A Few Things Ill Considered

A layman's take on the science of Global Warming featuring a guide on How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic.

Friday, February 24, 2006

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Why Should the US Join Kyoto?

(Part of the How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic guide)

This article has moved to ScienceBlogs

It has also been updated and this page is still here only to preserve the original comment thread. Please visit A Few Things Ill Considered there. You may also like to view Painting With Water, Coby Beck's original fine art photography.



  • At March 14, 2006 8:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Actually, CO2 production should not be measured on a per capita basis but on an output / GNP basis. Yes, the US produces more CO2 than any other country, but they have, by far, the highest production output (~25% of the world's GNP).

    By this measure, the US produces less CO2 per unit of output than China or India. In other words, it is more efficient / productive.

    The US wisely rejects the Kyoto treaty until China and India are included. Since such restrictions would add large costs into US manufacturing, it would only serve to drive more manufacturing to these developing nations (all of which have less environmental controls than the US and manufacture goods less efficiently). The net effect of which would be higher world-wide CO2 output and economic damage in developed countries.

    Anthropomorphic global warming is not dependant on where CO2 comes from, whether produced China or the US, only that it is there. Kyoto cannot work until this loophole is closed and the restrictions equally apply to all countries.

  • At March 16, 2006 4:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    So Americans, because they are more productive (by your measurement - GDP is only one facet of a country's wellbeing) have a right to cripple the future competitiveness of all other nations? It's Jim Crow all over again, grandfathering your privileges (gathered over decades of cheap oil and polluting freely) on to the next generation. Do you really think that an Indian should have fewer privileges than you because there's more of them?

    Here in the UK we're cutting emissions beyond Kyoto and the economy's fine.

    You should also get over your love affair with SUVs and short-sighted energy/foreign policy, and realise that this is only Kyoto Round 1. There will be no opportunity to close loopholes in something that affects you greatly, if you're outside the system. This is why Britain is in the EC, and why the US should be in Kyoto. Or the US should step up and provide a credible alternative (and one that's based on 'pretty please' doesn't count).

  • At March 17, 2006 2:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Regarding CO2 emmissions measured against total GDP. Let's have a look at some numbers:

    GDP: $12,37 trillion
    CO2: ca 1,6 billion metric tonnes
    CO2/GDP: ca. 130 kg CO2 per $1.000 produced.

    GDP: $8.158 trillion
    CO2: ca 1,0 billion metric tonnes
    CO2/GDP: ca. 122 kg CO2 per $1.000 produced.

    GDP: $3.678 trillion
    CO2: 360 million metric tonnes
    CO2/GDP: ca. 98 kg CO2 per $1.000 produced.

    These numbers seem to suggest that less CO2 is produced in India or China than in the US, even when correcting for productivity.

    Of course, I'm using the purchasing power parity measure of GDP. One could argue about what measure of GDP is the correct one, and that is actually a main point of this comment. It isn't obvious how to measure productivity.

    Anyway, I'm sure the US _does_ have greener production than both India and China. The problem in the US is not the production, but the consumption. This consumption is also what drives the production of CO2 in India and China, as the produce the goods exported to the US. If US consumers would cut down and/or switch to greener goods, the emissions from these countries would be affected as well.

  • At March 21, 2006 2:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You might also add the the US ratified the UNFCCC which laid out "common but differentiated responsibilities". Ratified treaties are law under the Constitution.

  • At March 21, 2006 7:08 PM, Blogger coby said…

    Excellent suggestion, Bob, thank you.

  • At April 07, 2006 9:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I always amazed by some views, about the cost to the US economy of Kyoto. This is such a weak excuse when you simply look at the average fuel consumption in US owned cars.
    Due to the US's love for inefficient SUVS, etc they import 58% of their oil. Money that goes to other countries out of the US economy.
    If you increased fuel economy by just 10% the US could eliminate oil imports from the Middle East.
    But do they want this, and boost the US economy by using the money elsewhere, no. You'd rather babble ione about the cost Of Kyoto, while sitting in your 5.8 l truck stuck in traffic on your way to work a mile from your house. There's something hypocritical about the whole situation one thinks.

  • At April 07, 2006 4:36 PM, Blogger coby said…

    I agree. I completely distrust all these projections of economic devastation but lack the economic knowledge to make detailed critiques. It seems to me though that in times of war or crises requiring new infrastructure and R&D the economy tends to boom. There is no loss of wealth, there is only shuffling of wealth as new industries emerge and new entrepreneurs succeed.

    Now, if you are ExxonMobile, already on the top of the heap, then I suppose change is the last thing on your mind...

  • At May 26, 2006 10:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    George Bush and others (including quite a few Democrats) continue to insist that the United States must not ratify the Kyoto Protocol to control Greenhouse Gases, because it would be "too expensive" and might have a fatal effect on our economic growth and productivity.

    Well guess what? Soon this summer, the real-life, spent costs of the Iraq war will exceed the projected costs of compliance with Kyoto.


    Pfew! Good thing that was all money well spent, eh? Otherwise our economy might be in serious trouble right now.

