Saturday, November 17, 2012

Walking the geopolitical tightrope -- for class

A speculative article on the rearrangement of geopolitical power in the wake of the fracking boom:

And a new venue for international climate negotiations:

All of which sounds like an exercise of freshly renewed geopolitical power on the part of the US. In the wake of the elections, the fracking boom, the recent buzz about climate change after Hurricane Sandy, and taking into account the relative strength of the US economy, the time is riper for a deal on international emissions.

We'll talk about all in class this after the break.

Remember, an international deal can't be negotiated from a position of internal and external political weakness. Internal to the US, the forces against such are move are strong -- indeed they bankrolled the opposition candidate in the recent election. If a negotiation attempt fails spectacularly, those forces are strengthened. They can win the White House, and both houses of Congress, in the next election. I would imagine they are laying plans to do so. Unfortunately for them, and fortunately for the climate and for humanity as a whole, the only electoral vehicle with which they might currently do this, the Republican Party, is in temporary disarray and likely to remain so for some months. But they have a lot of money, and it seems a lot of hatred for climate controls, so they can eventually perhaps fix this in their favor, albeit at some further expense to themselves.

Good money after bad? When will they give up? We'll see.

The Obama White House is probably acutely aware of all this. They know what a tightrope they might have to walk. They certainly couldn't adopt any measures which weakened US employment or precipitated a stock market tumble at this point. They'd just play themselves into the Koch brothers' hands. As I've said many times, notions that climate controls can be achieved at the present time by abandoning economic growth are perhaps naïve. The Obama administration is certainly not in a position to do anything that would trammel growth. But they can favor growth in the renewables industry over growth in oil and gas, and an international agreement would strengthen their hand internally, especially if it were binding, and if it wouldn't hurt the US economy overall.

Externally, there are also signs of hope, but an interesting tightrope that must also be walked. China is an ambivalent and ambiguous partner -- it uses a lot of coal and is currently on a pathway to increase emissions, and probably doesn't want to stop or slow this increase right now. But increasingly, much of the coal China uses is not theirs -- it comes from Australia, weakening their balance of payments deficit. And they own productions systems for renewable technology that are large in scale, modern, and that they would be pleased to see employed and expanded.

They don't have the best renewable tech. It's a common misconception that they do, but in reality US and European companies have the great majority of interesting ideas and patents. But the Chinese would be perfectly happy to manufacture this stuff too.

Most essentially, you can probably cut a deal with China on climate.

The Russians on the other hand are not at all ambiguous -- they get stronger or weaker in proportion to the oil and gas price. Currently, the price of oil is high, and likely to stay so, indeed even the fracking-rich US and Canadian companies need it to stay so, or fracking will stall. But the gas price, dependent on pipelines to Europe and on liquified, compressed gas shipping to the US, is weakening, and with it some of Russia's geopolitical power.

There's no love lost between the Chinese and the Russians. They've fought each other quite recently, within the geopolitical memory of current leaders on both sides, and expect to do so again. They still keep large amounts of troops on their mutual border. It might even be possible, working from a position of relative strength internally and externally, to cut a Nixonian deal with China that helps isolate Russia. A weakened Russia would be less able to hold European states hostage to winter heating gas supplies, which would be a very good thing. Don't expect a weakened Russia to suddenly begin playing nice -- they will probably get worse as they weaken. And they can still do a lot of damage. But it would be nice to reduce the internal power of the Putin/Medvedev administration a little, so the Russian democrats begin to see a little daylight. Indeed there are signs that their alliance is cracking.

One last thing -- the article above speculates that the Arab oil states will suffer from increased US oil production. This is nonsense. Even were the oil price to drop significantly, which I find unlikely anytime soon given increasing demand in China and India, their price of production is so low, they still make good money even at $60/barrel. Indeed, some of their oilfields make decent money at $20/barrel! And they've been investing in renewables. Look back in this blog to see the posts about Saudi Aramco hiring all these green techies.

It's the non-oil producing Arab states that are the wild card in the middle east, especially the ones that now have some semblance of democracy, but are electing Islamists that the west sees as extremists. The oil states will work simply work harder to control the non-oil producers if their own position is weakened.

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