Friday, November 06, 2015

American lifestyle can no longer remain non-negotiable

One of the many tough lessons that we learn while growing up is that life is unfair.  It is a tough lesson.  Even worse is the lesson that we humans will not work towards making life at least a tad less unfair.

Today's exhibit on unfairness: the global climate change discussions.

We are rapidly counting down the days towards that global meeting of the minds, which will happen in Paris from November 30th to December 11th.  It is the latest in a long-running series of meetings that began in 1979.

Except for a few nutcases, who operate mostly from the US and from within the Republican party, there is an overwhelming consensus on climate change and its potential to wreak havoc on conditions for human life, via the impacts on the natural environment.

Those nutcases aside,,
climate experts estimate that global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions need to be reduced by 40-70% by 2050 and that carbon neutrality (zero emissions) needs to be reached by the end of the century at the latest.
But, that is where the "fairness" and "unfairness" begins.
Rancorous negotiations over a draft version of a universal climate treaty took place this week in Bonn, Germany. The treaty is supposed to be adopted by nearly 200 nations at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris in December. The fight in Bonn is over how much the countries of the world should cut their emissions of greenhouse gases, by what year they should complete those cuts, and who should pay for the transition.
Remember those expressions like, "talk is cheap" or "put your money where your mouth is" and the like?  It is one thing to wish for a wonderful planet, but another when it comes to who has to the dirty work and how to pay for it.
Fairness and fair share arguments kick in, and they kick in faster than the time it takes you to yell "climate change":
The activists calculate that rich countries need to boost their domestic reductions from 5.5 billion tons to 9.1 billion tons. They also call for "a vast expansion of international finance, technology and capacity-building support." This means the rich countries should provide poor countries with the wherewithal to reduce by 15.1 billion tons the greenhouse gases they would otherwise have emitted. ...
What do the activists think is the U.S.'s fair share of reductions? Historically, the U.S. is responsible for about 30 percent of the cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide since 1850. The fair share activists calculate that the United States is promising to cut its annual emissions by only 2 billion tons by 2030. Without going into the arcana of the climate equity calculations, the activists argue that the U.S. should instead cut its emissions by the equivalent of 13 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually by 2030. 
If you even remotely think that the most affluent country that the planet has ever known will even remotely agree to paying for fairness, well, I have only these words for you: lobotomy by Dr. Carson!

Shikha Dalmia adds to these:
Western countries, especially America, have been arguing that China and India with their billion-plus people and dirty energy sources are a major part of the problem. Therefore, unless they do their "fair share" to cut — not just slow the rate of — their emissions, no amount of mitigation by the West will make a dent in global temperatures.
However, India and China counter by dragging out the West's historic emissions. ... As these countries see it, America (as the rest of the Western world) is in their ecological debt. It needs to put itself on a drastic energy diet — and effectively undo the industrial revolution that has generated untold wealth for it. Especially since India has used only 7 percent of its share. "For the sake of the world's future, American lifestyle can no longer remain non-negotiable," froths India's leading environmentalist, Sunita Narain.
The Indian stand is understandable:
Over 300 million Indians still live below the poverty line, earning less than $1 per day. India's per capita energy consumption is 15 times less than the United States'. India has to keep boosting its energy use — and therefore carbon emissions — for at least another two decades to eliminate dire poverty
The selfish gene is not wired for fairness, it seems.


IP-MD said...

Given that you are sceptical about a lot of things, how come you are not as sceptical about "climate change"? For example, did you know about carbon emissions from Indonesia's peat fires? See:

Also, one volcanic eruption in Indonesia or Iceland could undo or alter the entire balance of CO2 in the atmosphere. When Krakatoa exploded in 1883, I believe there was a year without a winter.

Mike Hoth said...

Americans (and several other nations, let's be honest) are unwilling to be fair as far as CO2 emissions are concerned. One of our largest issues in the US is the galvanization of cleaner and safer energy sources that are not recent or led by a political party. Nuclear power is easily one of the most efficient and safe sources of electricity, but we are terrified of it. Wind and solar power might hurt avian life, and California removed dams to save an invasive species. That's doing them a lot of favors right now, I hear.

Then there's China. I'm wondering if you wrote this post before hearing about their...shady record keeping. The largest polluter in the world is burning up to 17% more coal than has been reported, and this is the latest in a long series of dishonest reports. We can't trust China's data and public opinion fights any measure in the US to fix our issues. Climate changes doesn't kill us fast enough to spark action.

Ramesh said...

