FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Nothing Doing In Durban

On Monday, leaders from dozens of countries began meeting at the 17th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Durban, South Africa. They might as well have stayed home.

The meeting in Durban will fail, just as all previous climate confabs have failed, to impose any meaningful limits or taxes on carbon dioxide emissions. Understanding why the Durban meeting will fail doesn’t require any deep political insight or any expertise into atmospheric physics. It only requires an appreciation for simple math and these three numbers: 28.5, 47, and 1.3 billion.

The first number represents the percentage growth in carbon dioxide emissions over the past decade. Carbon-dioxide emissions have been the environmental issue of the past decade. Over that time period, Al Gore became a world-renowned figure for his documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” for which he won an Oscar. In 2007, he, along with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), collected a Nobel Peace Prize for “informing the world of the dangers posed by climate change.” That same year, the IPCC released its fourth assessment report which declared that “most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.” (Emphasis in original.)

Two years later, Copenhagen became the epicenter of a world-wide media frenzy as about 5,000 journalists, along with some 100 world leaders and scores of celebrities, descended on the Danish capital to witness what was billed as the best opportunity to impose a global tax or limit on carbon dioxide. The result? Nothing, aside from promises by various countries to get serious — really serious — about carbon emissions sometime soon.

So what happened over the past decade, the very same decade during which Gore, the carbon dioxide jihadis, and the IPCC dominated the environmental debate? Global carbon-dioxide emissions rose by 28.5%.

Why was there such a huge increase? Simple: hundreds of millions of people moved out of poverty and into the modern world and in doing so, they began using significant quantities of hydrocarbons. Look at China, where emissions jumped by 123% over the past decade. China’s emissions now exceed those of the U.S. by more than two billion tons per year. Africa’s carbon-dioxide emissions jumped by 30%, Asia’s by 44%, and the Middle East’s rose by a whopping 57%. Over that same time frame, U.S. carbon emissions fell by 1.7%.

Put another way, over the past decade, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions — about 6.1 billion tons per year — could have gone to zero and yet global emissions still would have increased.

Read that last sentence again, and keep it in mind whenever you hear that the U.S. must make a massive and expensive move toward renewable energy in order to save the planet: Over the past decade, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions could have gone to zero and yet global emissions still would have increased.

The 28.5% increase in global carbon dioxide emissions is directly related to the second number, 47. Indeed, a key reason why carbon dioxide emissions have grown so rapidly over the past decade is that global demand for electricity soared (up by 36%). And for countries in the developing world, the cheapest way to generate electricity is by burning coal and lots of it. The result: over the past ten years, global coal use jumped by 47%.

Over the past decade, according to the IEA, that 47% increase in coal use meant that global coal use increased by more than the increase in natural gas, oil, and nuclear, combined. And if you believe that coal use will decline in the years ahead, think again. Even in the most optimistic scenario put forward by the IEA, coal use will likely increase by another 25 percent by 2035.

Those coal numbers bring us to the final figure, 1.3 billion. That’s the number of people around the world who don’t have access to electricity. It’s a stunning number. About 18% of all the people on the planet don’t have access to the energy commodity that the IEA says is “crucial to human development.” Just as stunning: the IEA says that 2.7 billion people – about 38% of the world’s population – don’t have access to clean cooking facilities.

The three numbers at hand – 28.5, 47, and 1.3 billion – demonstrate why the Durban meeting is another exercise in carbon-dioxide-reduction futility that will garner a few headlines and then rapidly recede behind more pressing items like the terms of Lindsay Lohan’s probation. In the meantime, global carbon dioxide emissions will continue rising as more people in places like China, India, and Vietnam gain access to electricity and mobility.

And that means one thing is certain: Regardless of whether carbon dioxide is making the planet hotter, or colder (or both) — or even if the world’s temperatures remain relatively stable – we are going need to produce a lot more energy in order to remain productive and comfortable on this planet. And over the next two to three decades, the vast majority of that new energy production will come from coal, oil, and natural gas. Why? Because they are the cheapest, most abundant, most reliable sources.

You don’t have to like it, and there are plenty of people in Durban who don’t.  But that’s the reality.

Robert Bryce is the author of Power Hungry: The Myths of “Green” Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future.

 

More articles by:

Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
Nomi Prins 
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
John W. Whitehead
Know Your Rights or You Will Lose Them
David Swanson
The Abolition of War Requires New Thoughts, Words, and Actions
J.P. Linstroth
Primates Are Us
Bill Willers
The War Against Cash
Jonah Raskin
Doris Lessing: What’s There to Celebrate?
Ralph Nader
Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out
Binoy Kampmark
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism
John Feffer
Review: Season 2 of Trump Presidency
Rich Whitney
General Motors’ Factories Should Not Be Closed. They Should Be Turned Over to the Workers
Christopher Brauchli
Deported for Christmas
Kerri Kennedy
This Holiday Season, I’m Standing With Migrants
Mel Gurtov
Weaponizing Humanitarian Aid
Thomas Knapp
Lame Duck Shutdown Theater Time: Pride Goeth Before a Wall?
George Wuerthner
The Thrill Bike Threat to the Elkhorn Mountains
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Selfhood and Her Ability to Act in the Public Domain: Resilience of Nadia Murad
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
On the Killing of an Ash Tree
Graham Peebles
Britain’s Homeless Crisis
Louis Proyect
America: a Breeding Ground for Maladjustment
Steve Carlson
A Hell of a Time
Dan Corjescu
America and The Last Ship
Jeffrey St. Clair
Booked Up: the 25 Best Books of 2018
David Yearsley
Bikini by Rita, Voice by Anita
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail