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OPINION

Abandon Fossil Fuels, Empower China

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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Autocratic Producers (primarily Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Russia, Iran, Qatar, Venezuela and China) and certain democratic (or semi-democratic) Consumers (fossil fuel-dependent nations, mostly in the Global South), are uniting over oil, gas, coal, petrochemicals, natural gas-derived fertilizers and wind-solar-battery raw materials that are essential for building and maintaining modern industrial nations. 

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The implications are enormous, for global commerce, and especially for America. 

China straddles both worlds. It’s the world’s largest coal producer and consumer – and the second-largest fossil fuels consumer after the USA. Although the United States remains the planet’s largest oil and gas producer, government policies are restricting investment in future domestic production, forcing U.S. companies to scour the world to increase production

The autocratic Producers clearly benefit from America’s declining production, because major Consumers (India, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa and others) that buy oil, gas and petrochemicals must feed their people, fuel their vehicles, and sustain or grow their economies at reasonable cost. 

Giant energy Producer Russia continues to sustain its economy and finance its war in Ukraine, as it waits for Western electorates to lose patience and reduce military aid. Moscow counts on continued fossil fuel sales to Consumer countries, particularly China. 

China is importing record amounts of oil and gas from Russia, making it the largest financier of Russia’s Ukraine war. China’s dual-use technologies also enter indirectly into the Russian war machine. Courtesy of Saudi Arabia’s Aramco, China is building new refineries and becoming a major petrochemicals producer – even as Biden energy policies curtail U.S. refinery and petrochemical investments. 

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Petrochemicals fuel or provide building blocks for just about everything. They therefore add tremendous value to the crude oil China imports from Russia. 

Meanwhile, America and the West pursue sweeping policies on “manmade climate change.” That means they deride and downgrade the value of fossil fuels that are the lifeblood of all industrialized nations: Producers, Consumers and those fortunate or wise enough to play both roles. 

Western government attitudes toward fossil fuels are derived from fears of a “growing climate crisis.” Those attitudes are creating a deep and abiding conflict of interest between the West and both the Producer and Consumer nations that view fossil-fuel-dependent economic growth as paramount. 

Therein lies the conundrum. 

If the United States and West will no longer be major Producers, where do Consumers turn for the energy and products they require? Unfortunately, they must turn to Producers – which happen to be autocratic states, which respond to those needs by increasing their oil and gas production, to meet global demand, while simultaneously bolstering their economies and strengthening their autocratic power. 

Producers friendly to the West (Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Qatar, e.g.) are not the problem right now. But others are. 

In a nutshell, the West’s fossil fuel cutbacks are being replaced on the global economic, strategic and geo-political stage by an expanding alliance of autocratic Producers that are serving Consumers not just as energy and raw materials suppliers, but as political partners. 

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Moreover, if those Producers continue replacing America’s and the West’s declining oil, gas and coal supplies, the climate-focused nations will decline as economic and military powers; their influence over climate issues will diminish; and the overall human contribution to climate change will actually grow, as Consumers pursue their own bests interests, which are inextricably linked to fossil fuel use, now and decades from now. 

China is already the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. It has no intention of abandoning its economic, military or strategic ambitions – all of which rely on fossil fuels. But it has now effectively, though not officially, abandoned the Paris Climate Accords. That alone likely makes America’s and the West’s fossil fuel sacrifices on the climate altar both “painful and pointless.” 

Ironically¸ the U.S. is now importing environmentally dirty crude oil from autocratic, adversarial Producer Venezuela – rather than expanding its own domestic production. Meanwhile, natural gas exports from Russia to Europe will soon be replaced by Exxon and Chevron production in Algeria

Even more ironic (or insane), China dominates the world’s wind, solar and battery technologies, their raw material supply chains and their manufacturing. U.S. politicians may be ramping up talk about reducing dependence on China for critical items related to American economic and national security, they are demanding and pursuing policies that make the USA and West ever more dependent on so-called “clean renewable” energy from wind, solar, battery and fossil powerhouse China

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We are witnessing a geopolitical shift of historic proportions. Fossil fuel-friendly China and other autocratic Producers will be the biggest winners; fossil fuel-repressing democratic America and the West the biggest losers. 

Indeed, democratic Consumers are already and increasingly beholden to the autocratic Producers. That’s evident from the role that energy supply and demand has likely played in persuading some 80 nations to remain neutral on the Ukraine war. 

Russia and OPEC members know the largest and ever-expanding market for their oil, gas and raw material products is world-leading manufacturer China. That global power, in turn, can more and more manufacture whatever the Producer nations need. China gets fuels and raw materials to feed its vast energy-hungry, export-oriented industries and immense agricultural economy. Other Consumer nations likewise purchase or trade for fossil fuel products. 

The symbiosis between Producers and Consumers is clear. 

Meanwhile, no matter how hard they try to deny these realities, or “transition to renewable energy,” The USA and West will remain dependent on fossil fuels from Producers for decades to come. The U.S. Energy Information Agency predicts that even in 2050 America will still be 65% dependent on fossil fuels for its overall energy needs, versus 79% today. Is a 14% reduction worth all the sacrifices? 

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The still-growing Chinese manufacturing and military powerhouse will be enriched by the inevitable shift away from Western manufacturers, who will see their costs and prices increase without reliable, reasonably priced fossil-fuel energy and derivative products. 

China’s 1.5 billion people – repressed, surveilled, cajoled and punished for social infractions – are nonetheless disciplined, educated, and increasingly productive and wealthy. With the growing prowess and sophistication of its military, autocratic China is the biggest beneficiary of all from the Western strategy of abandoning fossil fuels. 

If the USA and West continue along their anti-fossil-fuel path, it is quite possible that autocratic Producers will soon dominate the world – while China becomes their biggest Consumer and the world’s preeminent player, surpassing even the United States. Is this the path we really want to follow? 

Don Ritter holds a Science Doctorate from MIT and served fourteen years on the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce and Science and Technology Committees. After leaving Congress, he created and led the National Environmental Policy Institute. 

He was a National Academy of Sciences Fellow in the USSR, speaks fluent Russian, and was Ranking Member on the Congressional Helsinki Commission and founding Co-Chair of the Baltic States-Ukraine Caucus. He is a Trustee of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and Museum and co-chairs its Capital Campaign. 

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