Notes On The News
By Gwydion M Williams
“Canada is unlikely to be able to hit its target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 because of the rapid growth of its oil sands industry, a leading research group has warned. Canada has admitted that it stands no chance of meeting its commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2008-12 under the Kyoto protocol…”
“The oil sands of Alberta in western Canada are undergoing an investment boom worth more than $100bn (€70bn, £50bn), as upward revisions to expectations of the long-term oil price mean developments that were not previously commercially viable now look attractive.
“The output of the oil sands is set to rise from about 1.2m barrels a day to an expected 3m b/d by 2015, and perhaps 4m-plus by 2020.
“That could make Canada the world’s fourth-biggest oil producer after Saudi Arabia, Russia and the US, strengthening US energy security by creating an abundant source of oil in a friendly neighbouring country.
“However, the extraction of oil from the sand and clay with which it is mixed requires burning gas, meaning production emits much higher greenhouse gas volumes than traditional methods of oil extraction.” [A]
President Bush has stopped trying to deny Global Warming. With a massive drought in the USA [B], an even worse drought in Australia [C] and the likelihood of several more newsworthy hurricanes in the run-up to the US elections, denying climate change has become absurd. So Bush has switched to agreeing it is true and then trying to cheat. Canada’s oil sands are useful to the USA, but also a massive source of Carbon Dioxide. It would count as very expensive oil if the accounting were honest. So he’s trying to dump the cost of China and India, which is absurd.
Individuals in the West have much the biggest ‘carbon footprints’, and are failing to change. It was the West’s industrialisation that dumped most of the extra Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere. Also dumped a lot of soot, sulphur and other pollutants that were balancing the extra Carbon Dioxide until recently – but doing lots of other damage.
I’m sure the US anticipated the crisis, and took measured it thought would preserve US dominance for decades to come. If the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan had created docile obedient governments, the US would be well placed to intimidate the rest of the world. As it is, they look less and less formidable with each passing month.
“China’s historical GHG emissions are very low and per capita emission has been below the world average. According to the study carried out by the World Resource Institute (WRI), China’s carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion were 79 Mt in 1950, contributing only 1.13 percent of the world total at that time; cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion accounted for only 9.33 percent of the world total during the period of 1959-2002, and the cumulative carbon dioxide emissions per capita are 61.7 tons over the same period, ranking the 92nd in the world.” [D]
Early in June, the Chinese government announced plans for controlling both pollution and its growing contribution to global warming. Probably they knew they would be officially labelled the biggest contributor within a few weeks, rather ahead of anyone’s expectations. Plans were announced by Ma Kai, minister in charge of the National Development and Reform Commission.
“‘Compared to the industrialized countries, until recently China had low greenhouse gas emissions and its emissions are still relatively low in per capita terms. Rises in gross domestic product in China produce smaller hikes in carbon dioxide discharges than in other countries. This kind of talk is grossly exaggerated and unfair,'” Ma said.
“China prefers to calculate GHG emissions in per capita terms pointing out that, in 2004, its per capita carbon dioxide emissions were 3.65 tons, compared to a world average of 4.20 tons and an average of 10.95 tons for the Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.
“More pertinently, China points out that a one-percent rise in GDP leads to an average 0.6 percent increase in carbon dioxide emissions worldwide, but the Chinese figure is only 0.38 percent.
“‘Even if China overtook the United States one day in total carbon dioxide discharges, given that the former’s population is five times as much as the latter, China’s per capita greenhouse gas emission would remain low compared with the United States'”. [E]
“‘China is a developing country. Although we do not have the obligation to cut emissions, it does not mean we do not want to shoulder our share of responsibilities,’ Ma Kai said.
“‘We must reconcile the need for development with the need for environmental protection,’ he said, adding that China wanted to ‘blaze a new path to industrialisation’.
He said rich countries were responsible for most of the greenhouse gases produced over the past century, and had an ‘unshirkable responsibility’ to do more to tackle the problem.” [F]
It won’t be an ‘unshirkable responsibility’ for as long as Bush is President. But whoever follows is bound to be under enormous pressure to get some sort of deal. China, India and Brazil are united in a determination not to let the cost be dumped on them.
The British Empire was built on a gross abnormality, Britain’s brief dominance of manufacturing. This had happened mostly because Britain’s ruling class decided to let the process run without regard for the consequences. They were clustered in London and the ‘Home Counties’, industry and its pollution were mostly in the North, they could live with that. Besides, 18th century industry was absorbing the energies of the ‘Nonconformists’, the heirs of the 17th century Puritan Revolution, those who had not been absorbed into a gentry that believed it could thrive on change.
