Saturday, August 2, 2008

China, Olympics and Energy

With the Olympics upon us, China is in the news on a regular basis. CARE received an e-mail from one of our friends stating that A reporter from Business Week magazine just asked for some contacts who could speak with knowledge about the air pollution situation in Beijing. We wracked our brains, knowing that within our circles was someone who’d spent a great deal of time in China. Bingo! Michael Economides, one of our favorite contributors. He sent us the following posting. (We forwarded it on to the contact with Business Weekly. What happens next remains to be seen.) While it did not directly connect to the Business Weekly topic, we thought it was worthy of passing on to you.

Within a matter of days, the next piece on China—addressing their approach to biofuels—arrived in our inbox. Again, it was worthy of sharing with you. While neither piece is directly fuel focused, both are of from members of our energy counsel and we believe their comments and insights will enrich your overall energy education.

Read them both. Pass on your comments. Let us know what you think!

An Olympic Salute to China from a Greek
I am supposed to write an energy and energy geopolitics column for the China Daily but the temptation is too great to let it pass by. Taking a break from depressing sky-high oil prices and conflicts for energy sources is squarely in the true spirit of the Olympics. Today, we are not close to their ancient requirements: wars would seize while the games were happening. Being of Greek background makes this column all the more appropriate. Let’s all celebrate the Beijing Olympics.

Years ago China won the privilege to host the 2008 Games for all the right reasons. Virtually no other country, established or developing, exemplifies the 21st century more than China. An economic superpower already, it is bound to influence the world economy and politics like no other in the not too distant future. It also has one of the greatest assets, a huge population that is industrious, values education, and is proud of its history and culture.

Only a handful of countries have a historical continuum that spans 5,000 years and, interestingly, China and Greece, now joined by the Olympics, would be in everybody’s very short list that would fit this description.

I have been visiting China for the better part of 30 years and the country has become unrecognizable in almost all good ways. Living in Houston, one of the US’s more dynamic cities, it has been strikingly different for decades on how many more construction cranes have been dotting the Beijing skyline compared to those of my city. Yes, Beijing and China still need work in services, bureaucracy and the environment but there should be no question that what has been achieved in so little time is more than any other country can show, perhaps in all history.

And yet, a world press, thriving incessantly on the negative which always sells more than the positive, applies the same on China, refusing to admit the obvious: the country is the epitome of modern success. A week before the Games, members of the press still harp on whether China can meet air standards and, even more preposterous, whether food would be safe to eat, this in a country where food is an art and people have been known to travel just to taste it. Tibet is the other item that often comes up in spite of the fact that the issue is truly irrelevant in the big scheme of Chinese politics. It is only brought up by misfit westerners and Hollywood types who do not understand the Chinese or even the Tibetan reality. Backlash inside China would have exactly the opposite effect they profess to desire.

What is rarely mentioned, and it should be, is that China has finished state of the art Olympic facilities in record time and along with them the country has produced a huge infrastructure that could only be the dream of every other country. Multiple lane highways have sprung up everywhere seemingly all of a sudden. The United States and Europe would be green with envy if they found out that China can build better highways in a fraction of the time that would take them. The Beijing airport is now the state of the art facility of its kind in the world--and will remain so for years. Chinese airlines, which perhaps just ten years ago would be iffy to fly, has emerged as a world class carrier with excellent service. They are also some of the best customers for Boeing and Airbus.

What is also rarely mentioned is that China has been quite circumspect in world politics and although accusations have occasionally surfaced for its role in the Sudan and Myanmar, in reality China has steadfastly avoided confrontation with the United States and Russia even at times when the Chinese interest might have dictated otherwise. The future historian will be kind to China during this era.

The Games should be China’s celebration. It has arrived in the world scene as an imposing, influential and constructive presence. The country and its people deserve the salute of the world. They earned it both as a nation and as the hosts of the Olympics. Xerete, which in Greek means enjoy yourself and be happy.

Prof. Michael J. Economides, University of Houston and also Editor-in-Chief Energy Tribune Houston, TX

China Releases Biotech Rice, Bars Biofuel
China says short world grain supplies have persuaded it to release biotech rice nationwide, ensuring the broadest-ever use of genetic engineering in a food crop. Chinese plant breeders say biotech crops are certain to produce higher yields, forestalling the need to finance costly rice imports for China’s billion-plus consumers.

To further protect its grain supplies, China has also been discouraging grain-based ethanol for the last two years. Chinese demand for grain ethanol—mainly from corn—had threatened to inflate prices for China’s rice and livestock products as world oil prices hit record levels.

These strategies may quickly become the model for developing countries as the world strives to double food and feed production over the next three decades—with or without biofuels.

Western biofuel mandates have, unfortunately, more than doubled world grain prices since 2005. Corn costs have soared from less than $2 per bushel to more than $7, before settling recently at about $5.50 per bushel. Pork, poultry, beef, and milk producers are still warning of further food price inflation ahead due to biofuels mandates.

The Chinese have already developed genetically engineered rice strains with bred-in pest and disease resistance. They’re also experimenting with new nitrogen-efficient rice that needs only half as much fertilizer to get top yields. The new rice thus costs much less to grow, and emits far less greenhouse gas per ton of rice produced. They also say biotech rice “escapes” will not be a problem, since they’ve pre-programmed the rice to be hyper-sensitive to a particular herbicide.

China already permits the growing of genetically engineered peppers, tomatoes, and papaya, and much of its huge cotton crop is genetically modified to resist pests. Biotech has overcome the deadly ringspot virus, which severely hampers papaya production in much of the world, and provided virus resistance for tomatoes and peppers. Another genetic modification permits Chinese tomatoes to survive the longer shipping delays caused by the poor Chinese roads and lack of refrigeration.

The nitrogen-efficient biotech rice being tested by the Chinese emerged at Canada’s University of Alberta, as breeders were seeking drought-tolerant crops. Someone forgot to fertilize the seeds in the greenhouse, but one set of plants grew vigorously anyhow. They had discovered a new and more efficient pathway for crop nitrogen uptake that allows top yields with half the nitrogen fertilizer.

Arcadia Biosciences is marketing the nitrogen-efficient crops, working with Chinese rice growers and Australian wheat growers and is working to develop the new nitrogen efficiency in corn. Arcadia has already signed a licensing agreement with the Maharashtra Seed Company in India, the world’s second-most-populous country.

Greenpeace claims that rice smuggled from biotech experimental fields has already been sold on consumer markets without government approval, and perhaps even exported. However, with world rice prices recently hitting record highs, no one has seemed to care.

The question today is how to produce adequate food, with cropland per person declining. In addition, fertilizer prices have been sharply inflated by the conversion of power plants to burn much of the natural gas which used to supply fertilizer factories.

World leaders are also welcoming the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s major effort to create a renewed Green Revolution to create the first high-yield farming in sub-Saharan Africa, supply the last surge of human population growth worldwide, and provide higher-quality diets for the tropical countries.

DENNIS T. AVERY is a senior fellow for the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC and is the Director for the Center for Global Food Issues. ( He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State. He is co-author, with S. Fred Singer, of Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Hundred Years, Readers may write him at PO Box 202, Churchville, VA 2442 or email to

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