A big environmental story broke today that intertwines tightly with many of the themes I have been covering here in the blog over the last few months. The news is that world wide carbon dioxide emissions grew rapidly last year. Some headlines called it a “monster” growth in emissions. Other played the “worst fears confirmed” and “worse than we could ever imagine” theme. It isn’t worse than I imagine. As you know, I am optimistic about the future of alternative energy. I expect fossil fuel usage to climb for the next decade or two, before falling dramatically by the middle of this century and continuing to fall by 2100. A few months ago, I used a little web applet to help me plot out the scenario and its effects on global temperature. So it might look bad right now, but progress toward a cleaner future continues.
Delving inside the numbers we find more interesting facts. Carbon emmissions continue to go down in the U.S. Hooray for us! Emmissions are going down in the EU as well. A couple of the reasons for the decline in the U.S. is the ongoing great recession and more usage of natural gas. In the eyes of a mainstream AGW theorist, the use of natural gas is not all that great, but it is much better than using oil and coal (you wouldn’t know it by the tone of the article, sigh). Not only does natural gas usage emit less carbon dioxide, it is stupendously cleaner burning so almost all other metrics of pollution would go down as well! Not only that, the U.S. has enough natural gas to last for decades, if not centuries!! AND it is dirt cheap!!! It is beyond comprehension why national leaders in D.C. are not promoting natural gas as a bridge fuel to a cleaner future. Instead we continue to get billions in ethanol subsidies and more failed investments in alternative energy companies. I like the thought of investing in new start-ups, but that should be left to the private sector. I am tired of my tax money going up in smoke.
China continues to be the biggest polluter on the planet and India’s emissions are growing dramatically as well. This brings up an interesting question about the Kyoto treaty, that many people realized from the start. The critique was: if the Kyoto treaty did not include developing countries, then it would be useless. It turns out, it was nearly useless (or toothless). As predicted, China and other developing countries are now the world’s biggest (or rapidly getting there) polluters.
This story also hits on the progress theme I have been highlighting lately. Many governments around the world, such as in the U.S. and the E.U., have policies in place to “make the economy grow”. Most of the policies are intended to make people by more stuff, take on more debt, spend more money, build more houses, build more roads…etc. If the goal is to not pollute so much then perhaps we should be focusing on of the metrics of “growth”, as I oultined in more detail in this past blog post. Spending billions of dollars on NEW infrastructure guarantees that there will be more pollution in the future. On a bright note, I saw a report on TV the other day that home builders are getting more requests for multi-generational houses. In light of the “American Dream” scenario promoted during the last few decades, this might be seen as negative, but I think it is a good thing. Traditional farm families from a century or two ago, used to live in multi-generational homes. Families took care of each other. It is not a bad thing, as long as everyone is contributing. College dropouts, vegging in their parents basements playing video games for years on end, doesn’t sound so great, but it is probably better (for the environment especially) than if they took out a home loan they couldn’t afford and were living alone. Owning a home is not for everyone. There are many other “dreams” you can achieve and have a fulfilling life, without owning a home for most of your life. I don’t like the constant pressure coming from the federal government to spend-spend-spend, build-build-build.
Lastly, based on the latest carbon emissions story, can we now stick a fork in the Peak Oil theory, anyway the “major-crash-back-to-the-stone-age” part. Natural gas and oil sands development, while not panaceas compared to past “easy oil”, are certainly keeping the world afloat and look to continue doing so into the next few years.
Before checking out for this Friday, an update on the US Drought Monitor. Conditions are about the same right here in Wisconsin. Some abnormally dry conditions continue in the northeastern corner of the state and have increased slightly in the west. No real problems. The worst drought in the country remains in Texas, but at least they have seen some slight improvement over the last month or so. Even better news is that they will have some more relief late this weekend and early next week. The northeastern part of Texas around Dallas-Fort Worth, could end up with a couple inches of rain. It will not be a drought buster, but it is better than nothing.
Lastly, don’t forget to partake in the archaic illogical ritual of turning the clocks back one hour Saturday night.
Have a good weekend! Meteorologist Justin Loew.
This post was written by jloew on November 4, 2011