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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Some stuff on China

It seems from the media that the great clash for world domination will be a three way contest between Google, Tesco and China. Seriously, is anyone surprised that despite being the worst despotism on the planet (nukes, human rights abuses, suppression of ethnic and religious minorities) that Western business and politicians treat China with kid gloves? If you co-operate with Western corporations any state is given carte blanche (minor taps on the knuckles notwithstanding) to carry on its own particular way of dealing with its subject populations.

One does not need to be a dyed in the wool eco-doomster to be worried by the thought of a billion plus Chinese acheiving US consumption levels. It can't be done, end of story! The world does not have the natural resources, as the following article suggests.

A new world order: China now consumes more of the Earth's resources than the US. Lester R Brown examines the consequences should its population devour at the American rate, and how growth is viable within our planet's boundaries
The Guardian, Wednesday January 25, 2006

For almost as long as I can remember, the experts have been saying that the US, with 5% of the world's population, consumes a third or more of the Earth's resources. That is no longer true.

China has now overtaken America as the world's leading resource consumer. Among the basic commodities - grain and meat in the food sector, oil and coal in the energy sector, and steel in the industrial sector - China now consumes more of each of these than the US except for oil. It consumes nearly twice as much meat - 67m tonnes compared with 39m tonnes in the US; and more than twice as much steel - 258m tonnes to 104m.

The important questions now are: what if China's consumption per person of these resources reaches the current US level, and how long will it take for China's income per person to reach the US level?

If China's economy expands at 8% a year in the decades ahead, its income per person will reach the current US level in 2031. If at that point China's resource consumption per person were the same as that in the US today, its 1.45 billion people would consume the equivalent of two-thirds of the current world grain harvest. China's paper consumption would be double the world's current production. Say goodbye to the world's forests.

If China were to have three cars for every four people - as in the US - it would have 1.1bn cars. Worldwide today there are 800m cars. To provide the roads and parking spaces to accommodate such a vast fleet, China would have to pave an area comparable to the land it now plants in rice - 29m hectares (72m acres). It would use 99m barrels of oil a day; the world currently produces only 84m barrels daily, and may never produce much more.

The western economic model - the fossil fuel-based, car-centred, throwaway economy - is not going to work for China. If it does not work for China, it will not work for India, which by 2031 is projected to have a population even larger than China's. Nor will it work for the 3 billion other people in developing countries who are also dreaming the "American dream".

In an increasingly integrated global economy, where all countries are competing for the same oil, grain and iron ore, the existing economic model will no longer work for industrial countries either.

Time for Plan B

Sustaining our early 21st-century global civilisation now depends on shifting to a renewable energy powered, re-use/recycle economy with a diversified transport system. Business as usual - Plan A - cannot take us where we want to go. It is time for Plan B, time to build a new economy.

Glimpses of the new economy can already be seen in the wind farms of western Europe, the solar rooftops of Japan, the fast-growing hybrid car fleet of the US, the reforested mountains of South Korea, and the bicycle-friendly streets of Amsterdam. Virtually everything we need to do to build an economy that will sustain economic progress is already being done in one or more countries.

In this economic restructuring, the biggest challenges will come in the energy economy as the world strives simultaneously to reduce carbon emissions and dependence on oil. Over the past five years, production of energy from oil and coal expanded by 2% and 3% a year, respectively, while wind and solar energy grew by some 30% a year. The transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is under way, but, unfortunately, it is not moving nearly fast enough to stabilise the climate or slow the depletion of oil reserves.

Among the new sources of energy - wind, solar cells, solar thermal, geothermal, small-scale hydro and biomass - wind is developing fastest, hinting at what the new energy economy will look like. In Europe, which is leading the world into the wind era, wind-electric generation is sufficient to meet the residential needs of some 40 million people. The European Wind Energy Association has projected that by 2020 some 195 million Europeans - half of the region's population - could get their residential electricity from wind.

Wind energy is growing fast for the following reasons: it is abundant, cheap, inexhaustible, widely distributed, clean and climate benign. No other energy source has this combination of attributes.

The US has enough harnessable wind energy to satisfy national electricity needs several times over. Wind electric generation in America, which expanded by 35% last year, is on the verge of exploding as rising natural gas prices spur investment in this cheaper source of electricity. China could easily double its current electricity generation from wind alone.

For the US vehicle fuel sector, which is widely seen as one of the most challenging segments of the world energy economy to restructure, the key to quickly reducing oil use and carbon emissions is petrol-electric hybrid cars. Fuel efficiency ratings from the US Environmental Protection Agency show that the average new car sold in the US last year travelled 22 miles to the gallon, compared with 55 miles a gallon for the Toyota Prius, a mid-sized petrol-electric hybrid.

