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The New Silk Road is Paved With Clean Energy — What America Can Learn From China’s Solar Panel Diplomacy

Have solar panel, will travel.

That appears to be the motto of the insurgent globe-spanning renewable energy economy which China is now investing hundreds of billions to develop. For what we’re now beholden to is an economic powerhouse using both its massive capital and its ability to produce inexpensive clean energy systems to spread influence across the world.

(Solar boat diplomacy. China is using its massive financial power base along with its forward-looking clean tech clout to spread its influence across the globe. Meanwhile, the U.S. under Trump remains mired in the dirty energy systems and harmful related politics of the past. Image source: Phys.org.)

As the U.S. under Trump and Republicans withdraws from the world, as it enters a form of  jingoistic protectionism, and as it alienates allies, abandons business opportunities, as it turns a cold shoulder to territories like Puerto Rico — China is making global in-roads through engagement. This engagement comes in the form of foreign aid and clean tech exports. Spear-headed by its 1.2 trillion dollar foreign aid investment called ‘One Belt, One Road,’ China is aiming low cost loans at both developing and developed economies — providing assistance for economic and infrastructure expansion across Europe, Asia and Africa.

For reference, 1.2 trillion dollars is ten times more money than the amount loaned to Europe following the destruction of World War II through the Marshall Plan. And much of this money is focused not only on enabling China to develop a sprawling trade network worth 2.5 trillion dollars, it’s also intended to seed a sustainable energy revolution where much of the needed hardware is manufactured by China.

According to Adnan Z. Amin, the Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency:

“As the energy transition progresses, power grid infrastructure interconnections will be key to facilitate larger and flexible electricity markets that can integrate higher shares of variable renewable energy. As much as 2,000 GW of interconnection capacity will be required by 2050 in order for enough renewables to be deployed to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

“The Belt-and-Road Initiative can provide a promising platform to help meet the need for infrastructural interconnections between countries, particularly if it has greater focus on low-carbon growth and sustainable energy.”

In other words, where myopic right-wing politicians attack trade alliances and risky foreign ‘giveaways,’ China woos partners in developing a massive transcontinental clean energy trading network. For, China, this kind of investment is a major win-win. If the countries connected by China’s Belt and Road initiative succeed, develop and pay off the loans, China profits through both loan payments and by interconnecting trade partners to its renewable pipeline. But if a default occurs, China is increasingly stepping in and asking for collateral in the form of port leases. For example, when Sri Lanka recently defaulted on a large loan payment, China took a port lease in exchange. Meanwhile, in Africa, China holds the leases for over twenty port facilities.

(China’s Belt and Road program aims to connect far-flung developing and developed economies. Image source: Commons.)

Ports are valuable centers for the flow of goods and capital. So adding port leases to far-flung locales which China is investing in and developing could well be seen as a means of expanding its strategic and economic might along with its political influence. It’s the kind of program that the U.S. used to engage in with enthusiasm, but on a much grander scale. Moreover China’s nascent foreign investment campaign comes with a uniquely Chinese clean energy authority twist. They’re not only using it to both open doors for their clean energy products, they’re leveraging this moral capital to criticize Trump’s climate change denial based policies. Note this recent statement from Xinhua:

“Trump abandoned the Paris climate agreement… [which resulted in] diminished benefits for American workers and less U.S. economic production. Ignoring climate change and global efforts, Trump’s America only focuses on its own short-term interest, while recklessly shirking its responsibility, and even damaging other countries’ benefits and global sustainable development.”

This criticism coming from China drips with terms honed to point out the U.S. lack responsibility and the degradation of its leadership position under Trump. A leadership position China appears to be poised to take. Clean energy leadership is, thus, a strategic goal.

While China is presenting a united front in support of clean energy, in the U.S., renewables’ foes are given a megaphone. This month, as the U.S. financial media took another hit off the petroleum industry bong of Goldman Sachs analyst David Tamberrino, and subsequently did everything it could to publicly attack the progress of domestic clean energy leader Tesla, China’s own electrical vehicle sales hit another record high. Monthly EV sales in China during February, according to this CleanTechnica report, topped 34,000 or roughly twice U.S. EV sales volume for the same month.

Despite best efforts by Trump-supported fossil fuel special interests, the U.S. still has a major quality advantage over China’s mainland EVs due primarily to Tesla — which is goading western auto manufacturers into the EV race even as those same harmful interests turn the company into a media whipping boy. If the U.S. EV industry is not to go the way of solar, whose global manufacturing is now undeniably led by China, then the home-grown fossil fuel special interest based media and political attacks are going to have to fail. And if the U.S. overall, is going to be a successful member of the climate-change confronting economies of the 21st Century, it’s going to have to take a note or two from China’s laser focus on the matter.

For right now China is poised to leverage a massive global trade network enabled by foreign aid to export shiploads of solar panels (and probably EVs) down the modern version of the silk road to Asia, Europe and Africa. To many of the 1.2 billion people on Earth who don’t currently have access to electricity or the grids that supply it to the rest of us. If China succeeds, it will build new clean economies, strategic partnerships, and the clout of global moral leadership. The U.S., by contrast, under Trump is heading toward a nasty fossil fuel backwater that will ultimately be confined to the dustbin of history.