The gentry couldn’t really thrive on change, not past a certain point, a point that was reached during the French Revolution and the later Napoleonic Wars. Their own middle class edged them out of power, beginning with the 1832 electoral reform – though it was only in 1884 that a majority of adult males in Britain got the vote. The brief dominance of the British middle class was based on shaky foundations. They resented sharing with the working class in Britain and with non-white ruling classes in the global Empire. The British gentry had made some efforts at incorporating local elites, especially among the aristocrats in British-ruled India. But the bulk of the society was in favour of White Racism, in as far as it thought about the matter at all. A ‘colour bar’ kept out the Muslim and Hindu elite until much too late, until they had lost any interest in being the second tier of a global British-dominated Empire.
Meantime there was nothing very special about British manufacturing methods, nothing that couldn’t be copied by a society that had understood modern science. Modern notions that ‘capitalism’ depended on Protestantism ignore the earlier scientific revolution, including both Catholics and Protestants and very much alive north of the Alps in the 18th century, even as Italy stagnated. What Britain had done, France, Germany etc. could easily copy. Germany especially – Britain’s rulers kept World War One going after it had bogged down, because Germany was clearly overtaking Britain in peaceful competition. Then panicked that Germany had been weakened too much and helped Hitler rise in 1933-38, before suddenly reversing again and ruining itself in World War Two. The fall of Singapore in 1941 showed that the British Empire was past saving. We became a diminishing part of Europe, something that began in the ‘great’ Victorian era.
” Helped by the industrial revolution, Britain became the world number one in manufacturing, with a share of roughly 30 per cent in 1850 but this fell to 23 per cent in 1880, 19 in 1900 and just 4.7 per cent in 1995.” [G]
Britain rose under the rule of the fat and unimpressive Georgians. By Victorian times, the Empire had a lot of glitter but diminishing substance. Eventually it all broke free. But with less than 1% of the global population, the UK has not fallen as far as most people think.
“The UK’s share of global manufacturing output – measured in constant-price dollars – would fall from 3.4 per cent in 2006 to 3 per cent in 2011, and just 2.2 per cent in 2025.
“The momentum of likely increases however should be enough to maintain the country’s relatively high position in the world league table of manufacturing nations, as measured by dollar-denominated output.
“The UK, in sixth position in 2006 – behind the US, Japan, China, Germany and France – was predicted to occupy eighth slot by 2025. By then South Korea and India are expected to have overtaken Britain, to lie fifth and seventh.” [G]
Discussions confusing three processes:
a) The reduction of manufacturing workforce as production gets better
b) The shift of low-skill work to poorer countries, retaining a lot of high-value-added stuff in rich countries.
c) A genuine decline in Britain’s global role.
At some time in the future, this island and its role will be back in balance, 1% of the global total. Which need not mean anything bad. Consider agriculture, where a tiny percentage of the population can produce enough food, even in crowded Britain.
What’s puzzling, and also saddening, is that the reduced need for essential work has gone hand in hand with a massive increase in rather pointless work, people harassing each other to buy goods that they could live quite happily without. The average person seems ready to be stressed because of the glittering promise of wealth – wealth that only a few of them will ever get, obviously. Isn’t this getting a bit stupid?
The USA claims to be seeking world peace. The more their politics produce war and chaos, the more they insist that the rest of the world would be in mortal peril without them. Having had a unique opportunity after the Soviet collapse, the USA has brought war and instability wherever it has not been held off by some strong sovereign state.
A survey called the Global Peace Index places the USA very low, 96th out of 121. The UK is not as bad, 49th, but well below Ireland. Ireland was 4th, with Norway, New Zealand and Denmark taking the first three places. [H]
What’s also interesting is that China and Kazakhstan both come in the middle rankings, 60th and 61st. The Republic of India was 109th. This despite a bias towards capitalist democracies and globalised trade, as might be expected from the involvement of The Economist Intelligence Unit (linked to the Economist magazine.) Russia was 118th, still not fully recovered from the Yeltsin years. Iraq was worst of all, obviously. Belarus, the most determined hold-out among the former Leninist countries, was not included among the 121.
Democracy means government by whoever the electors choose to pick. The USA talked up democracy when it was undermining regimes that they disliked, even when it revived national hatreds and led to civil war, as it did in Former Yugoslavia. But people moving away from the USA’s way of doing things – that is not classed as democracy, even if a majority of the electorate happen to vote for it.
There was a time when the West thought that hard-line Islam could be used and kept docile. In 1987, they could have signed up the secular Afghan government that had originally invited in the Russians, but remained an effective force even with the Russians pulling out again. Instead they stood back and let functional Afghan secularism be destroyed by a mix of religious fanatics and cynical gangsters.
