationalising all aspects of the Chinese economy (8). From then, the evidence of Kampara and Howe suggests, matters actually deteriorated. The 1979 Sixth Five Year Plan looked forward to a quadrupling of China’s total output by 2000 and a doubling of its energy output from 100m metric tons to 200m over the same period; in fact, bureaucratic neglect of oil exploration subsequently turned China into the world’s second largest importer of oil after the US. In 2004, domestic output of crude oil was merely 174m metric tons, and imports amounted to a shocking 126m tons.

Yet for greens and, more importantly, for Western governments, China isn’t a massive monument to the confusions of Stalinist planning. For them, in the long tradition of Malthus and Keynes, it is mostly the demand side, and especially consumption by individuals, that counts. But where Malthus and Keynes thought that there was too little consumption, bourgeois opinion now has it that there is too much. (9)

For proof, one need only look at Sir Nicholas Stern’s 2006 review on the economics of climate change. As part of it, the Treasury commissioned a 36-page report titled Climate Change Mitigation Strategies for the Transportation Sector in China. That came complete with admonitions about the need for the Chinese to drive less and to ‘engage in effective sustainable urban planning [sic] to minimise transportation needs’ – even though in 2004, there were only about nine cars for every 1000 Chinese, compared with about 800 cars for every 1000 Americans. (10)

The tale is largely the same with the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the club for rich nations (mostly). Even though it does not count China among its members, the OECD last year published no fewer than 51 recommendations about what China should do to improve its environmental performance (11).

Like many Western diktats on China and the environment, these two reports were prepared with semi-official help from China itself. But Chinese participation in and acquiescence to Western strictures on the environment never stop the West in its new-century craze for telling Beijing, yet again, what it should do. Lester Brown, for instance, wants China to impose carbon taxes. And at the recent G8 summit at Heiligendamm, Germany, China did not have to be a member of the G8 for George Bush to insist that, for him to sign up to any post-Kyoto UN agreement based on a 50 per cent cut in carbon emissions by 2050, China – and India – would have to make concessions.

Whatever the field, and especially in the domain of climate change, the idea is that China should slow down, obey Western environmental norms, and yet not have what we have.

China as No 1 emitter

Perhaps because, as Kambara, Howe and Orwel all point out, China meets 70 per cent of its energy needs from its abundant coal, these authors, who are strongly orientated to oil and natural gas, hardly touch at all on China’s contribution to world greenhouse gas emissions. Surprisingly, Brown doesn’t either, preferring to write about China’s considerable environmental afflictions. Nor, in his informative but thoroughly Green general primer on climate change, does Robert Henson. It’s the same story, too, with Friends of the Earth, the Green Party and Greenpeace. China is lambasted for its treatment of forests, management of water, and for its air quality; but apart from noting that China has been commissioning a one-gigawatt (1000MW) coal-fired power plant every five days, greens have been fairly quiet about China and global warming.

That will change. All in all, Western perceptions of environmental doom are more and more refracted through the blunt, one-sided prism of Chinese consumption. We can be sure that much critical scrutiny will surround the environmental dimensions of the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Already our very own Olympic Delivery Authority’s 10 ‘milestones’ for the Games in London in 2012 do not just emphasise energy and sustainability, but are also all organised to be achieved ‘by Beijing 2008’. (12)

Something is going on here. Western governments and greens have enough eyes in their head to know that China dislikes patronising requests to conform to Western environmental dogma. So what is more respectfully suggested instead is that the Chinese cannot be expected to restrain themselves if we do not restrain ourselves first. At London mayor Ken Livingstone’s ‘State of London’ conference, Paul de Zylva, head of Friends of the Earth England, called for the 2012 Olympics go be ‘a climate change showcase’. At a 24 June Architecture Foundation panel in which I will be one of the participants, one of the questions for debate is: ‘Could London be a model for sustainable big cities around the world?’ (13) For each feast, China does not have to be physically present for it to be a Banquo. In a globalised economy, the British public will more and more compare UK national, urban and personal performance in greenhouse gas emissions not just with American excess, but with the Chinese sort as well. Already, in closing Friends of the Earth’s The Big Ask Climate Debate in November 2006, Tony Blair has observed that ‘any action we take to cut emissions would very quickly be undone by the economic growth of India and China’. (14)

To aid British dealings with the Chinese on subjects such as climate change, Lord Sainsbury has already declared science to be ‘an instrument of foreign policy’. (15) On top of this, we will soon all be asked to do our bit with greenhouse gas emissions… so that China will do its much bigger bit. Here, the Guardian’s George Monbiot has given a tremendous hostage to fortune. Of his book Heat, he writes,

