By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –
I am not a fundamentalist in any other area of life. But I am a carbon dioxide fundamentalist.
Well, you can add methane and some other gases.
The point is that CO2 emissions is the only issue that matters in speaking of climate change. It is a heat-trapping gas and the more we put into the atmosphere, the hotter the planet will get over time. That means melting all land ice, massive rises in sea level over time, extreme weather (more intense hurricanes and cyclones, long-term drought in some places, increased flooding in others). Delta river valleys like that in Louisiana, or the Delta in Egypt, or the country of Bangladesh, are doomed over time already.
We are driving gas-guzzling cars, and burning coal to get electricity, and eating a lot of beef; we are endangering our children and grandchildren. We have to stop.
My carbon fundamentalism means that I’m not against nuclear reactors the way many environmentalists are. I personally think they are costly and unpopular and that wind and solar prices are falling so fast as to make them already obsolete. But I’d rather people get electricity from nuclear than from coal. Like, much, much rather.
And my carbon fundamentalism is why I am not impressed at the statement of the Chinese government that it has met its 2020 goal on carbon intensity (carbon dioxide emissions per economic activity) three years early.
I am not impressed because while it is praiseworthy to increase economic activity, as China has done, but not to have increased carbon dioxide emissions commensurate with the new activity at the rate that would have been common ten years ago, it is still an optical illusion.
Because global carbon dioxide emissions increased 2% in 2017 after having been flat in 2014-16.
And China and the developing countries were the reason for the increase.
And remember that this is a zero sum game. The world is putting 37 billion metric tons of CO2 up there every year. That’s cumulative. It is like bringing big piles of dirt in a pick-up truck and dumping it in your front yard several times every year, to the point where your home is being buried. You wake up to the fact that soon you won’t be able to get into your house, or maybe even find it. You need to stop bringing in those big piles of dirt, now. If that was your new goal, you wouldn’t count it as a success if you carried more dirt with fewer trips this year.
China accounts for a whopping 1/3 of global carbon emissions.
Now, what is admirable is that China is dedicating itself to a big expansion in electricity generated by wind, solar, hydro and nuclear, and that it has reduced the percentage of its electricity generated by coal from 80% to 60%, and plans to develop no new coal plants by 2030.
It is putting $367 billion into renewables expansion, with high density transmission lines and masses of new wind and solar farms.
That admirable investment is the opposite of what the Trump administration in the US is doing.
But, it is not enough. Coal use actually increased very slightly in 2017 in China. As in the US, there is a coal lobby in China that fights this reduction, consisting of state plant managers and masses of coal miners and other workers in the industry, on whose good will the Chinese Communist Party depends.
China can’t be increasing its emissions annually, and neither can the US. Most CO2 pollution is coming from 14 countries.
Any carbon fundamentalist will tell you that it is on these 14 countries we must concentrate. And the emissions are the important number, and they have to go down.