Cynical gangsters can’t be expected to produce anything better than chaos, as Afghanistan has vividly showed. Hence the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, of Hezbollah in the Lebanon. They’ve now got something as militant and populist as the best of the Communist movements, and vastly more alien in their outlook.
Rather than learning from their mistakes, they seem to have learned all of their mistakes and are determined to repeat them exactly. Arafat was given a mini-state without any real borders, a cluster of ‘Bantustans’ that were obviously not a real state. In return he was supposed to break Hamas, which had become dangerous. What Arafat was planning is anybody’s guess, maybe just the chance to die peacefully in the lands he had failed to liberate. Hamas remained unbroken and the pseudo-state of Palestine never got any credibility.
The West had insisted on regular elections in this unstable state, without thinking through what it meant. Britain had 50 years of intermittent civil war and seven generations of rule by an oligarchy before it slowly moved towards making parliament democratic. The USA in the 1860s had the first war that was unambiguously a war between electoral democracies (which doesn’t stop their academics from claiming that democracies don’t go to war with each other). Multi-party elections are obligatory, and foreigners were blamed if this produces chaos. They are also blamed and punished if they elect the wrong people, as Serbia was when it kept re-electing Milosevic, as Venezuela was unsuccessfully subverted after it elected Chavez. It was unacceptable for Palestine to have elected Hamas, so they were not allowed to rule. When power-sharing was tried, the West was determined to undermine it.
Except the whole process backfired. In Gaza, a seemingly minor conflict turned suddenly into a complete collapse by the Fatah power-structure. Maybe including Fatah fighters changing sides, this is disputed. But Channel 4 News showed the essence when they showed a slogan in Gaza, Fatah people fear death, Hamas do not.
On the West Bank, Hamas are down for now. [J] But they have popular support, they won the elections there as well as in Gaza.[K] Don’t be surprised if you wake up one morning and find that Fatah are simply gone, in the same way as the pro-British rulers of South Yemen vanished overnight. In South Yemen, Britain was able to withdraw. What could Israel do?
They’ve been a bunch of fools, and I’ve regretfully concluded Israel is now past saving. 1.2 billion Muslims are in the end going to outweigh 20 million Jews. Particularly when Jews have alienated a lot of their natural allies and in the US are aligned with Christian groups that basically do not like Jews. Whatever happens is likely to be very nasty, probably involving the use of some of Israel’s pretend-they’re-not-there nuclear weapons. But both Hamas and Hezbollah have shown that they don’t fear death, and numbers are on their side.
Bush and Blair keep saying they want to work with moderate Muslims. And keep demonstrating that actually they want moderate Muslims to work for them and get nothing in return. Not even respect, they are supposed to keep quite when a mediocre novelist like Rushdie is rewarded for having made vulgar jokes about their religion.
Channel 4 News showed some overseas demonstrators following the usual habit of mixing their own language with English, the global language that is now open for anyone to use. In this case they’d got it a little garbled, with one placard saying Course on Satan: Salman Rushdi. (Course on the cause of Satan?) But they were asserting Muslim dignity, at a time when the moderate Muslims have nothing to show in return for their moderation.
At the time of the original row about Satanic Verses, I supported Rushdie, while never having any regard for the man as a man or as a writer. At the time, Britain was not waging a global war for SubAmericanisation. At the time, the Soviet Union was still credible as a global empire and it was not clear how badly the USA would misbehave once its rival was gone. At the time, there was still some hope that the Muslim world might get back its dignity via socialism rather than Islamism.
I’m sorry things went the way they did, with socialism ruined among Muslims. Yet socialism is renewing itself elsewhere, while the US is stuck in the Iraqi tar-baby. I am not going to join in the blather about ‘Islamofascism’. The global struggle is now against the USA and its attempt to junk imperfect world political structures in favour of the whims of whatever idiot the US electorate may pick. I am content to see the anti-US struggle fought out by Islamists at the expense of Western intruders and sluggish and corrupt secular-Muslim regimes.
The USA supported the forerunners of al-Qaeda when it suited them, but now it is ‘with us or against us’. Fine, I am against them. Islamist ideas are alien to me, but I respect the right of Muslims to opt for a hard-line version of their own faith, just as the USA and UK have done in their time.
[C] Issue 2608 of New Scientist magazine, 13 June 2007
[J] [http://www.newsdaily.com/TopNews/UPI-1-20070621-10272200-bc-mideast-westbank.xml], [http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19314477/]