Shortly before the Soviet Union collapsed, Greenpeace opened an office in Moscow. It enjoyed the patronage of a leading member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences and enjoyed Kremlin funding, laundered through a state-owned record company. The green activist group made clear that it would have nothing to do with environmental groups in the Baltic republics. Recycling standard Soviet propaganda, Greenpeace denounced them as little more than separatist organizations.
This was by no means a one-off. The inconvenient truth: the environmental movement fought on the wrong side of the Cold War. In the early 1980s, it used the “nuclear winter” scare to try to stop Ronald Reagan’s nuclear build-up and undermine the West’s ability to negotiate the arms agreement that effectively ended the Cold War. It turns out that nuclear winter had been concocted by the KGB and transmitted to America by executives of the Rockefeller Family Fund. A nuclear winter conference held in 1983 was supported by 31 environmental groups, including the Environmental Defense Fund, Friends of the Earth, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
This pattern, wherein the West’s enemies use the environmental movement—whether NGOs like Greenpeace, foundations, or “concerned scientists,” to undermine Western interests—is now being repeated, this time in respect to China. A report by Patricia Adams for the London-based Global Warming Policy Foundation released earlier this month lays bare the role of the green movement in acting as China’s propagandists.
Since Xi Jinping became general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party eight years ago, almost everyone who believed China’s Communist regime would become more benign internally and less threatening externally has revised his opinion—everyone, that is, apart from climate activists.
“Rather than becoming cautious about China’s role in the world, these groups lavish it with praise for its environmental efforts,” Adams notes. NRDC’s head of Asia strategy, Barbara Finamore, has even written a book, Will China Save the Planet? Perhaps the only surprise is the question mark.
China’s economy is based on hydrocarbons, which generate 86 percent of primary energy consumption. China added 11.4 gigawatts of new coal capacity in the first six months of 2020 (by contrast, the whole of 2019 saw 15.1 gigawatts of coal capacity retired in the United States). Chinese state-owned utilities are expanding their coal fleets by about 10 percent over the next five years. Beijing is investing heavily in oil-refining capacity and now has the largest refining capacity after the United States. China is also the world’s largest importer of natural gas.
A 2014 deal with Russia’s Gazprom ensures that China will import an average of 1.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas a year through the newly constructed, 1,875-mile Power of Siberia pipeline to December 2049. (For comparison, last year Gazprom supplied 2.0 trillion cubic feet of gas to Germany through multiple pipelines). Additionally, China is expanding output from its coal mines to feed (at an estimated cost of $90 billion) 35 coal-to-chemicals projects—a technology more carbon-intensive than conventional petrochemical production.
According to its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement, China aims to peak carbon dioxide emissions around 2030. Beijing therefore has an incentive to ramp up its greenhouse gas emissions in the current decade to bank the maximum possible peak. But the billions that China is pouring into new, long-lived carbon-emitting assets demonstrates the worthlessness of China’s accompanying NDC pledge to make “best efforts” to peak emissions before 2030.
A Western country so flagrantly in breach of its Paris commitments would be slammed by green NGOs as a climate criminal imperilling planetary survival. China is different.
“Prioritizing sustainability will cement China’s legacy as it assumes a larger role on the global stage,” declared Greenpeace. This is more than deluded wish fulfilment. Adams shows how a 2017 law governing green NGOs has turned these organizations into propaganda tools of the regime. They now must be sponsored by a designated agency or government department that monitors and supervises their activities, and they must submit annual workplans and budgets to these bodies. Failure to comply can result in seizure of assets, detention of staff, and a ban from conducting activities in China for five years—with no right of appeal.
Beijing doesn’t even need to pay for the propaganda work it wants to do inside the United States. The San Francisco-based NGO, Energy Foundation China, has disbursed over $330 million to U.S. registered organizations operating in China, funding provided by multibillion-dollar foundations such as the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The CEO of Energy Foundation China is Ji Zou, a Chinese national and former government official and climate negotiator.
“China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that’s just a fact,” Beijing’s foreign minister, Yang Jiechi famously told a meeting of South East Asian nations in 2010. During the Cold War, Sweden, a small country, found itself precariously balanced between East and West. Hoping to transcend East-West tensions, it embraced environmentalism and preened as a moral superpower. In 1972, Sweden hosted the first U.N. conference on the environment, which led to U.N. treaties on acid rain. It later led the push on climate change. But the underlying geopolitical realities of the Cold War were not dissolved—or even much affected—by holding conferences on environmental doom.
China is a great power using global warming to advance its geopolitical interests. Unlike the Soviet Union’s sclerotic economy, China’s is far from a state of collapse. Indeed, China is likely to be the only major economy to emerge larger at the end of 2020 than at the beginning.
For China, climate change offers a strategic opportunity. Decarbonizing the rest of the world makes China’s economy stronger—it weakens its rivals’ economies, reduces the cost of energy for its hydrocarbon-hungry economy, and sinks energy-poor India as a potential Indo-Pacific rival.
The question for the incoming Biden Administration concerns how America should respond: As a small country, or as a great power?
Climate change is a national security threat, but not in the way that the national security establishment thinks. Obsessive focus on climate change threatens the vital interests of the United States by desensitizing national security professionals to geopolitical realities and subordinating them to the illusion of planetary salvation. China and its NGO allies won’t do anything to disabuse them of that illusion.
Editor’s note: This article appeared originally at RealClearEnergy.