I do not think the rich world will pay in any form for poor countries to reduce emissions. That is simply not going to happen - just the reality of the world, irrespective of the rights or wrongs of it.

What is not acceptable is that the rich world, (read America, for Europe is doing far better in this area), will not cut its own emissions significantly. For once I agree with Sunita Narain ( in my book she stands shoulder to shoulder with Paul Krugman, Arundhati Roy and the like, but that is another story)

As for India and China, it is purely in our own self interest to cut down emissions, for pollution is a serious problem in our countries. China is doing an enormous amount in clean energy, not out of any altruistic interests for the world, but in pure self interest. India must follow. As Mike said, nuclear energy is the key. America (and especially Europe) can help by stopping its rabid anti nuclear lobby from going everywhere and organising protests. (remember Kundankulam)

@IP-MD - I understand where you are coming from. Natural phenomena can completely undo all efforts by mankind, . The sun only has to fart, for it to change everything a millionfold. We only have to look at Venus to see the effect of greenhouse gone wild.


Natural phenomenon occur at glacial timescales. The effect of man may be much smaller, but more profound in a century or two. Man's contribution to greenhouse gases, and therefore warming, is proven. Would it not be prudent for mankind to regulate what is in his control ?

Sriram Khé said...

Yes, one of my favorite columns is at the Scientific American--"Skeptic." Being a skeptic, I am all the time raising questions about something or the other ... which then ends up with me pissing off people, even the regular readers/commenters here ... Ramesh prefers not even reading my posts on Modi, Anne loads up her guns when I write about the Second Amendment and the GOP, Mike is ready to throw the bible at me ... on Facebook, friends get upset when I praise GMOs, note that abortion is murder but is a justified homicide, and that nuclear energy might have to be the bridge to breaking free of fossil-fuels ... the list is endless, and I have been doing my to piss people off ;)

Notice though being a skeptic does not mean that there nothing definitive. As far as we know, the evidence is overwhelming that climate change is not only for real but that human activities--the burning of carbon--is the prime reason for it. Yes, cows farting methane adds, but sources like that contribute way less than what can be traced back to humans. Dismissing the evidence is not how a skeptic works. As Keynes said, when the facts change I will change my opinion.

As Ramesh has also noted, talking about a rare event like a volcanic eruption is a distraction at best. The inaction you suggest is like saying, "hey, we are all going to die anyway. So, why go to school or work!"

Indonesia's peat fires/smoke is from our--human--activities to clear all those lands mostly for palm oil. The disaster goes back to the dictator Suharto and his minions whose policies have had these devastating impacts. My point is that if you want to bring in the peat fires, well, please do--because it is a classic evidence of how human activities are contributing to climate change--not to speak of the tremendous impacts on human health even now.

Yes, China's under-reporting of its coal usage was big news. But it is not really news--I would think that such data from countries like India and China will not be ever true and one has to think that the real #s will be even more than what is reported. I have blogged many times questioning the left/environmentalists passionate opposition to nuclear power. But, hey, if the founder of Greenpeace cannot convince his old comrades about this, then there is no chance that a moderate or a conservative can ever get us to think about nuclear power.

Europe is not any better. It is all lofty rhetoric. Germany talks big, but then has ramped up its lignite burning, for instance. If Norway is really worried about carbon, then all it has to do is halt the resource extraction and stop making the gazillions it makes from North Sea. As with any issue, Western Europeans talk a good talk and then wonder why crisis after crisis hits them!

At the end of it all, there is no doubt in my book that the rich countries of today have to pay their fair share for the crap that they have contributed to climate change and cannot pretend that India and China and Sub-Saharan African countries have to bear the brunt ... nor can India and China and Sub-Saharan African countries think it is ok for them go down the same fossil-fuel path that today's rich countries traveled ... but then it all comes down to a debate over fairness, which means we should start praying for a couple of massive volcanic eruptions and meteor strikes as soon as possible ;)

IP-MD said...

Actions have consequences. Meaningful reduction in CO2 emissions would require drastic changes in livelihood and lifestyle for people around the world, and that too for 40-50 years. If at the end of that period (or during that period), one worldwide event like a volcanic eruption would erase or undo all those reduction efforts, then what is the point? One has to question the cost-to-benefit involved.

In my opinion, the evidence is mixed regarding man-made "climate change" (whether it occurs and if so, by how much) and about its potential consequences. Therefore, the best option is to do nothing. If/when the facts change, I will change my opinion.

Sriram Khé said...

More on this in the latest blog-post: