Sunday, July 8, 2007

Green apples and oranges

It's been a long time since I had a go at an old pasttime... reading Green press releases and wondering if they are really toking when they write some of them. Here is one from last month where Jeanette reprimands the G8, actually the US, for its commitment to the cause.
“Bush constantly attempts to paint China as the climate change villain, yet America emits six times more carbon per person than China. China has made has made a commitment to a 10 percent reduction of carbon emissions per unit of GDP over the next five years and is the world’s largest producer of photovoltaic cells for solar power generation,” Ms Fitzsimons says.

The Chinese emit around 4 tonnes of greenhouse gases per person, while Americans are each responsible for 24.1 tonnes.
It is an interesting way of comparing the US and China. China is "committed" to reducing emissions per unit GDP by 10% over five years. Yet the US emits six times more per person (this is a highly variable value, depending on source it can be a factor of 4 to 6 or so). If you find a recent table of emissions per unit GDP then you see that China is close to four times worse than the US. Funny that. The same table will also show that large modernising countries have terrible emissions per unit GDP compared to large modern countries. Small modern countries are the best, for obvious reasons. I'd guess that there is a natural progression for countries to exchange emissions per unit GDP for emissions per person as they modernise, with allowance for size and environment, that keeps the total product around 1.

Jeanette is playing a nice game of apples & oranges here in order to be able to create a demon of the US, ironically after castigating the US for demonising China. That is the art of politics I suppose.

On the other hand China can "easily" lower its emissions per unit GDP by growing fast and modernising. The combination of both, a natural drive to modernise with only minor efficiency gains coupled with sustained high GDP growth (10% per year), means that they can relatively easily achieve an improvement in emissions per unit GDP. But the emissions still go up, so their emissions per person will get worse, since the population isn't growing nearly as fast as GDP (1% vs 10% per year roughly).

So reducing emission per unit GDP by 2% per year is relatively painless and probably to be expected without much effort, when GDP is growing at 10% per year and many people are being driven into the cities and becoming more efficient. It can't drop the emissions per person however, since emissions would then have to drop to a rate near the population growth rate which would devastate the country in the space of five years.
“By refusing to agree to any commitment to stay below two degrees Celsius warming, he is committing the world to the potential of runaway climate change.
Actually, I'd say that that is exactly the position the Chinese have "committed" themselves to!

Comparably the US can't improve its emissions per unit GDP by such means. It is already far more efficient than China, just like Europe, Australia and NZ. Emissions per person however. Well that is a trickier point.

“This is very frustrating for Europe and the nations who have accepted binding commitments.
The Europeans don't care. At least not the ones in charge. The economy in Europe is starting to go quite nicely now, for instance it is virtually impossible to hire any sort of engineer. Watch those bindings slip as the tax coffers begin to fill.

The US is worse than most European countries due to the evolution of cities and the sheer size of the countries. Although with the EU opening up borders they will close in, last week I was on the motorway to Oslo and in the space of 90 minutes passed trucks from Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Denmark, France, Estonia, Russia, the Czech Republic and even Turkey. It was something of a sight on the edge of the continent. Europe will close in on the US.

But the US is also the wealthiest nation on Earth and emissions are almost linearly tied to GDP. It is more the fact that the US modernised early and generated vast wealth without starting with a huge subject population that gives it this relative "disadvantage" in emissions per person. China has about four times as many people as the US and the US has about four times the emissions per person as China. Yet another natural balance I suspect.

The thing to worry about, if you are a Greenie and take these numbers seriously, is what happens when China becomes rich and modern without decimating its population. Because in the end it is total emission that is your greenhouse bogeyman, not emissions per bogeyman. China has about one quarter of all the bogeymen on Earth and is becoming richer faster than almost anyone else. Worrying about the bushes (until next year) is literally to miss the forest.

The basic fact is that if China's GDP is growing at 10% per year, over five years it will have grown 60%. Emissions basically follow GDP, so after five years with a total 10% drop in emissions per unit GDP the total output will still have grown by over 44%! That is if the make this target which reportedly isn't even in the current five year plan.

Anyhow, hasn't China just overtaken the US in total emissions? So in 5 years time China will be emitting 44% more than the US rather than a likely 60%. They've committed to a huge tsunami of carbon rather than a fucking enormous tsunami. And THAT ladies and gents is better than Bush's non-commitments. But the important thing is to remember that it is the image, not the substance, that matters.

China is the leading producer of photovoltaic cells. Heh heh, the irony. Do you know how much energy they require to make? Do you know who is buying most of them? It's a bit like computer chips and appliances, not many rural Chinese are getting them. By the same token no one in NZ drives a car because buggar all are manufactured there.

Oh before I forget the moral righteousness...
“By refusing to agree to any commitment to stay below two degrees Celsius warming, he is committing the world to the potential of runaway climate change.
Neither George W Bush, Jeanette Fitzsimons, Mahatma Ghandi, Jesus or Muhammed Ali can commit to staying below a 2 degree C warming. Even if you accept everything about climate change that is peddled there is absolutely no way you can commit to saying that your action will guaranteed limit something like that. OK, maybe Jesus could. But not George W.

Somewhere I've got an email I sent to the Greens last year about their profligate use of crap science and statistics which I never got a good answer to. I should dig it out.

We also need to install that javascript thing that created page breaks in posts like these!


Psycho Milt said...

Presumably China's world-leading production of photovoltaic cells is carried out using their world-leading production of coal-fired power stations? Another environmental success story!

Presumably China (and India for that matter) have lower per-head carbon emissions only because they're less developed than the US? In which case, we can expect their per-head and absolute emissions figures to deteriorate drastically over the next few decades, while the US ones stay pretty static? Seems like Jeanette's barking up the wrong tree...

Chefen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chefen said...

Basically yeah. If you take a 1% per year population growth rate then the same scenario means that China's emissions per person go up by 37% over those five years!

Anonymous said...

I bet Lynette doesn't want to tell us that China is committed to building 70 coal fired power stations a year.

This global warming stuff is a loada political crap.
Anyone read about sunspots over at greenie HQ?


17000 scientists petitioning the IPPC rubbish massaging of info and statistics for big Al and his UN mates.