Im feeling cranky today, so readers beware.
A must-read article for all those interested in global warming and CO2 emissions is the recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by our very own Michael Raupach from CSIRO and co-authors, to be found here.
Let me give you some highlights: from emitting 6 billion tonnes in 1990 the world has gone to 8 billion tonnes in 2004. Emissions are now accelerating at 3% a year since 2000, after growing about 1% a year in the preceding 10 years. Those preceding 10 years coincidentally made up the period that world GDP growth was low and for some energy-intensive regions (like the former Soviet Union), even negative. Another highlight is that about half the increase after 2000 is due to the Chinese economic explosion. Perhaps the most telling finding is that energy intensity (energy per PPP dollar) has not declined in any region anymore after 2000.
What does this tell you? What strikes me firstly is that despite tonnes of initiatives in the EU and Japan in this period, from subsidised wind farms to much heralded cow dung combustion, even in those countries its been business as usual after 2000. More growth meant more energy use and consumers were first using the cheapest energy sources around, i.e. combustibles such as oil, gas, and coal.
A second conclusion is that if these energy ratios persist, nearly all the signatories of Kyoto are going to miss their targets of 108 percent of 1990 emissions, except countries like Russia that experienced a massive recession after 1990. This is because nearly all Kyoto signatories produce more CO2 than in 1990 and their economies are still growing. Since countries should still expect to see their economy grow by at least 10% after 2004, Kyoto looks dead in the water by quite a margin. Since Kyoto has no enforcement mechanism, theres not much more that can be done by its proponents except grit their teeth and pretend Kyoto worked anyway. I predict fudge and creative accounting to cover all this up. I expect certain types of emissions wont be counted in order to make it seem that some countries hit their Kyoto targets that in actuality failed them. I’ve challenged Clive Hamilton, who just advocated Australia signing up to Kyoto, to a public bet where he’d give me 100 dollars for every OECD signatory of Kyoto that doesnt meets the Kyoto target, and I’d give him 100 dollars for every country that does meet it. He’s sofar wisely refused to take me up on the offer which has to make you wonder whether there is anyone who believes Kyoto is more than a symbolic fig leaf.
Since growth and emissions appear married at the hip, the question obviously becomes whether enlightened politicians and economists have started to recognise these facts and have started preparing their populations for life without economic growth. Is this what has been happening? Just ask yourself what the number one election issue in the recent France election was. Its a Kyoto signatory so maybe it was the environment and global warming and how to hit the targets France promised to hit? Not really, it was economic growth and how to get more of it. What was the number one issue in Japan, you then ask, another Kyoto signatory that is already heavily passed its target? Was it how to completely reform the economy to hit those oh-so-important-targets that would be oh-so-embarrassing-to-miss? Not really. You guessed it right, it was growth again and how to get more of it. Whats the number one election issue talked about here in Australia? Yep, its the economy again and how to sustain more growth. Even the Labor party has now officially made growth the explicit goal of its education policy and abandoned other ideals such as equity or (environmental) responsibility. To great acclaim of its followers our kids have been pledged to become instruments of growth. Have the Australian politicians then at least given you targets for what they will do in their next term or do they give unrealistic targets for the far future (like Kyoto did)? The latter Im afraid. It does seem to be the case that when push comes to shove, populations vote for growth and appreciate a bit of CO2 pretence but dont want it to become too serious.
Were not yet kicking the growth habit and its tempting to conclude that until we do, Kyoto is like global warming itself: hot air. Its also tempting to conclude that youre not serious about reducing emissions if you dont argue against economic growth.
But, you may ask if you’re feeling a little light hearted, dont we hear all these great plans about transforming our economy into something more energy efficient? Dont we have eminent scientists telling us how to do it? I am glad you asked! We indeed do have great plans drawn up by the best minds mankind has to offer. Whats the main thing the IPCC recommends in its May 4th announcements on how to live more energy efficient in the future, supported by rows of well-meaning scientists? Travel reductions. How do you travel less? You live close together so that you dont have to travel to see each other. As a region you produce mainly for own consumption so that products dont have to be transported. The economy then basically looks a bit like North Korea today or medieval Europe: insulated and close-knit.
Lets think this through, shall we, and assess how painless the transformation to such a Brave New World would be. Would you hence all please hand in your 4-wheel drive at your nearest recycling station, as well as your other superfluous cars, and exchange them for tickets for the metro-system? Please disenroll your kids immediately from any activity that cant be done within walking distance from home. Please move instantly out of that quarter acre mansion in the suburbs youve just mortgaged yourself for and hovel together with all your extended family in a shack-sized little apartment (apartments are more energy efficient: you share excess heat with the neighbours!), conveniently situated next to your work. Air travel (very energy intensive) will require a special permit and is only for important people, which I’m afraid excludes you. Your holidays are to be enjoyed in the next-door apartment (a new ministry will make apartment swapping easier!), and exotic destinations you are prepared to walk to. Work only takes place during the daytime when there is natural light and you can have a warm shower at the end of the day when the water on the roof is sufficiently heated. You will be restricted to a minimum set of clothes and under no circumstance are allowed to wear cotton which is highly water and energy intensive.
Does this mean you are necessarily poorer when you faithfully make all these adjustments the Council of Frequent Travellers making up the IPCC Board wants you to make? Of course not. Dont be so narrow in your thinking! Growth and energy efficiency do go together according to this report because youll be able to enjoy the delights new technologies promise us. In that tiny apartment you can use the latest gadget for consuming beetroot juice without spilling.
Sophisticated nanotechnology will make it possible for the apartment to sense what smell and sound you prefer. Your dog, rat sized so as not to use too much energy, will be genetically modified to bark in the language of your choice. Your partner will look like a film star all his or her life, just like all the neighbours and their partners. Youll be happy to know that after death, your partners body can be deposited freely at the nearest recycling stations to remove the silicon and other implants! Now, doesnt that just sound like paradise?
And should you cynically note that the basic situation the IPCC asks you to go to is the situation Chinese urbanites had 20 years ago and have chosen to abandon with gusto for the dream of travelling and consuming as much energy as they possibly can during their lifetimes, then youve shown your shallowness. You lack imagination as to how great life could be without using energy. Once you make the spiritual jump required youll also come to believe growth and low energy use go together like peas in a pod and are not mutually exclusive at all. You’ll see the (sun)light and embrace the exciting new opportunities that energy free life has to offer.
Sigh! What to do with all that hot air? When will certain economists and frequent flyer environmentalists stop pretending you can avert global warming by reducing energy use AND have economic growth?