(KRT) - The following editorial appeared in the Kansas City Star on Friday, Aug. 20, 2004.
China's rapidly increasing thirst for oil is driving up global demand for petroleum, which on Thursday climbed to almost $49 a barrel. The cost was just $30 last August.
The surging consumption in China ought to be a wake-up call for the United States. In the presidential race, American voters should expect serious discussions about how to trim energy use, improve conservation measures and develop more renewable sources of energy.
So far Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, has offered better plans, especially to boost production of renewable resources such as wind power. President Bush, unfortunately, touts expensive drilling for additional crude within the United States and, against all odds, building more nuclear power plants.
China's dramatic increase in energy consumption - coupled with political problems in the oil-producing countries of Iraq, Russia and Venezuela - could have dramatic negative effects on the U.S. and world economies. Motorists will watch closely what happens to the price of gasoline at pumps.
Far into the future, China will influence how much Americans have to pay for the crude they import every day. A few facts:
China last year jumped past Japan to become the world's second largest consumer of petroleum at around 6 million barrels a day. (The United States uses 20 million barrels.)
China's annual demand likely will double between 1995 and 2005, compared with an 18 percent increase in the United States.
Just nine years ago, China produced almost as much oil as it consumed.
Next year, China will satisfy only half its needs.
The country will account for almost 25 percent of the worldwide increase in petroleum demand between 1995 and 2005. China's total additional growth of 3.4 million barrels a day during that time would even exceed the 3.2 million barrel increase predicted for the United States.
Car sales are booming in China, and production was up 80 percent in 2003 compared to 2002. General Motors and Ford are investing billions of dollars in new plants in China, as are Japanese automakers. When GM unveiled its Cadillac CTS line in June, a company official told Business Week, "China will become Cadillac's second-largest market, and this will happen very speedily."
For the record, the Cadillac CTS line gets only 16 to 19 miles a gallon in city driving, and just 25 on highways.
Now imagine what could happen to worldwide petroleum-consumption figures if low-mileage cars and sport utility vehicles were to catch on in a country with 1.3 billion people.
The recent surge in oil prices could hurt economic growth in the United States. Given China's soaring demand for crude, weaning America from its dependence on foreign petroleum is going to be even more important.
© 2004, The Kansas City Star.