Harper in China
ENERGY & EQUITY: Why should Canada now beg to fuel China's colossal waste of energy?
By Andrew Nikiforuk, 9 Feb 2012, TheTyee.ca
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a neo-classical economist, visited Imperial China this week to do some energy begging on behalf of investors in the world's third largest oil reserves.
Harper, accompanied by his pals at Enbridge and EnCana, shamelessly shuffled down the same petroleum road padded by the world's well-known ethical oil crowd: Iran, Saudi Arabia and Hugo Chavez.
The jaunty Venezuelan, who sits on the world's second largest oil reserve, visited the Communist superpower five times in recent years to ink eight agreements on energy cooperation no less. Chavez, as you might guess, has some ethical issues with the United States.
Now Harper, a self-confessed libertarian and a champion prison builder, also has some ethical problems with the United States. That frightful democracy ignored Harper's Big Oil lobby and then temporarily rejected a "no-brainer" pipeline.
The ill-fated Keystone XL pipeline promised to deliver landlocked bitumen to refineries owned by Saudi Armaco, Venezuela and the Koch brothers in the Gulf of Mexico.
After the rejection, a petulant Harper vowed to diversify bitumen markets to boost Ottawa's oil revenue. In the process he also experienced a quiet moral conversion. Harper once championed God before Mammon on trade with Godless China, but the evangelical has taken a shine to power politics. He now recognizes that the oil business is not for ethical sissies.
Borrowing Orwellian vocabulary from Mao's Little Red Book, Harper and his minions have even dubbed democratic protestors in Canada as "foreign radicals" and "puppets."
So Harper, Canada's premier bitumen salesman, has had a "Chavez" moment. He has found Divine Providence in bitumen and belatedly embraced China, the world's least ethical oil consumer, if there is such a thing.
Now here's the situation and it's a damnable one. Thanks to a hyper-paced industrial revolution, China became an oil importer in 1993. Since then, three state-founded companies have scoured the planet for "equity oil" and all to sustain China's dizzying nine per cent growth rates. (Fort McMurray, by the way, has grown at a similar pace.)
China's oil demand, one very thirsty dragon, has jumped anywhere from two to 17 per cent in recent years and, incredibly, accounts for anywhere between one-fifth and one-half of total global consumptive oil growth.
The math has alarmed energy security types. Between 1994 and 2004, China's oil imports rose from two million to four million barrels a day. Combined with hurricanes and global political squabbles, China's new oil addiction drove up global oil prices. It even made the world's least economic and most energy intensive hydrocarbon, bitumen, a palatable risk for oil companies.
Today, China pours nearly nine million barrels of oil a day into its heavy industries, industrial agriculture and transportation gridlock. (The Imperial Kingdom, a copy-cat capitalist, wants to replace one billion bicycles with one billion cars because that's what everyone else did with their oil.)
Thanks to cheap loans for heavy energy-intensive industries, land subsidies and lax environmental standards, China now makes about half of the world's glass and cement, a third of its steel production and more than a quarter of its aluminum. (Harperland, which arrogantly calls itself a superpower, barely accounts for three per cent of the world's oil production.)
Colossal waste of energy
But like the spectacular growth of the tar sands, Chinese energy spending has been incredibly wasteful.
Just to generate 10,000 yuan (that's $1,500 Canadian) in GDP, the industrial superpower spends three times more energy than the global average. (Bitumen, a signature of the end of cheap oil, consumes large volumes of natural gas and offers energy returns as poor as ethanol in some projects.)
The Peterson Institute for International Economics, a non-partisan think tank, says that China's oil spending on capital intensive heavy industry has created gross imbalances in the Chinese economy as well much volatility and uncertainty in global oil markets. In fact, China forked out more yuan for oil in 2011 than it made from exports to the United States.
The forecast, of course, calls for more oil spending. China's global energy demand could expand from 16 per cent to 22 per cent by 2030. The implications are unprecedented. To move a population of 1.3 billion consumers, now burning two barrels of oil a year per capita, to a profligate North American standard (22 barrels), China would have to import 80 million barrels of oil a day.
Yet China's industrial revolution and gangster capitalism has already created a Charles Dickens-like inferno that includes depleted groundwater, contaminated rivers, smog-chocked cities, toxic-laced food, cancer epidemics and an appalling loss of biodiversity.
The pollution of energy-intensive heavy industry now transcends borders. Korea and Japan worry about acid rain while Russia recently dealt with a benzene slick on the Songhua River. In 2007, China's fossil fuel spending gave the nation another dubious honour: it's now the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases. About 60 per cent of the pollution comes from heavy industry.
China's race with time
No one thinks this sort of oil spending is sustainable, inspired or even sane. Unless China switches to labour-intensive light industry and reduces the number of its oil-based energy slaves, the empire's economy will raise food prices, spark environmental protest, fuel inflation and launch massive political unrest.
Even the Wall Street Journal warns that China's boom is waning: "The country is littered with luxurious county government offices, ghost cities of empty apartment blocks, unsafe high-speed rail lines and crumbling highways to nowhere."
Meanwhile Alberta, an incompetent petro state that bases its energy policies on the contents of fortune cookies, says it's now looking for a Canada-Asia energy trade expert.