Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise has been watching the climate world since 2009. What she sees isn't pretty.

When Emissions Disappear, So Do Jobs

The dirty little secret behind every pie-in-the-sky climate measure is that when emissions disappear, so do jobs, economic opportunities, and human well-being.

I’ve written a new column for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. Titled When Emissions Disappear, So Do Jobs, it has been published:

We may, some day, inhabit a world in which higher carbon dioxide emissions are not indicators of human well-being. But that is not the world we live in now.

This is the hard part about being a grownup. We have to put aside fairy tales and confront reality. Policies that ignore reality are wasteful – and are therefore the exact opposite of sustainable.

world_co2_emissions

click to enlarge

During my research for this column, I generated the above graph in Excel. (The numbers were cut-and-pasted from the CO2 Highlights 2014 – Excel tables link appearing on this page of the International Energy Agency’s website.)

The red line shows the increase in worldwide CO2 emissions during the 21 years prior to the signing of the United Nations’ 1992 climate treaty, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The blue line represents the increase during the following 21 years. In both cases, emissions rose by 50%.

In other words, despite the extensive UN bureaucracy, the over-hyped climate summits, the non-stop demands for emissions reduction, the happy talk about renewable energy becoming competitive, we’re treading water. Emissions aren’t falling, they continue to rise. And they’re rising at the same rate they were before political leaders signed a treaty that was supposed to curtail them.

Here’s a non-graph way of expressing these numbers:

1971 emissions: 14,085 million tonnes
1991 emissions: 21,129 million
rate of increase: 50.01%

1992 worldwide emissions: 21,064 million tonnes
2012 emissions: 31,734
rate of increase: 50.65%

Over the past 42 years, a noticeable drop in emissions has occurred only once – during that time of misery known as the 2009 financial crisis. Anyone who considers themselves compassionate, anyone who cares about the world’s least fortunate, needs to reflect long and hard on that data point.

It doesn’t matter how lovely our intentions are. If we support measures that impoverish people we are not making the world a better place.

Jobs are good. A decent standard of living is good. Both generate emissions. Let’s get over it.

A hyper-linked version of my column:

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Following Barack Obama’s recent visit to China, the White House issued a joint US-China climate announcement that says “China intends to achieve the peaking of C02 emissions around 2030.” But that isn’t news.

A report published three-and-a-half-years ago and funded by the US Department of Energy had already predicted this. Titled China’s Energy and Carbon Emissions Outlook to 2050, it says that population growth, urbanization, and other factors are all expected to peak in China by 2030. Therefore, emissions will, too.

Welcome to the smoke-and-mirrors world of climate negotiations. First, Mr. Obama’s “historic” agreement takes credit for forces already in motion in a foreign country. Second, despite all evidence to the contrary, it pretends that America is capable of reducing its own emissions dramatically over the next decade.

When the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was born in 1992, humanity collectively emitted 21 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. By 2012, this number had increased by 50% to 31 billion tonnes. What was the rate of increase between 1971 and 1991, before the treaty? Amusingly enough, it too was 50%.

Keen to pose as saviours of the planet, politicians across the political spectrum have spent two decades announcing UN-inspired emissions targets that no one has any realistic hope of meeting. When discussing these matters, Roger Pielke Jr., a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, uses phrases such as “fantasy island” and “emissions impossible.”

In 2011, he called Australia’s 2020 emissions reduction goal “fanciful at best.” Much of Australia‚Äôs electricity comes from coal. Replacing sufficient amounts of this electricity would require the construction of 56 nuclear power plants, or 12,000 solar power facilities, in less than a decade.

More recently, Pielke has observed that, following the passage of the UK’s Climate Change Act, that nation’s economy has decarbonized at a rate of 1 percent per year. But meeting its 2022 emissions target, a mere seven years away, implies an annual decarbonization rate 4 to 5 times that.

On November 16, Der Spiegel reported that Germany will also miss its 2020 emissions goal. New coal-fired power plants are currently being built not because the German public doesn’t prefer wind and solar but because those technologies can’t produce enough of the reasonably-priced, reliable energy necessary to power an advanced, industrial economy.

Even the editors of the MIT Technology Review, who believe climate change should be Mr. Obama’s top priority, have publicly acknowledged that “Renewable energy sources, like solar and advanced biofuels, are simply not yet ready to compete with fossil fuels.”

Over the past 40 years, worldwide CO2 emissions dropped significantly only once: during the 2009 financial crisis. The New York Times says four million additional Americans fell below the poverty line that year, and that median family incomes “were 5 percent lower than in 1999.”

According to the World Bank, “virtually every developing country” was hit hard in 2009; an additional 50,000 African children may have died of malnutrition that year, and an estimated “64 million more people around the world” may well have been pushed back into abject poverty.

This is the dirty little secret lurking behind every new emissions deal: when emissions disappear, so do jobs, economic opportunities, and human well-being.

The manufacturing jobs found in factories and the auto industry need affordable power – not the intermittent, stupendously-priced, boutique power generated by wind turbines. Coal mining feeds families. Oil wells put food on the table.

We used to view the dignity that accompanies a paying job as an important social good. We used to understand that working class families are vulnerable. We used to care that unemployment, substance abuse, and family breakdown are closely connected.

These days, we’ve convinced ourselves that driving CO2-emitting factories into bankruptcy is smart. That throwing people out of work makes sense. That plunging families into crisis is the path to glory.

What a strange new religion we’ve adopted in the name of saving the planet.

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This entry was posted on December 4, 2014 by in ethical & philosophical, historical perspective and tagged .
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