‘I concentrate on the rich nations for this reason: until we have demonstrated that we are serious about cutting our own emissions, we are in no position to preach restraint to the poorer countries. The rich world’s most common excuse for inaction can be expressed in one word: China. It is true that China’s emissions per person have been rising by around two per cent a year. But they are still small by comparison to our own. A citizen of China produces, on average, 2.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. A citizen of the United Kingdom emits 9.5, and of the United States, 20.0. To blame the Chinese for the problem, and to claim that their rapacious appetites render our efforts futile, is not just hypocritical. It is, I believe, another manifestation of our ancient hysteria about the Yellow Peril.’ (16)

It’s fascinating to learn that a typical Brit personally emits 9.5 tonnes of carbon; it’s reassuring to learn that a typical Chinese isn’t so bad; and it fairly warms this old leftist’s heart to see the attack mounted on that ancient, dangerous menace, Sinophobia. Indeed, at the time of the G8 summit, Ma Kai, minister in charge of the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s chief economic policymaking and planning agency, made the same point as Monbiot about his country’s low emissions per head (17). But it will not be long, hopefully, before China’s average personal consumption rises; and, given the mistakes of Chinese state planners in the past, it’s hard to credit Ma Kai’s promise that Chinese GDP energy intensity per head will fall by 20 per cent between 2005 and 2010. Above all, a big Western stink has already grown up about China’s overall, national contribution to greenhouse gases.

In a special issue on global warming, Time magazine raised the alarm in spring 2006. China’s booming economy, it said, would make it the world’s No 1 emitter of greenhouse gases ‘as early as 2020’ (18). Yet a year later, China was under even more pressure. The International Energy Agency, Paris, reported that its impact on greenhouse gases would exceed that of the US as early as… November 2007. The Guardian‘s environment correspondent, John Vidal, declared China the world’s ‘biggest emissions culprit’ (19).

In November, the IEA will publish its annual World Energy Outlook. China and India, the world’s fastest growing energy markets, will be the special focus of the 2007 edition. We must look forward to that; and, the month after, we shall have to see what happens around China at the meeting in Bali on what to do after 2012, when the 1997 Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – the Kyoto Protocol – expires.

In my view the portents for international harmony around Chinese emissions do not look too great. China reserves the right to develop; but other nations don’t want it to develop in the way that it sees fit. North America, Western Europe and Australasia would rather chain China back than see it grow.

China as energy imperialist

On top of oil and carbon, the third way in which China has felt the West’s restrictive grip in energy matters is around its activities abroad. Today, following the example set since the 1970s by the Japan National Oil Corporation, China’s oil firms are active in countries that include

Venezuela
Kazakhstan
Kuwait
Indonesia
Myanmar
Algeria
Sudan
Angola
Nigeria
Libya
Republic of Congo
Gabon

US congressmen rebuffed the Chinese National Offshore Oil Company in August 2005, when it made a $18.4bn bid for Unocal Corporation, a small Californian firm with extensive exploration interests in south-east Asia. But just two months later, as Orwel reminds us, China National Petroleum Corporation laid out $4.2bn for PetroKazakhstan, a Canadian company making oil and gas in former Soviet Republics. Moreover, as Kambara and Howe also relate, China is also interested in Canada’s oil sands (20).

Yet it is not China’s North American initiatives in energy that have caught the attention. Nor does Beijing’s recent 25-year gas and oil deal with Iran appear to exercise Washington as much as Orwel says it does (21). No, what angers the West about Chinese energy policy is its pursuit of African resources. On 13 June, that well-known authority on international affairs, Hollywood actress Mia Farrow, took a lead. Turning a spotlight on the 2008 Olympics, she indicted China for ‘underwriting genocide’ in Darfur – not just by selling the Sudanese regime arms, but also by buying its oil.

Farrow launched Dream for Darfur, a campaign to put the heat on China, and her partner in arms, Eric Reeves, professor of English at Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, published China, Darfur and the Olympics: Tarnishing the Torch? (22) For Reeves, the 25.8million barrels of oil that Sudan is set to sell China by the end of 2007 will make Sudan China’s sixth-largest source of external oil; so:

‘given the rapidly growing petroleum needs of the Chinese economy, and the enormous Chinese stake in Sudanese oil production [China imports approximately two-thirds of Sudan’s oil exports], the geo-strategic significance of Sudan could hardly be clearer… Nothing does more to account for Chinese complicity in the scorched-earth clearances in southern Sudan during the latter stages of the north/south civil war.’ (23)

At the time this paradigmatic example of subtle political economy emerged, a senior official in the Bush administration said that, behind the scenes, it too was having a ‘very lively’ debate over the nature of the ‘growing Chinese footprint’ in Africa and beyond (24).

