Last week, I started the discussion of how developing countries can contribute to alleviating anthropogenic (human caused) climate change. The main goal is to mitigate climate change by achieving a global agreement to transition to more sustainable energy choices. I made mention of the important role efficiency could play for developing countries in using energy resources to enhance their GDP. (Interestingly, the same date that I posted last week also marks the beginning of the COP18 Doha Climate Change Conference to start the continuing efforts to reach global agreements on mitigation and adaptation policies.) Following Sandy’s impact on the most populated region in the States, and President Obama’s recent reelection, there is now some optimism that the United Stated might show heightened leadership in the struggle against climate change. I started the November 26 blog with Governor Romney’s response to a ScienceDebate question about his thoughts on Climate Change. I will repeat the quote here in order to emphasize a different issue:
The reality is that the problem is called Global Warming, not America Warming. China long ago passed America as the leading emitter of greenhouse gases. Developed world emissions have leveled off while developing world emissions continue to grow rapidly, and developing nations have no interest in accepting economic constraints to change that dynamic. In this context, the primary effect of unilateral action by the U.S. to impose costs on its own emissions will be to shift industrial activity overseas to nations whose industrial processes are more emissions-intensive and less environmentally friendly. That result may make environmentalists feel better, but it will not better the environment.
I would like to explore this claim that compares China to the United States in terms of overall responsibility to reduce its carbon footprint by shifting its energy sources. It is important because Governor Romney’s statement can be understood as advocating that as long as China does not reduce its carbon footprint, the US will follow suit, focusing only on R&D in order to not sacrifice economic advantages to China. The argument has a NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) flavor that I discussed in a previous blog (June 18) – we recognize the need to act, but as long as China and other developing countries refuse to get involved, we will deny our own duty.
In the table below I ask undergraduates from my course (General Education – no prerequisites) to use primary sources to collect some relevant data about four countries and the World, and to answer a few questions by evaluating this data. I have filled in part of the table with the appropriate data for 2008 – the last year that data were available for the indicators in which I was interested.
Fill up the following table:
Rank the four countries in terms of total energy use and CO2 emissions.
- Compare (in %) the top user and emitter with World use and emission.
- Rank the four countries in terms of energy use and CO2 emission per capita, and compare the numbers with global data.
- If the GDP growth continues – how many years will it take China to catch up to the US?
- If the GDP/Capita growth continues – how many years it will take China to catch up to the US?
- What will the World’s GDP be at that time?
- What will the World’s population be at that time?
- If you assume that the last three terms of the IPAT equation will not change – what will the World’s CO2 emission be at that time?
- Assume that only half of the emissions will stay in the atmosphere and that the Climate Sensitivity is 2.50C for doubling the concentration of CO2 compared to the pre-industrial levels – what will the climate consequences of 8 be?
Problems started with the first question – Half of the class has ranked both energy use and Carbon Dioxide emission in the following order – US, Germany, China and India.
Now – try it yourself and make a comment.
Large outcry was heard when answering the second question – “Professor – how it can be that the top energy user (US) is using 417% of the World’s total usage? Isn’t the US part of the World?”
Good question – yes it is. When Governor Romney uses carbon emissions from China and the US as criteria for needed efforts to curtail these emissions – what number should he be using – the number per person or the number per country? For me, it is a simple issue of Environmental Justice – every person is equal in his or her right for economic development, and comparisons should be based on people, not countries.