How's this for nerve? The leader of a country that consumes more than 20 million barrels of oil a day is warning the leader of a country that consumes some 6.5 million barrels not to try to lock up world oil resources. When President Bush welcomes the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, to the White House today, the American complaint will be that China's appetite for oil affects its stance on Iran, Sudan and other trouble spots.
In other words, China is acting just like everyone else: subjugating its foreign policy to its energy concerns. The United States does it, too — witness its long-running alliance with Saudi Arabia.
Still, the size of China's population — 1.3 billion people — puts things into an alarming context. China recently overtook Japan as the world's second-biggest consumer of oil. Its real gross domestic product is growing at 8 to 10 percent a year, and its need for energy is projected to increase by about 150 percent by 2020. China's move from bicycles to cars has accelerated its oil consumption; by 2010, China is expected to have 90 times the number of cars it had in 1990, and it will probably have more cars than America by 2030.
That leaves the world with two options. The first is to manage energy resources better. The other is to look for another planet. Simply continuing the current trends isn't viable, especially with the growing needs of India, with its one billion people and a growing economy of its own.
The United States doesn't have the right to tell a third of humanity to go back to their bicycles because the party's over. Clearly, Mr. Bush and Mr. Hu must tackle energy in a real and meaningful way. That can be done only if the United States both helps China find alternative energy sources and shows that America is doing the same thing itself.
The best possible course would be for China to leapfrog an oil-based economy and head toward sustainable alternative fuels, just as other countries are jumping past the construction of land lines for telephone service and going straight to wireless systems. China has a lot of biomass — crops, forests and wood products — that could be converted into ethanol.
China, like America, has a lot of coal. But the world can't afford for it to go ahead with a proposal to build hundreds of coal-fired power plants; that would be an environmental disaster. The United States can help stave that off by sharing clean coal technology.
None of this cooperation will work unless the United States provides leadership by making sacrifices of its own. Asking other countries to lay off the world's oil supply so America can continue to support its gas-guzzling Hummers doesn't really cut it.
From an editorial in yesterday's NYT (granted, a borderline treasonous rag with ideological ties to such unreliably patriotic Americans such as Hillary Rodham Clinton):