What should China do? Implicitly, Kambara and Howe resist the traditional green gambit on energy – that supply, in China as elsewhere, should be decentralised (‘distributed’, as New Labour has it), and certainly not become reliant on overseas energy resources such as those of Africa. Kambara and Howe show that the successes of China’s main post-war oil field, the giant Daqing (Great Joy) field first drilled in 1959, were achieved despite the Maoist policy of Chinese ‘self-reliance’ in energy, not because of it. In the 1930s, Stalin tried and failed with his nationalist stance of socialism in one country. In 2007, socialism with Chinese characteristics, as the regime in Beijing likes to describe it, will fare no better. Kambara and Howe argue:

‘However much the leadership may wish to revert to the days when China’s energy policies could be largely indifferent to the outside, this is not a long-term option. In terms of imported energy supplies, technological solutions for developing their own resources, and probably in terms of finance, China needs the support of the global economy and all parties need to get to grips with the implications of this.’ (25)

Kambara and Howe are right. In energy as elsewhere, China needs international collaboration, not a growing chorus, from the West, of sanctimonious disapproval. Whatever the misdeeds of late-arriving Chinese bureaucrats in Africa and the Sudan, we can be certain that, for historical reasons alone, the West is in little position to attack Chinese foreign policy for its imperialism in oil. As Philip Cunliffe has written on spiked:

‘adopting the cause of Darfur allows Western liberals not only to side with good against evil, but also to push China around as well. Given the Sudanese government’s economic ties with China, Darfur offers the opportunity for the West to demonstrate its moral superiority over the greedy, oil-addicted, anti-environmentalist Chinese.’ (26)

In the twentieth century, the Western left always vulgarised the ideas of the Russian revolutionary, Vladimir Lenin, in its fixation on raw materials in general and oil in particular as the key wellsprings of imperialism. In the 21st century, the Green remains of the Western left stand ready unthinkingly to extend the insult ‘imperialist’ to China’s international search for oil. After all, the liberal fascination with oil wars now goes further than dissing Haliburton for its conduct in Iraq. (27)

The West promises more and more to hold up to the light China’s conduct with Africa’s oil wealth, like its record on climate change. But we cannot take these new revelations at face value. China has a whole lot to put right; but what the Chinese people deserve from internationalists in the West is our unstinting solidarity with their commendable desire to get away from backbreaking harvests, slum accommodation, and endless bicycle repairs.

Conclusion: China’s right to develop

In a film earlier this year for the UK’s Channel Five, Jonathon Porritt, a top British green, fastened on China, so the Observer tells us, ‘as an example of how booming economic growth has produced an explosion of consumerism with mixed results: millions have risen out of poverty, but the consequences for the environment are severe’. Porritt added: ‘The total spend on advertising is just so enormous now that it’s little wonder people are seduced into this idea that their personal happiness results from spending in the way they’re being encouraged to do.’ (28)

Porritt’s condescension to people ‘seduced’ by advertising did not single out the Chinese. But Western greens, and more and more bien pensant Western commentators, believe that the Chinese, like everyone else, will never achieve happiness through development and economic growth. Why? Because human beings are stupid. They are wrong to pursue meaning and durable emotional satisfaction through consumer goods.

This last is an accurate observation that is still breathtaking in its banality. Yet it is taken as good coin not just in the West, but in developing countries, too. Just as, in the film Comandante (2003) Fidel Castro told a sycophantic Oliver Stone of his commitment to the green cause, so South Africa’s Stalinist premier Thabo Mbeki has rediscovered the wisdom of the Bible in his desire to moderate economic development:

‘We must therefore say that the Biblical injunction is surely correct, that “Man cannot live by bread alone”, and therefore that the mere pursuit of individual wealth can never satisfy the need immanent in all human beings to lead lives of happiness.’ (29)

What Mbeki hints at in his disdain for individual wealth, Western greens, despite their inhibitions, will soon make all too clear to the Chinese. The Chinese, it’s widely felt, are on the wrong track: our track, the West’s outdated, twentieth century track of industrialisation, urbanisation, cars, suburban sprawl, massive energy use and concomitant destruction of the environment. So no matter how great their momentum, the Chinese must somehow be stopped from their ultimately unfulfilling quest for riches.

