Posted by: adoseofliberty | December 17, 2009

The Irrelevent West

When it comes to Copenhagen, as it is in many areas of life, numbers are the only things that matter.  Richard Muller, a physics professor at UC Berkeley postulates the Copenhagen “dream” scenario in which the United States agrees to cut CO2 emissions 80% by 2050, other developed countries make similar pledges for 60% reductions, and China promises to reduce its CO2 intensity by 70% in 2040.  On top of that, developing economies determine to cut emissions by 80% over 40 years after their wealth per capita hits half that of the U.S.  Lastly, “all parties make good on their pledges.”

A Climate Change win, right?  False.  Emissions will still rise significantly and temperatures could increase by 6 degrees Fahrenheit by 2080 (that is, of course, if it in fact turns out that the religious global warming scientists win the prediction lottery, the odds of which hit new lows after Climategate).

The reason is that most future carbon emissions will not come from the currently industrialized world, but from the emerging economies, especially China. And China, which currently emits 30% more CO2 per year than the U.S., has not promised to cut actual emissions. It and other developing nations have promised only to cut their carbon “intensity,” a technical term meaning emissions per unit of GDP.

It may be true that China is already cutting CO2 intensity by 4% a year, according to President Hu Jintao.

But here’s the rub: “With 10% annual growth in China’s economy, a 4% cut in intensity is actually a 6% annual increase in emissions.”

Source: WSJ

Muller compares the world’s leading economies:

True, China’s CO2 per capita is only a quarter of the U.S. emissions rate. But warming doesn’t come from emissions per capita, it comes from total emissions.

China’s carbon intensity is now five times that of the U.S.; it is extremely carbon inefficient. By the time the Chinese cut emissions intensity by 45%, its yearly total will be over twice that of the U.S. And in the proposed Copenhagen dream scenario, by 2025 China’s emissions will actually surpass those of the U.S. per capita.

That is the interesting thing about these numbers.  Despite the soaring rhetoric by President Obama, promising to lead the world in the Green Quest, in the final cut, it doesn’t really matter: “Every 10% cut in the U.S. is negated by one year of China’s growth.”  The same with India, Brazil and other emerging economies.  The West’s efforts are drops in the Climate Change Ocean.

China is growing so rapidly, it dwarfs the tiny steps the U.S. has made so far in its “green” movement.  Americans love their Priuses, their recyled paper coffee cups, their energy-efficient light bulbs, the news of windmill construction, reading about new solar panels.  And a good number hate coal: it’s dirty, it spews out pollution, our fragile ears can’t bear the news of coal mining accidents, etc.  But the truth is: “Coal is dirt cheap, and China has been installing a new gigawatt coal plant each week—enough to supply five completely new cities the size of New York every year.”  So much for your recyclable toilet paper.

Muller gives some interesting alternatives to simply cutting emissions:

Scientists are aware of a phenomenon that would counter the greenhouse effect: warmth evaporates water; water creates clouds; clouds reflect sunlight. A small cloud increase would significantly reduce predicted warming. The IPCC gives such cloud feedback only a 10% chance. My estimate is 30%. Clouds may already be kicking in, responsible for the negligible global warming of the past 12 years. Maybe, but we don’t know. That’s why we need luck.

Perhaps we could geoengineer a solution: Squirt a few million tons of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight, emulating the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption. We’ll certainly get pretty sunsets. Or we could foam up the oceans to increase reflectivity. Many people find such ideas scarier than warming because of the threat of unintended consequences.

Indeed, people are scared of what they don’t understand.  That is why it is so essential that there be more research, collaboration, and an increasing scientific consensus that climate change is actually taking place at significant levels and most importantly, that it is caused by people.  Even if the world is currently on a warming trend (dare I say the warming-cooling cycles of the earth could be hundreds of years in length), it might not be so bad:

Another option is that we could learn to live with global warming. Despite claims to the contrary, storms aren’t increasing. The rate of hurricanes hitting the U.S. coast has been constant for a century, and the number of damaging tornadoes has been going down. Will Happer, a former director of research for the Department of Energy, argues that additional CO2 may have helped the agricultural revolution. And chilly Berkeley might be nicer with a few degrees warming.

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