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18 Comments

  1. Somewhat counter intuitively (perhaps). the workings of the Politburo of the PRC are a pretty well functioning meritocracy, and Xi is the scary smart/serious/competent result, in competition with whom we are matching up ….our feckless leader.

    IN PRAISE OF SMOKE FILLED ROOMS. WHY CAN’T WE HAVE A MERITOCRACY LIKE CHINA?
    http://dagblog.com/reader-blogs/praise-smoke-filled-rooms-why-cant-we-have-meritocracy-china-13102

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    • The issue that the U.S. has suffered from and, so far, managed to overcome periodically in its history has been corruption due to systemic inequality. The present systemic corruption in the U.S. related to the fossil fuel resource curse is quite intense and, is yet, not overwhelming. The U.S. could still forge a clear path forward, but self-sabotage due primarily to overly conservative (and not just politically conservative, but they’re a big part of it) elements remains a possibility.

      Where China has succeeded is in generational planning and systemic mass action. We can’t entirely say that authoritarianism is the cause due to the fact that practically every other authoritarian system on Earth suffers from corruption and short-sightedness. I think the ability to plan generationally for the Chinese is therefore more cultural than political. There appears to be a general acceptance within China that coordinated, cooperative effort has more positive long term effect. The individual is not celebrated in the cultish fashion that we see here in the U.S. This provides space for leadership outside of persona, for vision that transcends a single person and that everyone can share in. This is less meritocracy than it is self-sacrifice for a real greater good. Which in itself has transcendent merit. Xi, therefore, is less the cause than the product.

      I’m not advocating for authoritarianism (which I find to be abhorrent) or communism (I would rather see liberal democracy) when I say that I admire what China has done. But what I do admire is this virtue of looking beyond the self and of working together for a greater good. At times in U.S. history we have done this. But, at the moment, we appear to have lost our way. And it’s hurting both us and the rest of the world.

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  2. A sober reality
    https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-03/uoi-gml031918.php
    Public Release: 19-Mar-2018
    Glacier mass loss: Past the point of no return
    University of Innsbruck
    In our calculations, we took into account all glaciers worldwide – without the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets and peripheral glaciers – and modelled them in various climate scenarios,” explains Georg Kaser.
    One kilogram of CO2 emitted costs 15 kilograms of glacier ice.

    Whether the average temperature rises by 2 or only 1.5°C makes no significant difference for the development of glacier mass loss over the next 100 years. “Around 36 percent of the ice still stored in glaciers today would melt even without further emissions of greenhouse gases. That means: more than a third of the glacier ice that still exists today in mountain glaciers can no longer be saved even with the most ambitious measures,” says Ben Marzeion

    However, looking beyond the current century, it does make a difference whether the 2 or 1.5°C goal is achieved. “Glaciers react slowly to climatic changes. If, for example, we wanted to preserve the current volume of glacial ice, we would have to reach a temperature level from pre-industrial times, which is obviously not possible. In the past, greenhouse gas emissions have already triggered changes that can no longer be stopped. This also means that our current behaviour has an impact on the long-term evolution of the glaciers – we should be aware of this,” adds glaciologist Kaser. In order to make these effects tangible, the scientists have calculated that every kilogram of CO2 that we emit today will cause 15 kilograms of glacier melt in the long term. Calculated on the basis of an average car newly registered in Germany in 2016, this means that one kilogram of glacier ice is lost every five hundred meters by car,” clarifies Ben Marzeion.

    Highlighting
    one kilogram of glacier ice is lost every five hundred meters by car,” clarifies Ben Marzeion.

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  3. The prescience strikes again
    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/spotlight/news/article.cfm?c_id=1504095&objectid=12016626
    Done it again? The Simpsons predict Stephen Hawking’s fate 19 years early

    As well as many other events ?

    However their warning of a Trump President should be viewed in it’s entire context

    But one of the most famous, involve The Simpsons accurately predicting the fact that then-reality TV personality Donald Trump would become president of the United States
    Back in 2000, the show made that prediction during the ‘Bart to the Future’ episode.
    Trump was later referenced in another clip called “Trumptastic Voyage.”
    The iconic cartoon’s creator, Matt Groening, said: “Trump was of course the most absurd placeholder joke name that we could think of at the time, and that’s still true. It’s beyond satire.”
    Dan Greaney, a writer for the Simpsons, also told The Hollywood Reporter that the clip had a dark message behind it.
    He said: “It was a warning to America. That just seemed like the logical last stop before hitting bottom.
    “It was pitched because it was consistent with the vision of America going insane.”

    The cartoon foretold a Trump presidency in a surreal episode where Bart is given a window into the future – and found a country brought to its knees by financial mismanagement and a crime wave ushered in by Trump.
    The episode’s alternate universe reveals that Trump, who will be 84 in 2030, left the country in an impossible amount of debt, and reliant on foreign aid from Europe and China.

