Godzilla Carbon Emissions in 2010 Unprecedented

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.

17 Responses

  1. If the democrats or the republicans win the 2012 election, the status quo will continue. The 1% dictators will remain in power, that is the Rich and their Corporations will continue to rule with their puppets, Congress and the mass news media continuing their insane roles.

    Thus, the insanity of wars, environmental pollution, phony economic bailouts, more crap from politicians and ecetera will continue.

    A new party is a must for sanity and recovery.

    My uninformed comment.

  2. Odd that they don’t seem to think much came from the melting tundra around the Arctic Ocean, at some stage its presumably going to have a Big Belch.

    Also odd that they don’t mention vehicle sales – I believe India’s vehicle production grew by 30%+ in 2010, presumably someone is buying them. Here’s the EIA figures for India, look at oil imports, they are also rising steadily. link to eia.gov

    India and China still have a huge way to go to catch up with North America & Europe on per capita energy consumption. And the US with a mere 311M people is still increasing its rate of emissions faster than India’s 1,200M people.

    India’s always been hot – that’s why Emperors, Princes, and East India Company built all those Hill Stations. Try one next time, I stayed at one controlled by the Army, very pukka, quiet, cool, inexpensive.

    • Oliver, the guys at the DoE were only looking at man’s fossil fuel emissions, so their numbers omit direct land use change emissions (around about 10% of known human caused emissions), and indirect emissions from tipping points, such as may happen in Arctic.

      I guess indirect emissions, like the Arctic Big Belch, will show first in the methane monitoring stations.

      With the Arctic basin continuing to warm (ice volume is now plummeting (according to PIOMAS calculations, for example), we may not have long to wait until the tundra disgorges its carbon..

  3. Ok, I have a stupid question. Professor Klaus Lackner of NYU is developing a technology that “scrubs” carbon out of the atmosphere. If we built these on a massive scale, why can’t this be a part of the solution? Why is this never mentioned in any discussions on climate change?

    Yes, it would be preferable if our elites could get their act together and start taxing carbon emissions. Obviously it’s not going to happen. So if we aren’t going to cut back, at least we can suck carbon back out of the atmosphere.

    This technology isn’t ready, yet. Even if it takes another 20 years to get it ready, if we start deploying millions of these things thereafter, by the end of the century we could get back down to where we are today, heading in the other direction. This isn’t climate engineering like some of the other schemes I’ve heard, it’s reversing the climate engineering we are conducting today with our uncontrolled industrial capacity. Why is this never discussed?

    • @chriss1519: The trouble with carbon capture and storage, which you call scrubbing, is that you’re working against thermodynamics. It takes more energy than you got from burning the fossil fuel in the first place. Think how hard it is to mop up that orange juice you spilled on the kitchen floor–collecting a dilute gas like carbon dioxide is even harder. In fact, collecting all that carbon would take more energy than the total energy in all remaining fossil fuels.

      The good news is, nature has a very ingenious way to collect carbon: it’s called photosynthesis. So for the love o’ god, let’s stop paving over those forests!

      • Actually forests only temporarily store carbon dioxide, mostly releasing it later. Some gets fixed in the soil, but it is a relatively small effect. Forestation is not a realistic solution here.

        • A climax forest does bank a fixed amount of carbon, even though the carbon cycles through individual trees as they grow, mature, die and rot. You can count the carbon in the trees themselves, not just the soil,when looked at in aggregate.

          As long as the forest isn’t clear-felled, or burnt to the ground, that carbon is locked-in.

          Actively sustainably-managed forests can be the best carbon stores, because there is a greater throughput of new growth, and sequestration of timber into buildings etc. But I agree that ultimately, competition for land use restricts the potential for forestry carbon storage.

          The main goal is to prevent existing forest carbon stores from being plundered.

      • Andrew, photosynthesis only works if plants will use the carbon dioxide. The problem is that the carbon dioxide released by the burning of modern refined petro-chemicals has atoms of certain heavy metals attached to it so plants will not use it. Whether the same is true with coal I couldn’t say but for oil it’s useless for plants

    • There is no effective way now known to “scrub” carbon dioxide from the atmosphere effectively and on the relevant scale. This is pie in the sky for now. All the earth’s oceans and igneous rocks, an *enormous* set of natural assets, will take 100,000 years to scrub the human-spewed carbon from the atmosphere. Human means are at the moment puny in comparison. Our descendants are just going to have to live scalding and tropical, most likely, assuming they aren’t just driven into extinction.

