Friday, October 05, 2007

Valley of the shadow

Mark Hertsgaard's The Making of a Climate Movement documents a remarkable and potentially significant trend in the United States, but should be read in combination with Why Climate Change Can't Be Stopped by Paul J. Saunders, Vaughan Turekian, who write:
The international political environment...makes truly significant emissions cuts very unlikely. In 2010...developing countries will emit nearly 20 percent more CO2 emissions than developed countries. Indeed, only in China (and perhaps India) would emissions limits or cuts make more of a difference than in the United States. By one estimate, China has already surpassed America in emissions to become the world’s leader and, with sustained high growth rates, will open the gap even further. In fact, if China grows at 8 percent for the next nine years, its economy will double in size— is turning increasingly to carbon-laden coal for electricity. And although China’s energy intensity (energy consumed per unit of economic output) has decreased by nearly 5 percent per year for the last two decades as a result of greater efficiency, it is still nearly seven times that of the United States, according to the World Bank. At this rate, China’s growth trajectory could add the equivalent pollution of another present-day United States to the climate system in a little more than a decade.

Dollar-for-dollar, the most efficient way to cut global greenhouse gas emissions would be, in theory, to invest hundreds of billions of dollars to improve China’s energy efficiency. But [the U.S.] Congress would never support such an approach. After all, which members of Congress would vote to undercut the competitiveness of U.S. companies, especially in the face of a weak domestic economy, public anger over outsourcing, China’s currency value, and the U.S. trade deficit with China? More broadly, how long will voters in Europe and Japan, which have done the most to limit emissions, be prepared to make sacrifices for the global climate if they believe they are alone in doing so?
Saunders and Turekian, former Bush administration officials, are likely wrong to say that "environmental advocates hype the consequences of climate change" (have they actually read the IPCC Fourth Assessment report?), but may be too right on the "too late" bit...unless public opinion in the U.S and other rich countries can be convinced to support significant investment in poor and emerging economies.

(Hat tip DP for both pieces)

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