TheHotSpring.com :: China is choking under a thick covering of contaminants produced from burning carbon-based fuels for industrial production, power-generation, and transport. Environmental degradation is so rampant that much of the northwest of the country is being lost to rapidly expanding deserts. And desertification threatens the already shaky balance between China’s available arable land and its skyrocketing demand for cheap food. Policy makers and market theorists in China and abroad should be thinking about whether that desert can produce something to help China escape the mounting environmental and public health cataclysm.
If the windswept desert plains and sweltering sun-drenched sands can be used for power generation, then industrial land elsewhere in the country can be converted to other uses, and the air across China could be cleaned up, at least in part. At present, China relies mainly on coal for its power generation needs, and coal is the dirtiest fuel source that is widely used. Economic “imperatives” drive Chinese policy toward coal, because it can be harvested domestically, but it may not be necessary to keep burning it in order to keep China’s boomtime economy growing.
China could in fact be —due to its size, both geographically and demographically, and the immense amount of investment pouring into the country— an opportunity to implement what might become models for future “clean” industry-based green-economic development. This would require specific improvements, on a massive scale, and one of the key technologies that will be required is a renewables-oriented grid that transports electricity with minimal energy seepage in “real time”, so that massive renewables farms in remote areas can provide power to faraway urban centers.
The United States is examining this problem as we speak, and the dedicated renewables grid is part of the plans of T. Boone Pickens as well as the “we can solve it” campaign, backing Al Gore’s push for an all-renewables economy within 10 years. The single major obstacle to implementing such plans is not technological capacity, but rather the installation of the optimum infrastructure to distribute the power generated by such means to consumers, and to take advantage of feedback loops, so that all available renewable output capacity ends up being shared across the entire grid.
China has soared in economic terms to become the world’s 2nd leading consumer of energy and its 2nd consumer of petroleum, behind the United States. More than 4 times as populous as the US, and facing shocking degrees of environmental degradation and public health risks, China cannot sustain the level of old-fashioned unfiltered coal-fired power plant-use and resulting carbon emissions, without paying a heavy and potentially irreversible cost.
China is also undergoing a dramatic shift toward the individual automobile as a transport staple, a move that could push global carbon emissions far beyond the “point of no return” for catastrophic climate change. And, pressure will mount in coming years, as the US gets closer to supporting a global carbon-emissions reduction regime, for China to surrender its growth engine to a global security imperative. It would be best served by having a safe means of transitioning away from carbon-based combustibles sooner rather than later.