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China Is Eating Our Lunch While We Watch

One way or another, the future is coming for us. While we have not yet “decided” whether it will be climate disaster or climate saved, time will tell.The developed world’s recalcitrance is not only costing us time in preventing the runaway effects that are coming, it’s allowing China to gain a foothold and increase its influence, wealth, and power on the world stage.

To start with, enjoy this Dilbert comic.

One way or another, the future is coming for us. While we have not yet “decided” whether it will be climate disaster or climate saved, time will tell.

The developed world’s recalcitrance is not only costing us time in preventing the runaway effects that are coming, it’s allowing China to gain a foothold and increase its influence, wealth, and power on the world stage.

In developed countries, citizens continually argue whether climate change is real and what we should do about it (nothing or making the problem worse is what voters often choose), and we watch governments and those in power make millions of micro and macro decisions to build new fossil power plants or fight carbon-free energy in countless ways. Renewables are nonetheless slowly growing but not a level commensurate with a 1.5° or even 2°C climate pathway.

A BYD electric bus at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. BYD is a Chinese company, and the solar panels that “powered” the bus were probably Chinese as well. Image credit: Zach Shahan | CleanTechnica

The progress we are achieving in installing solar and electric buses and soon batteries is mostly coming from China. Granted, China’s economy is an ecological disaster. The country burns coal at enormous rates, its air pollution levels are a serious health hazard, its mining practices are often unsafe and poison the land/water/air (which is what the political right in many countries backstops anyways), its CO2 emission levels are horrendous (and one can argue China is emitting the CO2 by manufacturing the products instead of the customer countries who buy and consume those products doing so), and so on.

But the Chinese are making great strides towards renewable adoption, they build the largest proportion of the world’s solar panels (they are not the top wind turbine producers but have three showings in the top 10), they build and deploy the world’s largest fleet of EV buses, they produce electric cars in huge numbers, and their electric car production potential eclipses every other country. And their electric cars are likely coming to developed countries’ shores, something they were never able to accomplish with their gasoline or diesel offerings.

So our infighting and lack of progress caused by the reality deniers has created an opening that has already led China to dominance in the aforementioned areas. And this will keep growing as they continue to increase exports of electric buses, as they expand their production capacity as solar panel demand continues rising, as they hope to supplant the legacy players in automotive and electrical production. They are already the world’s largest producer of lithium-ion batteries, and that dominance will likely grow.

This means instead of our money going to oil-producing states, our solar/battery/EV money will increasingly go to China. We are watching this happen in real time but can’t do much about it because reality deniers are obsessed with destroying us all and preventing progress, and voters repeatedly backstop this. We spin our wheels while China and Russia divide and conquer.

The end of this story is that China’s power and world influence keeps rising while the rest of the world keeps faltering. How low can it go? Will the USD cease to be the world’s reserve currency? Will China start dictating world affairs because it has the power, wealth, and influence to impose its will? Will the political right be able to keep blaming scapegoats as the losses mount and influence is lost that cannot easily be regained? As with any addiction, denial keeps the illusion of the gravy train going until you have lost everything. In many cases, there are no second chances.

As an aside, the right often causes problems people who vote are left to fix. They can’t or only partially fix them in an election cycle or so, the right blames them for not achieving success and invents more easy answers to convince voters to again elect right-wing candidates to fix the problem the right had originally created, and then they just make it worse again — leading to never-ending cyclical politics.

So, how do we deal with this coming sequence of events? The political consequences are beyond the scope of this article, but in renewable energy, it’s not at all hard. None of these technologies are made of pixie dust only found in China. Even rare earth minerals are not all that rare, but we have become complacent in buying them from China. Developed countries have the technology to produce solar/batteries/EVs at the scale needed to prevent runaway climate change and make a profit in the process. Interestingly, China learned from the developed world that to get nascent industries off the ground, you have subsidize them and provide them accessible capital. We have not forgotten this, but we are locked in a cycle of stupidity where we provide eternal subsidies to fossil fuels and legacy automakers but use double standards and only subsidize renewables on a sliding scale, and for short periods of time, and then whine about some failures and attack successes. The reality deniers whine about Solyndra but never whine about GM, Chrysler, Lehman, or Enron.

How badly do we want to fail?

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Written By

I've had an interest in renewable energy and EVs since the days of deep cycle lead acid conversions and repurposed drive motors (and $10/watt solar panels). How things have changed. Also I have an interest in systems thinking (or first principles as some call it), digging into how things work from the ground up. Did you know that 97% of all Wikipedia articles link to Philosophy? A very small percentage link to Pragmatism. And in order to put my money where my mouth is I own one (3x split) Tesla share.   A link to all my articles


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