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Russia's future glory and Chinese coal



Michael May comments on Russia's international policy and on the problem of Chinese coal:

"Regarding the statement "Russia's natural ally is the United States, whose political and economic system Russia has emulated", the United States is geopolitically a balancing island power with a probably lasting military predominance at sea and in the air and space. As such it has no natural allies except for Canada and Mexico, out of necessity, and Britain and perhaps Japan, out of lasting common security interest. Other alliances are likely to be more temporary, NATO included. Russia and China, if they agree over their condominium over Central Asia, have every lasting interest in mutually supportive security relations, there being little incentive to move existing boundaries in Central Asia where a few hundred miles do not matter (contrary to popular thinking, the major value of oil and gas goes to the user not the owner of the resources), and every incentive to limit incursions, whether by the US, Moslem militants, or India, as there was to limit British and Japanese incursions before. In addition, Russia's and China's economies, at least at present, are largely complementary, although this circumstance is a facilitator, not I think the fundamental issue in their relationship.

Regarding a recent posting about burning coal and other fuels, the amount of carbon dioxide generated is directly proportional to the amount of fuel burned and therefore to the heat energy generated, though with a different constant of proportionality for each fuel, as the correspondent pointed out. The effect on carbon emissions of different fuels, as well as the effect of different efficiencies of conversion of heat into electricity, are shown for the electricity sector in Guangdong Province, which has unusually varied sources of electricity, in a recent article by Zhang, myself, and Heller, in Energy Policy, vol. 29, pp. 179-203 (2001). Work on some other provinces is being prepared.

As Simon points out, much of the coal mined in China does not go to generate electricity but is burned directly, some in residences and businesses, but mostly in industries. This is unlike the situation in the US today, where essentially all the coal is used to generate electricity, providing something over 50% of US electricity, and making the US the world's second largest user of coal (and by far the world's largest carbon emitter, with much of the carbon emission coming from burning gasoline). The Chinese situation is more like that in the US and Europe during the first half of the last (20th) century, before adequate continental pipeline systems for gas were developed. Such a system is in various stages of planning and development within China and to connect East and Central Asia, but it's proceeding very slowly. It is commonplace to note that Chinese coal is "dirty." China has many grades of coal. Much of the best and cleanest coal goes to the modern power stations, which are relatively efficient. Much of the rest goes to small enterprises, and sometimes to older power plants that are theoretically closed own, but in fact continue to generate electricity and profits for somebody off the books".

Ronald Hilton - 3/4/02


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