The original version of this article, by Keith Schneider, appeared on Circle of Blue.
The coal mines of Inner Mongolia, China, and the oil and gas fields of the northern Great Plains in the United States are separated by 11,200 kilometers (7,000 miles) of ocean and 5,600 kilometers (3,500 miles) of land.
But, in form and function, the two fossil fuel development zones – the newest and largest in both nations – are illustrations of the escalating clash between energy demand and freshwater supplies that confront the stability of the world’s two biggest economies. How each nation responds will profoundly influence energy prices
, food production
, and economic security not only in their domestic markets, but also across the globe.
Both energy zones require enormous quantities of water – to mine, process, and use coal; to drill, fracture, and release oil and natural gas from deep layers of shale. Both zones also occur in some of the driest regions in China and the United States. And both zones reflect national priorities on fossil fuel production that are causing prodigious damage to the environment and putting enormous upward pressure on energy prices and inflation in China and the United States, say economists and scholars.
“To what degree is China taking into account the rising cost of energy as a factor in rising overall prices in their economy?” David Fridley said in an interview with Circle of Blue. Fridley is a staff scientist in the China Energy Group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. “What level of aggregate energy cost increases can China sustain before they tip over?”
“That’s where China’s next decade is heading – accommodating rising energy costs,” he added. “We’re already there in the United States. In 13 months, we’ll be fully in recession in this country; 9 percent of our GDP is energy costs. That’s higher than it’s been. When energy costs reach eight to nine percent of GDP, as they have in 2011, the economy is pushed into recession within a year.”
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Photo Credit: Used with permission, courtesy of J. Carl Ganter/Circle of Blue. In Ningxia Province, one of China’s largest coal producers, supplies of water to farmers have been cut 30 percent since 2008.