China’s reactionary regime is not immune from such doctrines. Just as Mbeki learned his creed from the University of Sussex, so the Chinese elite of management-minded Stalinists has imbibed environmentalist misanthropy from Lester Brown – and from US treasury secretary Hank Paulson, too. In defending his country’s record with carbon emissions, Ma Kai has the nerve to write:

‘Without China’s strict family planning policies, the country’s population would have increased by 138m people since 1979, resulting in an extra 330m tonnes in emissions. The policy has contributed significantly to easing the world’s population expansion and curbing greenhouse gas emissions.’ (30)

What a scandal that this bureaucrat from Beijing should outdo even Lester Brown in his carbonista desire to restrict human procreation!

Everywhere we can find evidence of the Chinese authorities indulging Green prejudices. There is no space for genuine dissent in China, but the regime was happy to tolerate, during the May holiday in Haidian Park, northwest Beijing, a four-day rock festival, co-organised by Greenpeace, themed ‘Green’ and ‘Peace’. It was preceded with video recordings of 18 popular Chinese bands talking about ‘something every individual can do to help bring about change, ranging from not using disposable chopsticks, changing light bulbs, riding bikes, to using your own shopping bags’. (31)

Similar patterns have emerged with urban planning. In that discipline, as Robert Henson records, just northeast of Shanghai, at the mouth of the Yangtze River, British environmentalism has a major influence:

‘The new city of Dongtan will be built from scratch on Chongming, China’s third largest island. The population of up to 50,000 expected by 2010 will drive hybrid cars or pedal bikes along a network of paths. Renewable power for homes and businesses will flow from a centralised energy centre being developed in partnership with the University of East Anglia. It will draw in part on an array of wind turbines on the island’s west edge. More than half the island will stay agricultural, to minimise unnecessary food transportation. The British firm Arup, which is designing Dongtan, may extend the concept to several other Chinese cities’. (32)

Well, at least the energy centre will be centralised, even if many Dongtanians, it seems, will have the dubious privilege of being able to ‘drive’ pedal bikes along paths, not roads.

From the point of view of oil use and greenhouse gas emissions, China’s aerospace industry looks likely to cause the next green panic in the West. Chinese airlines had 560 planes six years ago; they have more than 1,000 today; civil aviation minister Yang Yuanyuan believes they will have 5,000 by 2025. Boeing believes that air traffic in or linked to China will grow by 7.4 per cent over the next 20 years, nearly double the global rate of expansion, and that growth in air cargo traffic will nearly hit 11 per cent over the same period (33). In March, Beijing announced plans for China to go head-to-head with Boeing and Airbus in producing its own large commercial airliner by 2020.

Little will stop China in its course, and certainly whinges on the part of Western greens are unlikely to make it deviate. But there remains three points still to register.

First: earlier this month, Giovanni Bisignani, director-general of the International Air Transport Association (Iata), called on makers of passenger aircraft to develop a zero-emissions machine by 2050. Yet if anyone is going to improve seriously on the advances in energy efficiency already racked up by Boeing and Airbus, it will be the Chinese. The West might like to improve the energy efficiency of its transport systems, but its general fear about the consequences of innovation has already made it raise big questions about the real merit of ‘alternative’ sources of energy such as bio-fuels.

China has yet to feel this kind of trepidation. While even innovations of a green stripe make the West nervous, China has on its side a youthful population that is, by international standards, scientifically literate and willing to take risks, and an attachment to scale that is often more rational, at least in engineering principle, than the West and its fad for energy microgeneration. Compared with a neophyte West, China has a sceptical approach, born of bitter experience, to the merits of distributed energy supply.

Brown is right that China is strong in solar power: its $5.5bn company Suntech is the world’s third largest manufacturer of solar cells, after Sharp and Q-cells. China has also allowed Suzlon Energy, India’s biggest maker of wind turbines, to open the largest turbine factory in the world (34). Moreover, if any nation is likely to bring about truly ‘clean’ coal, it’s China. China may come to lead the way in carbon capture and storage (CCS). Hopes are high that the Tsinghua-BP Clean Energy Center, launched – with the assistance of Tony Blair – in Beijing in July 2003, will make a breakthrough in polygeneration, in which coal is turned into a synthetic gas, generating a range of petroleum substitutes as well as a cleaner fuel for modern combined-cycle power plants.

