More on the same as in my last two posts.
The Carbon Con Game
The Carbon Con Game
Peter Huber, 11.02.09, 12:00 AM ET
China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gas on the planet. We burn more carbon per person, but China has more people, and both its population and economy are growing much faster than ours. For many members of Congress, a vote for strict carbon limits will be politically suicidal if constituents continue to believe–correctly–that the vote will propel a massive shift of jobs, wealth and emissions from Peoria to Beijing. So in the coming months watch out for brazenly false claims that China is blazing the green trail, and getting richer by doing so, and that to compete we must outgreen them. China is of course delighted to jigger numbers to help frame the story.
”China attaches great importance to tackling climate change,” China’s climate commissar recently declared. The Middle Kingdom therefore promises to lower its energy consumption per unit of GDP. Translation: ”We promise to get richer.” Energy consumption per unit of GDP always falls as a country gets richer. The poorest countries in Africa spend 100% of their GDP on food, the most primitive form of energy. Bill Gates, on the other hand, has the lowest energy consumption per unit of household GDP on the planet. Carbon emissions per unit of GDP follow the same trajectory. China’s are about twice as high as ours, Africa‘s three times as high. The global climate, however, doesn’t care a fig about hyphenated emissions, whether per capita, per dollar or per unit of sly political prevarication.
”China also sets an objective of increasing the proportion of renewable energy in the primary energy mix to 10% by 2010, and to 15% by 2020.” Translation: ”We’ll keep on burning the stuff that poor people burn until we get rich.” Biomass accounts for 10% of the global energy supply but less than 4% in the developed world and closer to 2% in the U.S. The poor always burn more carbohydrates, fewer hydrocarbons. Calling something ”renewable” doesn’t mean that it saves carbon. Agriculture, forestry and deforestation already cost the planet more than twice as much in carbon equivalents as transportation–over 30% of all emissions. Since nobody can track how many twigs, cowpats and rice husks a billion peasants burn–or alternatively, leave to fungi to convert into methane, a powerful greenhouse gas–China‘s carbon accountants can make its renewable numbers come out anywhere they like.
China is proud to report that it has been shutting down ”small thermal power-generation units.” Translation: ”We’re replacing diesel generators with big coal-fired power plants.” Big, central power plants burn much cheaper fuel much more efficiently, and therefore generate much cheaper power, and therefore boost energy consumption, emissions and GDP even faster.
China touts its new wind, hydroelectric and nuclear capacity. Translation: ”China‘s energy policy is–and will remain–solidly anchored in coal.” The word ”capacity” next to ”wind” misleads by a factor of five or so, because much of the time the wind doesn’t blow. China’s nuclear plants and its gargantuan hydroelectric dams will indeed make a real dent in the carbon intensity of its energy supply. But mushrooming coal consumption will utterly swamp the savings for as long as anyone can possibly foresee.
China says it ”has increased its carbon sinks by promoting reforestation.” Translation: ”Your sinks don’t count.” North America has been reforesting since 1920, and continues to do so. So fast, in fact, that we’re currently sucking about two-thirds of our carbon emissions back into our forests and soil. Europe and Japan hate all such talk, at least when it’s America that’s talking, because we have lots of land to reforest and they don’t. U.S. greens do their best not to talk about it too, because–well, it gets in the way of other agendas.
China says because it’s poor and we’re rich, we must slash our emissions–absolute emissions, not the per-GDP kind–by 25% to 40% in the next decade, and also pay China and other developing countries in both cash and technology transfers to help them curb theirs. Translation: ”You’re responsible for our sorry past.”
Agricultural footprints shrink, forests recover and birth rates decline as people get richer. Our 19th-century birth rates were as high as China’s and India’s were through most of the 20th. Their huge, impoverished populations reflect economic and political choices that stifled economic growth in their countries during the century when we got rich, stabilized our populations, reforested our land and dispatched would-be global tyrants to the dustbin of history. China, not America, is responsible for the economic and demographic legacies of Puyi, Yuan, Sun, Chiang and Mao.
Peter Huber is a senior fellow of the Manhattan Institute and coauthor of The Bottomless Well (Basic Books, January 2005).
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