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China Coal and Saudi Aramco, Why Authoritarianism and The Climate Crisis Cannot Co-Exist



China's national coal production is an unrivaled CO2 emitter. Topping out the list, they emit 14.32% of all green house gas emissions annually. Following them in the number two position is Saudi Arabia's state owned oil company Aramco which is responsible for 4.50% of annual GHG emissions. Both Saudi Arabia and China have acknowledged the threat of the changing climate so why are they in a race to Armageddon?


Millions of their citizens have first hand experience with climate woes. China's summer of 2023 has been devastating to many of its citizens. In the Wuchang province in China, 40% of the local farmers rice crop has been wiped out by flooding, their crops submerged for days on end. Not only is this devastating to the current harvest, the land is made unusable and the rice cannot be planted again. Tens of thousands of acres of rice fields made impotent and 81 people killed. This is only the beginning. In 2011, there were six to eight floods in China monthly. In 2022, there were 130 floods recorded between July and August alone. This trend will only continue like a runaway train on an endless track. Hotter temperatures enhancing evaporation punish the ground below with biblical rains and insurmountable flooding. But for the Chinese government, its a decision about who must suffer for the greater good.


The same can be said in Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has stated that by 2030 half of its energy will come from renewable resources. Keep in mind, they only intend this change domestically. They have no plans on curbing the profits of Aramco or cutting down oil exports. This is in spite of the fact that the Middle East has seen soaring heat waves, extended droughts, declining rain fall, and intense sandstorms alongside floods and rising sea levels. This has reached a point where the Saudi Arabian ministry of health has told the public to avoid being outdoors between the hours of 11AM and 3PM to prevent heat related deaths. This is not a small lifestyle change. The hours of 11AM - 3PM are core business operating hours as well as leisurely enjoyment hours on weekends, yet they're rapidly being abolished to appease the thirst for oil. As time goes on, the range will spread from 10 AM - 4PM, 9AM - 5PM, and eventually the only time one can safely leave the house will be under the cover of night.


Unfortunately, climate change is a global problem that requires global cooperation to solve. Both Saudi Arabia and China are feeling the onset of brutal effects. Why then must they continue unrelenting into the abyss? The answer that probably came to your mind is money. Capital. The cause of all of life's problems. This isn't an inaccurate description as Saudi Arabia's entire economy only exists because of oil. Algeria, Cameroon, Chad, Ecuador, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Libya, Mexico, Nigeria, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela are all in the same relative economic boat with their relationship with oil. Not to mention Canada, The United States, and Norway which rely on oil as a core piece of their GDP.


Yet for both Saudi Arabia and China, there are more important things than death or even money. China's Xi Jinping has said that the country will reach carbon neutrality by 2060. Rather than trusting the plan of a man who will be long dead by the time its enacted, its more relevant to look at what China's objectives are and why they need coal to reach them. Like all authoritarian regimes, the Chinese Communist Party's first goal is maintaining hold of power. In order to do that they need to be delivering decent economic developments alongside state run repressive programs to prevent association among rebels. Their repression is largely done through police forces and the great fire wall of China which monitors the online activity of Chinese citizens. This requires energy, buying oil would make China dependent on other powers so they much prefer their natural reserves of coal. Coal emits disgusting amounts of GHGs which greatly eclipses the damage of oil. However, as long as their citizenry believes that the CCP can provide them with a better life, the death toll from floods will never create pause.


Beyond just control of its citizenry, China seeks to regain its historical lost territories, much in the same vein of Germany after WW1. This led to the retaking of Hong Kong, aspirations of taking Taiwan and Vietnam, and border disputes with countries from Japan to India. This grand vision of a dominant China over Asia, the necessity of Chinese supremacy, and the superiority of the Han Chinese racial group are baked into the ideological worldview of the CCP. The vision is seen as the destiny of the nation and climate worries are a mere inconvenience in the face of this destiny. The capital they accrue is all in the service of this destiny. The human collateral damage is an after thought. This is the reality of the authoritarian. They seek to control what can be controlled and to spread ignorance about what cannot. For Xi, he cannot control the climate but he can lead his people to victory. This is why the rise of global fascism is the death knell of the 21st century.


Saudi Arabia is similarly authoritarian but with an entirely differing worldview and corresponding destiny. Saudi Arabia's money is being poured into the spread of Islamic Fundamentalist thought. The state of Saudi Arabia is ruled by a family known as the House of Saud. The House of Saud follows and enforces a strict Sunni based interpretation of Islamic scripture. This ideology is referred to as the Wahhabi-Salafi ideology.


A Wahhabi, or an individual who follows Wahhabism, follows the teachings of Muhammad Bin Abdul Wahhab. Born in 1703 in Najd, which today is known as Uyainah within Saudi Arabia. During this time, many practicing muslims had taken a more moderate interpretation of holy texts and al-Wahhab observed that a widespread deterioration of Muslim beliefs and practices was taking place. Al-Wahhab sought to reform and regroup Muslims under a more traditional banner of 'True Islam' which could banish the heretics. The Wahhabi interpretation of Sunni Islamic theology and law is one of literalist and puritanical views. To maintain the purity of Islam, Salafis, and Wahhabis wage war against any practice viewed as deviant and heretical such as offering prayers at tombs and glorifying ‘holy places’ and ‘saints’. The fanatical Wahhabist believes that the degeneracy and impurity of Shiite, the West and any other groups that don't follow their scripture need to be eliminated. Their mission is to convert those who are impure to their belief system, or get rid of those who cannot be converted. They do this through the funding of Islamic madrassas (religious seminaries) all over the world. These madrassas attract impoverished children and offer incentives such as free boarding and lodging, books, stationeries, a religious fundamentalist education, and sometimes even monthly stipends. To the impoverished, this is a massive help to their lives. However, they will be taught a strict Wahhabist interpretation of Islam encouraging and propagating fanaticism globally. How is this fanaticism funded? Oil. In 1980, Saudi Arabia made over $100 billion in revenue from oil sales alone in comparison to Kuwait, Indonesia, Algeria, and the UAE which made less than $20 billion each.


The spreading of their religious views and teachings overshadows the mere profit incentive. This is what the profit is for. Bangladeshis have an Islamic tradition but are far more moderate than their Saudi conservative counterparts. Saudi Arabia sells Bangladesh oil at a lower than average price. However, they make up for the cost by propagation of their ideology within the country. Migrant laborers are being influenced by these ideas. The number of women wearing black Middle Eastern style burqas has become prominent within Bangladeshi culture as it is in line with a return to tradition. Violence against women who don't follow puritanical traditions has also spiked. Harassment against women has risen and the rate of young girls committing suicide has increased alongside it. Acid attacks have become more common towards women who don't follow tradition despite Bangladesh making the practice punishable by death. The Burqas make women feel safe in this evolving climate of violence.


Authoritarians rule through methods beyond mere force. In many cases they have an ideology that seeks to be propagated and enacted. They are able to maintain their rule due to the belief in the populous that the greater good can be achieved, whatever that greater good is. Mix these aspirations with a healthy dose of state oppression and it will flourish into a highly controlled regime. These regimes cannot deal with the evolving climate crisis because it is a problem that is not ideological. If it doesn't fit into their ideology, it transforms into a category error which should be promptly ignored. To the fanatic reality is unimportant. This is why democracies are the only places the climate war can be fought unless you hold the power to cause regime change. This is one of the myriads of reasons why you cannot let your country fall to fascism.

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