The second point is that the Chinese elite cannot be relied upon to deliver. China’s Tenth Five Year Plan, for 2001-5, proved a ‘disastrous guide’ to the future, according to Kambara and Howe: the overall target for energy consumption in 2005 was exceeded by the end of 2002, with office and residential construction looking, for 2010 and 2020, like more ‘intractable’ guzzlers of energy than new capital plant or new vehicles (35).

Even the Chinese regime is exasperated by its failure to deliver. China’s Eleventh Five Year Plan, for 2006-10, set the economy a target of increasing the energy efficiency of production by four per cent a year; yet performance has been very poor. Efficiencies only rose by little more than one per cent in 2006, prompting prime minister Wen Jiabao regularly to berate officials for their energy failings.

A state-led switch from heavy to light industry, which brought major gains in energy efficiency during the Deng era, is also out of the question. Energy-gulping steel, aluminium, chemicals, paper and pulp are today the sectors in which China’s exports boom (in steel, China is now worldwide No 1 in both production and exports). Reading Kambara and Howe, it’s also clear that Chinese state planning has failed to deal with regional disparities. China’s 24 provinces continue to compete with each other for energy resources, rather than share them. Worse, while the location of energy development has shifted west from Daquing, as far as the problematic Tarim basin in China’s far west, the location of industrial development has moved south from the north-east and Shanghai, toward Guangdong, Fujian and the export centres of the eastern seaboard generally (36). Nearly three decades after the Deng reforms, the vastness of China, by no means a God-given, immutable or natural fact, continues to frustrate Chinese energy planners.

The final and most important point is that, in energy-related matters, the West may come to need China more than China needs the West. At the moment, a report like Climate Change Mitigation Strategies for the Transportation Sector in China can only discuss hybrid electric vehicles, fuel cell vehicles, or the use of ethanol and bio-diesel as fuels by giving the Chinese a lecture: in familiar style, the report concludes not only with a peremptory list of the ‘Chinese Supporting Policies Required’ for these technologies, but also another, positively Pavlovian list of ‘International Investment Opportunities’ around them – opportunities for the West, that is (37). But already it is China Aviation Industry Corporation (Avic 1) that has won Bombardier, Canada, as a partner to build and export new, regional jets to world markets. It is China that could emerge, through a Western intermediary, as a supplier of between 500 and 2,000 carriages for InterCity Express, high-speed trains that will replace Britain’s 30-year old InterCity 125s (38).

In these transport technologies, China starts from a low base, but with – to mix metaphors – a clean slate. In housing, too, as I’ve argued on spiked, it’s China that has the best chance of manufacturing the millions of new, inexpensive, energy efficient homes that the world, including Britain and much of the West, needs each month (39).

Facts like these show that it is in the interests of the West, never mind the interests of the Chinese masses, for China to develop and grow. It should refuse to give up its sovereignty in energy matters to the latest batch of Western missionaries issuing instructions. Of course, so long as workers in China are ruled by a repressive Stalinist elite, mistakes, with energy and with the environment, will no doubt be magnified – and their different dimensions should be clearly and patiently delineated, not covered up by Mao’s heirs. But the principle that China be allowed to grow, and to find its own way to progress in energy, is something that Westerners should rally round.

China has the right to development, and the right, too, to truck for oil with sovereign governments in the Third World. But China is easily important enough, in 2007, for its growth and development to be in the whole world’s interest. Western governments and Western multinationals can, should and will do business with China. But China’s energy future should be decided in the court of Chinese public opinion, not by the salons of the Earth Policy Institute, London’s liberal intelligentsia or Mia Farrow.

James Woudhuysen is professor of forecasting and innovation, De Montfort University, Leicester. His website is here.

China and the global energy crisis: development and prospects for China’s oil and natural gas, Tatsu Kambara and Christopher Howe, Edward Elgar, 2007 (buy this book from Amazon(UK))

Plan B 2.0: rescuing a planet under stress and a civilisation in trouble, Lester R Brown, Norton, 2006 (buy this book from Amazon(UK))

Black Gold: the new frontier in oil for investors, George Orwel, John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2006 (buy this book from Amazon(UK))

The Rough Guide to Climate Change: the symptoms, the science, the solutions, Robert Henson, Rough Guides, 2006 (buy this book from Amazon(UK))

(1) Plan B, Lester B Brown, Norton, 2003, quoted in Capitalism as if the world matters, Jonathan Porritt, Earthscan, 2005, p165

