"The West's Carbon Emissions Are Irrelevant"

by Ginosar  

All the presentations at the Efficiency - Art Rosenfeld conference were interesting and many illuminating, but the most significant discussion, I believe, was by Professor Richard Muller. He talked about the immense future increase of CO2 by the emerging economies. His assertion, supported by an eye popping graph, is that the amount of CO2 created by the industrialization of the rapid growing economies, especially China and India, will surpass all the rest of the world combined and that is the area we must concentrate on.

Dr. Muller teaches Physics at UC Berkeley. I have discussed GW issued with him several times and read his book: Physics for Future Presidents, too. He likes to debunk what he sees as mistakes in the general beliefs on GW. I talked with him during the reception and told him that his presentation was the most important item in the whole conference. He felt that the interest in his conclusions were not as high as they deserve. And I agreed.

The essence of his lecture here was presented previously in the Wall Street Journal just before the Copenhagen meeting last year. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703514404574588673072577680.html

The key graph is titles:

The West's Carbon Emissions Are Irrelevant.

It shows a rising curve of yearly global emissions of CO2 that grows from the current 32 B tonns to some 90 B by 2040; almost all of it from the emerging economies, while the West's contributions are dropping to be insignificant by then.

A few friends discussed the key assumptions that Dr. Muller presented below:


From J.

I first saw this graph in an article on GreenTech Media's (GTM) website about two weeks ago.


The article was summarizing information presented by Richard Muller in a Wall Street Journal op-ed and in a speech at a venture capital firm in S.F. The graph in the article at GTM included some basic assumptions behind the graph. These assumptions include that the Chinese economy grows at 10%/year and other emerging economies grow at 6%/year.

While China may continue a 10% annual growth for a few more years, it is very unlikely to continue this growth rate through 2040 as the graph apparently assumes. The larger their economy becomes, the more difficult it will be to continue their current growth rate.

While the general statement that the developing economies will soon be the main contributors to CO2 emissions seems well supported, the graph most likely overstates the extent of their contributions. Nevertheless the actions of the developing countries will almost certainly be much more important than the actions of the currently developed economies in determining the growth of CO2 emissions.



-- Yes, at the Rosenfeld Symposium in Davis on Tuesday, Muller did mention his WSJ op-ed piece. And, in addition to your point that economic growth at 10% sort of numbers will not continue for decades, there is the fact that what China has agreed to and is doing rather aggressively is reducing their "carbon intensity" number (tons of CO2 per $M of GDP).

But, we are all agreeing that China and other emerging economies will dominate the future emissions and the need-to-reduce issues. Best reply to the nay sayers here is (1) economic growth is going to be in the low-C energy business sector so this is good for the economy not bad for it, and (2) the science says conclusively that humans must address the problem: 9 billion people cannot live on the planet in anything like decent way unless this is solved and getting down to 350 ppm or below is the only way to preserve the planet as the 20th century had it.



The full set of assumptions behind Muller's graph as stated in the GTM and WSJ articles are as follows:
- USA: 80% cut by 2050
- Kyoto developed states: 60% cut by 2050
- China: 4% per year cut in carbon intensity (amounts to a 70% cut by 2040)
- Chinese economy grows at 10%
- Other emerging economies grow at 6%
- Emerging economies begin 80% cut (over 40 years) in 2040

Some selected quotes from these articles follow:

"'We need cheap green, not expensive green.' Any technology that will not work in China or India is 'feel-good technology.' HEVs (Hybrids Electric Vehicles) like the Prius fall into that category according to Muller. This fits in with investor Vinod Khosla's take on solving the 'Chindia problem'."

"... an expensive effort to reduce Western emissions sets a worthless example. Only emissions cuts that provide measurable economic benefit to the developing nations will be adopted by them. If the 80% U.S. emissions cut winds up hurting the U.S. economy, it guarantees China will never follow our example."

"Cheap green energy is not going to be easy. Coal is dirt cheap, and China has been installing a new gigawatt coal plant each week.... Technological change can help a great deal.... A dollar spent in China can reduce CO2 much more than a dollar spent in the U.S."

"Muller finished with these words: 'If you are seriously worried about global warming, the solution is in technology adopted by India and China.  If you can't come up with cheap green, then the alternative is prayer.'"


By M. Ginosar:

1. Although the Muller WSJ curve may be steeper than justified, it is significant and important to grasp. By different set of growth assumptions the slope would be lower. But the total global emissions would continue to increase at a rapid rate while we must cut GHG to reduce the more severe damage from already-present GW. So the basic idea of Muller that we must focus on the emerging world is justified and most important!

2. It is also significant that the emerging world, especially China and India, will do, to a large extent, what they need to do for their own population. Their governments have little alternatives; they must not only allow but must encourage fast economic growth. Their population is demanding it by their movement to cities seeking better life for themselves.

Without fast economic growth these governments would fall and we do not know what would replace them, certainly not more favorable to reduction in economic activities.

3. The discussion here is about CO2, which is now just 65-70% of the total GHG. Total GHG cause global temperature rise, not just CO2. The rest of the GHG have shorter life and would decay with time, but they are up in the atmosphere now and not decreasing!

The total impact of GHG is considered by some more aware observers to be already so severe that we should not increase our yearly emissions but cut them starting two decades ago.

4. The comments above by Dr. Muller make a lot of sense to me and I have advocated cost-effective environmental solutions for many decades. The problem is that most people in this field are so dedicated and so aware of the implications of lack-of-action that they want any solution at almost any price.

Again: his key points:

a. To reduce the damage from GW we need the technologies to be adopted on a mass scale in these countries.

b. Unless these solutions are economical and cost-effective in these countries they would not be adopted! And they would not make any real impact on GW.

The bad example of PV: I have analyzed and commented about the most wasteful green energy program to date: photovoltaic, not only because it is wasteful, not only because it is based on misleading information, and not only because it makes the people in the PV industry rich while providing miniature contribution to the solution, but as an example of emotions overcoming economics and facts -which we can not afford.

To repeat briefly a common mistake by environmentalists and good law makers: over the last decade Germany spent $70 B to generate less than 0.5% of its electricity from PV; while at the same time 50% of its electricity is from coal and it is increasing substantially, masking any possible future contributions by PV. If that PV money went to conservation and efficiency they would have cut their CO2 emissions considerably more.

The next known example is the US law mandating substantial use of Corn-Ethanol in our transportation fuel. The result of enthusiastic environmentalists cooperating with profit maximizing corn industry.

My conclusions:

What Dr. Muller stated is correct in principle and must be taken into account despite some arguments about the exact percentages and the shape of the curves.

This is the most important issue we need to focus on- the significant reduction of GHG emissions from the developing world.

To do that, we must cooperate with them to cut their GHG and assist them with technologies, scientific knowledge, and financial support too.

And these would cause conflicts with our desire to shore up our economies.

This is the most significant dilemma we need to find practical solutions for and soon.



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