Sunday, July 18, 2010

The environmental vapidity of Mitch Daniels

Last month's glowing Weekly Standard profile of Mitch Daniels has one sadly revealing excerpt:
Beyond the debt and the deficit, in Daniels’s telling, all other issues fade to comparative insignificance. He’s an agnostic on the science of global warming but says his views don’t matter. “I don’t know if the CO2 zealots are right,” he said. “But I don’t care, because we can’t afford to do what they want to do. Unless you want to go broke, in which case the world isn’t going to be any greener. Poor nations are never green.”
Sigh. As far as visible pollutants are concerned, Daniels is mostly right: rich nations have managed to control emissions that cause localized problems like smog and acid rain, while a miserably poor city like Dhaka suffers from stifling pollution. But with carbon dioxide, it's the exact opposite: superficially cleaner rich nations are the worst offenders, as demonstrated by this Wikipedia map of per capita emissions statistics from the International Energy Agency:

See the deep red country in the Western Hemisphere? That's us—the United States has higher emissions per capita than any other large nation. Poor countries, meanwhile, emit next to nothing: Bangladesh, for instance, has less than 2% of the United States's per capita emissions.

Daniels' ignorance on this question—not to mention his casual dismissal of "CO2 zealots"—reflects a sad failure to understand the difference between carbon dioxide and "pollution" in general. Daniels and his ilk see the crowded, smoggy capital of a developing country and assume that it's playing a large role in carbon emissions—after all, it looks polluted. In reality, countries like the United States, Canada, and Australia contribute to climate change in an overwhelmingly disproportionate way. Until they take leadership to resolve the global collective action problem, climate change is likely to continue unabated.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Does this narrative hold if you look at integrated CO2 emissions?

Comparing the US vs China: it appears China has ~1/3 of per capita emissions, but they also have ~4 times the population.

While I don't agree with Daniels' defeatist conclusion "We must give up b/c there will never be world wide consensus" - per capita emissions of countries seem too far removed from the impact on mother nature (which absorbs all of the emitted CO2)

Developed countries do contribute disproportionally more to CO2 emissions but optimizing/removing the emissions of 20% of the world's population won't do much good if emissions of the other 80% grow unconstrained.

A view of the rate of change of emissions in developing vs developed countries would also be interesting.