  4. We all need to read Gwynne Dyer’s “Climate Wars.” He can’t predict the future, of course, but he does take a look at previous responses to famine and apply them to nations currently holding nuclear warheads.

  5. Excellent post. You might be interested to know that the seasonally adjusted value for CO2 for Sept. 2011 (Mauna Loa data) was 392 ppm. This is well above even the worst-case scenarios published in the last IPCC report and right at the upper edge of their overall uncertainty envelope. It suggests that all of the IPCC predictions have greatly underestimated the rate at which climate-change problems will hit us.

  6. What it’s gonna galvanize, I would bet, is the marketing that goes with people piling on, for personal profit, to the “trends” in that godawful disease called “growth.” Too many humans wired to seek personal advantage, personal pleasure, the disease of MOREism, for which there is no cure. Even paleolithic indigens did a pretty good job of screwing up their locales and extinctualizing other species for food and fun. “Coal” is a growth industry, and “coal futures,” what a sick, sick, ironic notion, are a “good investment.”

    Don’t you just love David Brooks, who tells us now that In Shale Gas Is Our Salvation: link to themarcellusshale.com

    Stupid effing humans.

    To my great-grandchildren, if any there be, my apologies for making possible your birth into a world dominated by stupidity, greed, self-interest, consumption and mindless militarism. We are collectively too dumb to see we are paying, dearly, for the “thrill” and “privilege” of a barrel ride over the falls.

  7. Right now, as I type, I am monitoring our house via our computer.

    15.68 kWh produced. 5.30kWh consumed. 10.29 Kwh net.

    This ordinary suburban house is running on solar, with extra panels to slow charge an electric car.

    House and car, powered by the sun.

    The subsidies helped us and I wish the city wasn’t cutting back on those. The company that installed our system employs quite a few people and there are many more houses out there that could be converted to solar.

    Three other neighbors on our block have done the same. We made the decision to go to full solar for environmental and economic reasons (no gasoline bill) and to demonstrate that it doesn’t change one’s lifestyle. The computer still runs, we have air conditioning. But it’s not powered by coal.

    • Cool! What part of the country are you in? Has this worked well throughout the winter, and at night? Particularly in the winter at night? Do the solar arrays shed show, or do you have to remove it by hand? You don’t use television, do you? I’d assume that could be a real power hog. Do you have/need air conditioning? How does the solar handle it?

      Roofs ought to be designed as solar photovoltaics. Ditto for windows. It’s depressing to think of how much development and manufacturing work that really needs to be done and certainly could be done in the US, but as Dr. Cole observes, today’s business elites are detached from reality and useless. Too bad the shareholders don’t notice, or mind.

      WE could be selling to India, not to mention domestically.

  8. Both India and China are investing in Thorium powered
    Thorium is a very abundant element, and Thorium reactors will use radioactive products left over from old style uranium reactors, with only small amounts radioactive waste as an end product.
    As this type of reactor is very safe, it can be used close to, or within cities, where waste heat can be used for many purposes.
    A US reactor of this type has run in the early 60’s, but was not continued with because the radioactive products were of no use for nuclear bombs.
    Wind and solar have fatal flaws in that they are intermittent and to overcome that problem is very costly.
    As LFTR’s are inherently safe they need a far smaller capital investment for each reactor.

    • Oh, I know, any criticism or skepticism about The Latest New Technological Fix is just Luddite-ism. But gee, in 1952, the same set of logical positivists were all excited about “atoms for peace” and “the infinite free energy from nuclear fission.” There seems to be some huge burst of enthusiasm for “liquid fluorine thorium reactors,” as the Next Big Thing, right up there with Shale Gas and Perpetual Motion. Wonder how many people are betting on the companies who would be doing the design, construction and operation of this costless, wasteless, millenium-long technology that will let “us” keep doing the same old shit. No problem with dealing with an extreme high temperature liquid (as in molten) fluorine salt, all that silliness… Anyone ever heard of a guy named Murphy?

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