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    • The spookiest part which was not picked up by the Authors re the Hawking episode

      The eerie link was uncovered this weekend as producers aired the 1999 episode – entitled They Saved Lisa’s Brain – in which Hawking stars, as a tribute to his death on Wednesday 14 March.
      The scene features Hawking – who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) when he was 21 – performing in a rap called ‘A Brief History Of Rhyme’ – a play on his famous volume of work.
      In the episode, Hawking saves Lisa from the power-hungry Springfield chapter of Mensa in a special wheelchair, complete with an Inspector Gadget–style retractable helicopter attachment and a spring-loaded boxing glove.

      And we have the CA exposure which is so much more than the media portrays except for some. Truly a Mensa chapter eating peoples brains – Wylie was completely self educated so never measured, but is apparently an absolutely brilliant genius that thinks 12 steps ahead.
      He would have also been associated with other brilliant people putting all this together and implementing it.

      Spooky

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    • Satire as prophecy. It’s the ancient oracle of the archetypal fool. Not to be confused with ignoramus presently posing as President.

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  4. https://climatecrocks.com/2018/03/19/heads-up-california-atmospheric-river-hitting-now/

    Heads Up California – Atmospheric River Hitting Now
    New threat of mudslides, avalanche to burned area in Southern Cal.
    Local folk: If asked to evacuate, don’t hesitate.
    Daniel Swain’s blog WeatherWest:

    The strongest storm of the year (and perhaps longer) for southern California is rapidly developing over the Eastern Pacific west of California. This system already has a visually spectacular presentation on satellite imagery, and is exhibiting almost textbook structure for an atmospheric river of the “Pineapple Express” variety (so named for the subtropical origins of the associated moisture transport axis near Hawaii). This slow-moving storm will take its time getting here, but will also linger after making landfall on Wednesday. As a result, a long-duration heavy precipitation event is expected from the Central Coast and southern Sierra Nevada (in the north) to the coastal plain in SoCal (in the south). The focus of very heavy precipitation appears to be Santa Barbara and possibly Ventura County (plus or minus 50-100 miles of coastline), but everyone in that above-mentioned region is going to get soaked.

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  5. Shawn Redmond

     /  March 20, 2018

    KEVIN ANDERSON: The message is that the voluntary submissions that have been put forward by all of the countries, when you add all of these up, they are far, far above the level of what we call dangerous climate change, that all of our leaders have committed to, to avoid going above this 2 degrees C rise, I think about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. But actually, when you add up all of the commitments that the countries are making in terms of their reductions in emissions, then actually it’s far, far above that, nearer 3 or 4 degrees C temperature rise, which is a huge increase. That’s a global average. Remember, that is a global average. And most of the globe is covered in water, so on land that’s an average of, if we carry on like we’re going now, 4, 5, possibly even as high as 6 degrees C temperature rise.

    https://www.democracynow.org/2015/12/8/top_climate_expert_crisis_is_worse

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    • We have gotten off the BAU track for now. But continued improvements in emission policy is necessary to avoid ramping harm. My opinion is that climate change is dangerous now and that the danger increases with every 0.1 C that the Earth warms. To be clear, the Earth environment is more dangerous to life on Earth than it was due to multiple factors. Dangerous in profound ways that impact our lives. At some point, this increasing danger likely becomes untenable for many societies. But that particular point is difficult to define.

      We shouldn’t define emissions policy by what is survivable. We should define it by understanding that any new emissions lock in harm. In this understanding, there is no rational carbon budget and the notion of red line limits is considered to be artificial and developing a false sense of security.

      The accurate assessment is that we are in crisis due the toxic CO2 we are pumping into the atmosphere. With each bit more, the crisis gets worse. And the crisis is of a scale that it represents an existential threat to human civilizations. The responsible action is to respond and then to keep escalating the response as new capabilities emerge.

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  6. wharf rat

     /  March 20, 2018

    “The U.S., by contrast, under Trump is heading toward a nasty fossil fuel backwater that will ultimately be confined to the dustbin of history.”


    USA Olympic teams dropping baton at Beijing,

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    • Excellent analogy. The world relies on us, we on them. China is right. This is a game that cannot be won by simply using zero sum thinking. But in the new future there will be those who contribute to solutions. And, ironically, they will be the most likely to profit and prosper long term.

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      • kassy

         /  March 20, 2018

        Would you rather lead the world in the future or bring a snowball to work?

        Such an easy question but “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

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  7. Syd Bridges

     /  March 20, 2018

    Thank you, Robert. I posted this article on my Facebook page, so it might get through to Trump via Cambridge Analytica! I commented:

    “When I was young and living in the UK, solar cells were wonderful devices, developed and made in America, and a great example of American technological and moral leadership in the world. Now, China is eating America’s lunch, and deservedly so.”

    I actually think that it’s a triple win for China, because it may also save China from climate disaster, if worldwide emissions begin to drop as a result.

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  1. The Good News – March – First Edition – Biodivvy

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