If, for oil security and climate stabilisation reasons, America over the next 10 years replaced its entire fleet of passenger vehicles with super-efficient petrol-electric hybrids, petrol use could easily be cut in half. A change in the number of cars or miles driven would not be necessary.

Beyond this, a petrol-electric hybrid with an additional storage battery and a plug-in capacity would allow motorists to use electricity exclusively for short-distance driving, such as the daily commute and grocery shopping. This could cut US petrol use by an additional 20%, for a total reduction of 70%. Investment in thousands of wind farms across the US to feed cheap electricity into the grid would mean Americans could do most short-distance driving with wind energy, dramatically reducing carbon emissions and the pressure on world oil supplies.

Using timers to recharge batteries during the low-demand hours late at night, with electricity coming from wind farms, costs the equivalent of, or less than, 60 cents a gallon of petrol. The US has not only an inexhaustible alternative to oil but also an incredibly cheap one.

Taxing negative activities

The key to restructuring the global economy is restructuring national tax systems. In effect, lowering taxes on income and increasing those on environmentally destructive activities. This has progressed fastest in Europe, where countries are taxing negative activities, such as carbon emissions, the generation of rubbish (landfill taxes), and cars driven in cities.

A four-year plan adopted in Germany in 1999 systematically shifted taxes from labour to energy. By 2001, this plan had lowered fuel use by 5%. It had also accelerated growth in the renewable energy sector, creating some 45,400 jobs by 2003 in the wind industry alone - a number that is projected to rise to 103,000 by 2010.

In 2001, Sweden launched a bold new 10-year environmental tax shift designed to convert 30bn kroner (£2.2bn) of income taxes to taxes on environmentally destructive activities. Much of this shift - £624 per household - is levied on road transport, including substantial hikes in vehicle and fuel taxes.

Cities that are being suffocated by cars are using stiff entrance taxes to reduce congestion. The revenue from London's congestion charge for cars entering the inner city is being invested in improving the bus network, which carries 2 million passengers daily. The goal is a restructuring of the London transport system to reduce congestion, air pollution and carbon emissions, and to increase mobility.

Ecologists have long been convinced of the need to restructure the global economy in order to protect natural support systems and to stabilise the climate. China's growth is also convincing economists of the need for restructuring.

Our civilisation is not the first to move onto an environmentally unsustainable economic path. Some earlier civilisations in a similar situation were able to make the required adjustments in the time available. Others were not. We study the archaeological sites of the latter.

Of all the resources needed to build an economy that will sustain economic progress, none is more scarce than time. With climate change, we may be approaching the point of no return. The temptation is to reset the clock. But we cannot. Nature is the timekeeper.

Lester R Brown is president of the Earth Policy Institute and author of Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilisation in Trouble, published by WW Norton & Co, RRP £10.99. To order a copy for £9.99, with free UK p&p, go to or call 0870 836 0875.

It's ironic that the current movement of the rural peasantry to China's cities (and the attendant squalor) is rather similar to that to Britain's cities during the Industrial Revolution. If only Marx and Engels were around to see it all! As the following piece suggests, the Beijing regime are trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together, which is (anticipating my wannabe Guardian piece de resistance) a bit like Gordon Brown et al trying to hold Britain together post-devolution. Don't the current lot running China not know that every ruling class creates its own grave diggers?

Karl, China needs you
Isabel Hilton, New Statesman, Monday 20th February 2006
Just when it seemed it was all over for Marx, the Chinese Communist Party has had a spectacular change of heart, writes Isabel Hilton

According to Hu Jintao, China's president and general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Marxism is still applicable in China. And, in a recent announcement that has startled analysts, the party has pledged "unlimited funds" to the cause of "reviving" Marxism in China, in an attempt to turn the country into the global centre for Marxism studies.

The project is nothing if not ambitious: 3,000 "top Marxist theorists" and academics from across the country are to be summoned to Beijing to compile more than a hundred Marxism textbooks, each one to contain contributions from between 20 and 30 scholars. Each textbook will be funded to the tune of one million yuan (£70,000). In addition, the party promises a huge investment of human and financial resources to build more research institutes, train more theorists and produce more academic papers, all with the full support of the Politburo.

Li Changchun, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee and the party's chief official in charge of ideology, was reported to have told a meeting of propaganda officials and theorists that the leadership saw the project as a means of resolving various issues facing the country, and had given it "unlimited" support. The Institute of Marxism at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics will host an international seminar - on 1 April, appropriately enough - while the newly established Academy of Marxism at the notoriously liberal Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (Cass) is planning one for next year. All over China, heads will be bent over translations of Das Kapital as school and university students fulfil their mandatory quota of Marxism studies. In turn, teams of translators will be hired to translate the new textbooks into foreign languages for the waiting world.

This most remarkable ideological high-wire act since new Labour abandoned Clause Four is a sign, perhaps, that the CCP's identity crisis is reaching fever pitch. Marxism, or the local variant of it, was the ideology that produced stagnation in China for the first 40 years of the revolution, an ideology that few in China today remember, let alone subscribe to, and which the Chinese Communist Party itself appeared to abandon as a working model in 1992. China's current success derives from ditching Marx in favour of Warren Buffett.

Since then the country has enjoyed such spectacular capitalist-style growth that the expectation that the Chinese Communist Party will be ruler of the world's largest economy within two decades may well be fulfilled.

In the past decade and a half, the party has dismantled the state sector, thrown hundreds of millions out of work, given up on collective agriculture, celebrated the art of getting rich (not least through its own corruption), embraced the market "with Chinese characteristics", dumped the principles of free education, healthcare and cheap housing for the workers and created one of the most unequal societies in the world. Workers are not allowed to form trades unions, have little job protection, suffer appalling labour conditions and routinely go unpaid for months on end: a recent study by the National People's Congress concluded that migrant workers were owed more than £5bn in unpaid wages. Meanwhile, the peasants suffer the depredations of greedy and powerful local officials, against whom they have no redress. China's 2005 National Human Development Report concluded that inequality was growing fast by every index and that its Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality, had increased by more than 50 per cent in the past 20 years. China now ranks 85th in the UNDP's 177-nation Human Development Index.

In the course of its rapid development, China has created conditions that capitalists elsewhere can only envy. The only shreds of former Marxist practice left are the repressive nature of the state and the party's undying conviction that, as the vanguard of the proletariat, it has the right to remain in power for ever.

But just when it looked as though it was all over for Karl, the Chinese Communist Party appears to have had a change of heart. Would Marx have any advice for a Communist Party that found itself in such a situation?

Plenty, says Cheng Enfu, executive president of the Academy of Marxism at Cass. Far from abandoning Marxism, according to Professor Cheng, China has taken the lead in its development. One of two academics invited to lecture Politburo members last year on the need to modernise Marxism, Professor Cheng said recently that the Politburo had been studying the knotty question of how to reconcile the contradictions between Marx and free-market reforms. President Hu himself had chaired a meeting of top leaders to study ways to apply Marxist precepts to China's economic modernisation, one of several held since early last year to find Marxist answers to what the president called "a series of changes, contradictions and problems in all fields".

Professor Cheng offered a clue about the approach he plan- ned to adopt to this challenge: the aim, he said, was to "modernise" Marxism by building a theoretical system with "Chinese characteristics".

Quite how the Chinese masses will respond to this resurrection, it is hard to predict. Many of them, after all, appear to be in a revolutionary mood already, although, lacking the benefit of the CCP's organisation and leadership, they have not yet turned to the overthrow of a system that Marx would have had little trouble identifying as exploitative and oppressive.

Violent protests in China have been growing as fast as the economy, according to official statistics. In 2004, the ministry of public security reported 74,000 such incidents, up from 58,000 in 2003, and 17 of them involving more than 10,000 people. The 2005 reports showed another jump to 87,000 incidents of "public order disturbances", up 6.6 per cent on 2004; events that "interfered with government functions" jumped 19 per cent, while protests seen as "disturbing social order" grew by 13 per cent.

Perhaps the leadership hopes that a revival of Marxism might stop these restless citizens asking themselves what right a Communist Party that has abandoned the notion of the workers' state has to perpetuate its own power. Just in case, however, the CCP has also been investing heavily in the million-strong People's Armed Police, the main force that the government uses to deter revolutionary thoughts among its people. In a recent article in the party's aptly named Qiushi ("seeking the truth") magazine, the two highest-ranking PAP generals promised to enhance the combat effectiveness of the paramilitary force to deal with the increasing numbers of "sudden incidents".

Last August, the government announced the institution of specialised riot-police units in 36 cities; a month later, it announced a ban on any internet material that "incites illegal demonstrations". Would that include Marx himself? After all, in his Theses on Feuerbach, the sage observed that "the philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways. The point," he wrote, "is to change it."


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