We saw earlier that the often cited plateau in global warming (16 years with no real change in global temperatures) was not enough to get anybody’s attention–but that when it was combined with the statistic that we had emitted one third of all human CO2 since that plateau started, it got a few people to scratching their heads.
That’s because the numbers tossed around in climate discussions are too disconnected from human experience to mean much of anything to anybody. I can tell you what a quad is–it’s a quadrillion BTUs. Do you feel smarter knowing that? I can explain it in greater detail. In fact I have, with quads looked at here and BTUs here.
But people have been using raw numbers to talk about climate change for a long time and they’re not playing fairly. I’ve seen numbers abused a lot, especially when talking about the loss of ice in Greenland and the Arctic. People talk about billions of tons lost or how many Manhattans of ice were formed last week.
What they should do is just refer to percentages of the estimated total. But if they did that, people would realize that fears of a melt-out in Greenland or Antarctica is simply absurd. Or that the rapid regrowth after a truly amazing summer melt in the Arctic isn’t really very encouraging.
With that in mind, let’s put two recent statistics together. According to a World Bank report released on January 18, 2012, the GDP of the world grew by an anemic 2.6%. Ho, hum. We all want better.
According to the Global Carbon Project, human emissions of CO2 grew by 2.6% in 2012. Boo. We want that figure to drop.
If you put those two statistics together and actually read the reports that generated the statistics, you see other things. First and most obviously, GDP grew at the same rate as than emissions. Think how bad we would feel if emissions were rising more quickly than CO2…
The Global Carbon Project says that emissions increased by 3% in 2011–funny how the headline of the article says ‘No Slowdown in CO2 Emissions in 2012’. To me, 2.6% is indeed lower than 3%, but maybe they’re doing ‘climate math’, where the point you’re making can be disconnected from the numbers.
The real point is that emissions are not outpacing development. Restraint, taxes and the growth of natural gas and renewables in the developed world are making it possible for the developing world to improve their style of life without the larger scale emissions of CO2 that characterized our historical development.
Now, we know that we have to bend the curve more. Perhaps because curmudgeons are not celebrating the success of the U.S. in lowering emissions, the goal of doing just that still seems unattainable.
But if the huge economy of the U.S., profligate in its consumption and careless in the past about its emissions, can reduce emissions, so can the rest of the world.
We’re staying even at this point–but it’s a welcome start.