(2) Plan B 2.0, Lester B Brown, Norton, 2006, pp10-11

(3) Plan B 2.0, Lester B Brown, Norton, 2006, page x

(4) Black gold: the new frontier in oil for investors, George Orwel, John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2006, p8

(5) Black gold: the new frontier in oil for investors, George Orwel, John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2006, p127

(6) China and the global energy crisis: development and prospects for China’s oil and natural gas, Tatsu Kambara and Christopher Howe, Edward Elgar, 2007, p126

(7) Plan B 2.0, Lester B Brown, Norton, 2006, pp197, 17

(8) See Technological superpower China, Jon Sigurdson, Edward Elgar, 2005, pp6-7

(9) For the way in which John Maynard Keynes draws on the Reverend Thomas Malthus, and in particular shares the latter’s focus on consumption, see Keynes, The general theory of employment, interest and money, 1936. In Chapter 23, Notes on mercantilism, the usury laws, stamped money and theories of under-consumption, Keynes remarks that, in the later phase of Malthus, ‘the notion of the insufficiency of effective demand takes a definite place as a scientific explanation of unemployment’.

(10) The Auto Project on Energy and Climate Change, Climate Change Mitigation Strategies for the Transportation Sector in China, July 2006, pp11, 19, 33

(11) Review Of China: Conclusions And Recommendations (Final), OECD Working Party On Environmental Performance, 9 November 2006

(12) Demolish, Dig, Design: The Olympic Delivery Authority’s milestones’ to Summer 2008, Olympic Delivery Authority, April 2007

(13) See How can a boomtown be green?

(14) See Tony Blair’s response to your comments on the Friends of the Earth website

(15) Sainsbury, reply to author’s question, ‘Atlas of Ideas: Mapping the new geography of science’ conference at the Institution of Engineering and Technology, London, organized by DEMOS, 17 January 2007

(16) Heat, George Monbiot, Allen Lane, 2006, pp xii-xiii

(17) ‘China is shouldering its climate change burden’, Financial Times, 3 June 2007

(18)‘Clean power for China’, Time, 3 April 2006

(19) ‘China could overtake US as biggest emissions culprit by November’ http://business.guardian.co.uk/story/0,,2064726,00.html

(20) Black gold: the new frontier in oil for investors, George Orwel, John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2006, pp132, 133; China and the global energy crisis: development and prospects for China’s oil and natural gas, Tatsu Kambara and Christopher Howe, Edward Elgar, 2007, p122

(21) Black gold: the new frontier in oil for investors, George Orwel, John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2006, pp128

(22) China, Darfur, and the Olympics: Tarnishing the Torch?

(23) China, Darfur, and the Olympics: Tarnishing the Torch?

(24) ‘Darfur adds to US doubts over Beijing’s foreign policy’, Financial Times, 14 June 2007

(25) China and the global energy crisis: development and prospects for China’s oil and natural gas, Tatsu Kambara and Christopher Howe, Edward Elgar, 2007, p126

(26) Intellectual imperialism by Philip Cunliffe, 10 May 2007

(27) See for example Oil wars: how wars over oil further destabilise faltering regimes, edited by Mary Kaldor and Yahia Said, Pluto Press, 2007

(28) Stop shopping … or the planet will go pop, Observer, 8 April 2007

(29) Nelson Mandela Memorial Lecture, Thabo Mbeki, University of Witwatersrand, 29 July 2006, on

(30) ‘China is shouldering its climate change burden’, Financial Times, 3 June 2007

(31) See the video footage of Chinese bands on the Greenpeace website

(32) The Rough Guide to climate change: the symptoms, the science, the solutions, Robert Henson, Rough Guides, 2006, p287

(33)‘Beijing forges ahead with building its own industry’, Financial Times, 18 June 2007

(34)‘Sunlit uplands’, A special report on business and climate change, The Economist, 2 June 2007, pp20, 23

(35) China and the global energy crisis: development and prospects for China’s oil and natural gas, Tatsu Kambara and Christopher Howe, Edward Elgar, 2007, pp130-131

(36) China and the global energy crisis: development and prospects for China’s oil and natural gas, Tatsu Kambara and Christopher Howe, Edward Elgar, 2007, p77

(37) Climate Change Mitigation Strategies for the Transportation Sector in China, July 2006, Table 6: Summary of alternative vehicle technology and fuel options for China, p33

(38) ‘Bombardier and China’s Avic sign joint venture’ and ‘Global groups chase UK train order’, Financial Times, 19 June 2007

(39) Constructive ideas from the East by James Woudhuysen, 13 October 2005

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