The spike in carbon emissions in 2010, a 6% increase over 2009, was so humongous that the scientists measuring it initially thought that there must have been a mistake somewhere in the measurements.
Tom Boden, head of the Department of Energy’s Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center in Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee, is quoted by AFP: “It’s big… Our data go back to 1751, even before the Industrial Revolution. Never before have we seen a 500-million-metric-ton carbon increase in a single year.” 512 million metric tons, to be precise.
Well, if it hasn’t been done since 1751, it has never been done by human beings. The last time this happened was 55 to 40 million years ago, in the Eocene. When India went plowing into Asia and threw up the Himalayas, the impact heated up the crust and released massive amounts of carbon dioxide. That happened, likely, over a long period of time, but the effect was an increase in the average surface temperature of the earth of 4-5 degrees Celsius. Antarctica became a tropical jungle.
While the increase is disheartening, it isn’t surprising. It was clear that the amazing Chinese economic engine was chugging along at its usual brisk pace last year. The US recovered somewhat from 2008–2009. And India had good growth last year, in common with Asian countries that are recovering from 2008 more quickly than the US and Europe because they were not so stupid as to deregulate their banks or mortgage markets.
But what struck me in the figures was that India came in just behind the United States in extra emissions over the previous year at 48 million metric tons of carbon. The US produced 59 million MT more, and China a dragon-sized 212 million. Of the 512 million MT increase over the previous year, those three countries were responsible for about 3/5s of it!
India is an enormous country with over a billion people, but its relatively high carbon footprint comes from getting much of its electricity from coal. It is the fourth largest producer of carbon emissions in the world, but working toward third.
Coal India is the largest producer of coal in the world, and has mined out the subcontinent to the point where it is looking abroad for further fields.
They should be made to look into wind turbines and solar panels instead. India has 15 gigawatts of installed wind turbine capacity already, making it the fifth country in the world for wind power. But it is estimated that its on-shore wind generation capacity at current technology is 65 gigawatts. Obviously, India would have a lot of potential for offshore wind and of wave generation of electricity, being surrounded by water on three sides.
India has also committed to building up its solar power generation capabilities rapidly, hoping to produce 20 gigawatts from solar by 2020 (from almost zero today). If it follows through on this plan, India would be producing 1/8 of its electricity from solar by that year.
At this point, the trillion-dollar question is how bad the tropical climate of five hundred years from now will be (the oceans warm up very slowly so massive climate change won’t be immediate), and whether we’ll lose 1/6 or 1/3 of the current dry land.
I already find India hard to take in the summers, and I don’t think it will be good for Indian agriculture if the average temperature increases dramatically. Models suggest that climate change will cause the interior of continents to become arid, something that could happen to India. Some think India’s wheat crop in the Punjab will be devastated.
The rude burp of carbon that the industrial nations spewed forth last year should galvanize everyone on emissions. It is a clear signal that business as usual is unacceptable if we are to avoid ending up poached. The US and China built their grids and facilities for hydrocarbons, and the US business elites are detached from reality and so are mostly useless on this issue. India has a chance to do things right. The government still has a lot of power there over economic developments, and pushing Coal India to become Wind and Solar India in short order is absolutely essential.