Friday, 31 October 2008

Still inscrutable after all these years

Courtesy of the great Dr Ray of Greenie Watch I have learned of a recent report from our Chinese friends (reported here by the BBC). Two things are noticeable, China has absolutely no intention of slowing the tide of its industrial development and it wants the West to pay for gimmicks like carbon capture technology. What very sensible people they are.

It's all about priorities. The Communist leaders realised, at around the time they negotiated the hand-back of Hong Kong, that their ideological approach to economics was keeping their people in poverty. Perhaps a close look at Hong Kong was all it took to acknowledge that a radical change was needed, perhaps the timing was coincidence, it does not really matter which. They too could enjoy warm homes and relief from servile drudgery if only they did what the West had been doing for a century and used power generation to improve standards of life. It really does all boil down to the generation of power, primarily electricity. Without machines we cannot make things sufficiently cheaply in sufficient numbers to allow comforts to be available to all, and without power we cannot make machines, without power we cannot run machines, without power we cannot transport goods in bulk and so it goes on.

This is not to suggest that China was comprised entirely of hovels, but modern buildings and facilities were only widely available in the big cities. A country of its massive size and population needed to industrialise on an enormous scale in order to make a serious inroad into the vast swathes of population who were still living as their great great grandparents had, eking a living from a limited range of crops with little modern equipment to ease the burden.

They had a choice. Leave things as they were or seek a way to improve the quality of life. The latter was chosen and a sustained programme of building power stations was set in motion. To fuel those power stations they did what every sensible government would do, they looked at the resources available to them rather than being reliant on imports. One of China's greatest natural resources is coal. More coal than you can shake a stick at. Coal fired electricity generating plants are quicker and cheaper to build than any other type, so they rolled their sleeves up and got on with it. We can sneer at their health and safety practices from the lofty heights of a country in which, until recently, we could afford to be ultra cautious towards workers; but they had a job to do and were not going to be delayed or caused additional expense by such considerations.

It is, I think, important to recognise just how addictive comfort can be. Once experienced it is hard to relinquish. If you have only ever slept on a straw mattress your first night on a well padded sprung bed must be quite a shock, a shock of the very nicest kind. The norm has changed, now a sprung mattress is there in your experience and in your mind, the memory is indelible, so you want one for yourself. The same applies if you have only ever eaten gruel and offal then taste a steak pie with fresh steamed veg and a good sturdy boiled potato. It is not called "progress" for nothing, it is a change from something bearable to something comfortable and human nature demands a progression to further and further comfort. Not only does this apply to each of us individually, it applies to groups of people in a family, in a village, in a town, in a city and in a country. However we organise ourselves, those who have experienced increased comfort understand why others would benefit from the same. It took China's leaders a long time to come to the comfort party but they are here now and no amount of tree-hugging wibble from self-flagellating eco-egotists will keep them from the dance floor.

In one of my earliest offerings of blogology (here) I commented on the futility of the West having any carbon dioxide emissions targets when the leaders of China and India are determined to give their people the same comforts we take for granted. That remains the position and now we see how the game is being played by China's government. They know there is nothing anyone can do to make them reverse their policy, so they will milk it for everything they can get. And quite right too. If the eco-warriors don't like China's power stations spewing out carbon dioxide, it is for the eco-warriors to provide China with a way of producing electricity without that consequence.

If and when carbon-capture technology is developed there will be little point trying to charge for it because the West will have no bargaining position. This is an important point. There are only two scenarios, either the man-made global warming Armageddon theory will still prevail or it will have been discarded. If the former, the onus will be on the West to get China to play ball. But China only needs to say "we are progressing nicely as we are, thank you" and the West must give the technology for nothing. If the latter, carbon capture is otiose. As would be said in the East End of London, China will have us done up like a kipper.

Perhaps China will pay a nominal price for diplomatic reasons but the vast bulk of the costs will fall on the self-righteous preachers of the West or, to be precise, on their taxpayers. The more the West bleats about cutting emissions, the stronger China's position. The more desperately the Western hand-wringers call for their own countries to act, the greater their impulse and self-imposed need to drag China into the "green" fold.

One of the arguments used most frequently by eco-wibblers is that their position is morally correct - saving the world is a greater cause than any other. They have a point, but only if the world is imperilled. Another moral argument is advanced by the Chinese and, indeed, by the Indians. They are not building vast numbers of coal fired power stations just for the fun of it or to give their people the delights of interactive HD television shows. They are doing it to give their people relief from subsistence living and some additional comforts that their countries can afford, but can only afford by using coal to make electricity. Their morality is in direct contrast of the immorality of the current UK government which has not made proper provision for maintaining electricity generation to keep everyone safe from the ravages of winter.

China knows it is on the moral high ground. It also knows the West's eco-fetish is a powerful force on many governments in developed countries. For China it is a win-win situation. They cannot be criticised for improving the lot of their weakest people and they can say, with absolute justification, that emissions targets will reduce their ability to spread that improvement. They will let the West stew in its expensive green juices. The Chinese are a polite people, they will not say it to our faces, they will just sit there smiling and laughing internally at our politicians' stupidity.

Still inscrutable after all these years.


Mark Wadsworth said...

All good stuff, but I'd query this:

A country of [China's] massive size and population

It's one or t'other actually. Their population density per area is about half that of the UK, so there's not a world of difference.

TheFatBigot said...

I'd have thought a less dense population makes the effective delivery of electricity more expensive. Perhaps it makes little real difference when the central aim is to generate enough of the stuff for all, that's a big big task. More strength to their elbows, say I.

Alex Cull said...

Well said. The West (UK in particular) resembles a madman inviting everyone in the crowd around him to jump off a cliff. China is saying, in effect (and politely): "No, you first."

And you are right about what wealth means. Not iPods and posh wine but having decent food and a comfortable bed to sleep in. We have these things, the Chinese and Indians want them too, and will not be denied.