  • At May 26, 2006 10:46 AM, Blogger coby said…

    Just a little ironic, isn't it?

  • At June 13, 2006 12:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    One comment we hear often in Australia is that its pointless us ratifying Kyoto because Australia produces only 1.5% of global CO2 emissions, and that reducing our emissions by 10% would make no difference.

    However, Australia is also the world's biggest coal exporter, and before we dig it out of the ground all that carbon is safely sequestered away in Australian rock. Surely we share some responsibility for putting it into the atmosphere even if the coal isn't actually burnt here?

  • At June 13, 2006 7:09 AM, Blogger coby said…

    Pretty childish argument, especially considering Australia's status as highest per capita emitter! It's all just the sum of small numbers, right?

    "Why vote? I'm just one person" etc etc.

    Assigning responsibility by where fuels come from is an interesting idea. Also by final consumer of a good or service. That one would make the US look even worse as lots of those Chinese emissions from manufacturing processes would end up on the US tab.

  • At June 14, 2006 12:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Our climate skeptic politicians tell us we can do nothing about global warming but hey, how about this for an idea: We could STOP EXPORTING COAL!

    Economic heresy I know, but would we export uranium to North Korea? Sure, they might turn it into nuclear weapons and kill us all, but how is that different from exporting coal to the Chinese, who we *know* will burn the coal and kill us all (albeit much more slowly).

    The economic rationalists will say this is lunacy, and would blow out Australia's (already massive) trade deficit and send the economy into recession. OTOH, it is perfectly *rational* to export a fuel that will destroy the climate.

  • At June 27, 2006 12:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Aren't we making the anti-Americanism a little too obvious? Some people might come away with the crazy idea that underlying your environmental concerns is a desire to "make the US look even worse".

    I think this attitude makes the job of AGWists that much harder. The US has the greatest ability to reduce emissions through sacrifice of its own prosperity and self interest, but we're being asked to sacrifice it by people who don't even understand its value? By people who do not understand the role of the businessman (not the government, UN, or anyone else) in alleviating poverty and human suffering? Even those who agree that something should be done will be put off by how little understanding you've shown for costs of your actions.

    I have enjoyed reading the discussions on this site, but I am dying to see some rational economic analysis from the pro-AGW camp. Also, have you considered/debated a futurist viewpoint? (i.e. technological progress is accelerating so quickly that, if unhindered, will produce home computers smarter than the entire human population combined by 2050, thus easily solving and creating far worse problems than AGW along the way) Thanks!

  • At June 27, 2006 6:52 AM, Blogger coby said…

    Thanks for the comments, Jay. All I really have to say about the "technology will save us from anything" argument is that if so, why shouldn't technology save us from the supposed economic disaster that emissions reductions would bring?

    Also, about sacrifice, I guess the point is that the US is asking the rest of the world to sacrifice the global climate stability we have had for ~10K years so that it "won't lose a single job". I do not put very much credence in the fatest man at the table whining about "sacrifice" when the food starts to run out, especially after he has consumed much more than anyone else already.

    I don't buy into the "us vs them" "with us or against us" attitude that is the framework of seeing climate change as an anti-america issue.

    I would also like to see some comprehensive economic analysis, FWIW I am pretty sure there must be some out there, but this has not been my focus so far.

  • At July 21, 2006 5:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Perhaps it's worth noticing that China has actually done rather a lot about it's GHG emission trajectory, and by deliberate, disruptive and costly government policy.

    A country's GHG emssions are, of course, the product of its per capita output and population. China's per capita GHG output continues to rise rapidly due to industrialisation - to the cosiderable benefit of the rest of us, and with commensurate reductions in our industrial emmissions. But the other side of the product, China's population, has nearly stabilised. That is the result of 30 years of socially divisive one-child policy, and, more recently, growing individual affluence.

    Compare India, with a population growth 20% per decade, or, for that matter, North America, not so far behind that (and totalling about half an India). Then think about Europe; population now gradually declining.

    The big costs of China's effort lie immediately ahead, with a coming demographic imbalance to make the West's "baby boom" ageing issue look utterly trivial.

  • At February 08, 2007 12:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Tying CO2 emission limits for each country to some point in history (such as Kyoto does) is just plain ridiculous. Distribution of scare resources must be fluid, going where they are well utilized. If C02 is a problem, place limits on the production of the sources, namely coal, oil, methane, etc. Then let countries (or rather, their industries) compete for that limited resource just as they do today with metals, wood, etc. Such an approach favors no nation over another, something which can't be said for Kyoto.

  • At February 08, 2007 2:49 PM, Blogger coby said…

    Thanks for the comment Karl,

    While I am hardly a huge fan of Kyoto your solution clearly does favor some countries over others, namely those already economically strong. This does not put the burden of reparation on those countries (or industries) that produced the ongoing problem either. Both of those realities are in clear contravention of the UNFCCC treaty ratified by the united states as quoted in this article.

    I tend to think the best way to apply free market strengths to this "tragedy of the commons" situation (i.e. free use of the common atmosphere as dumping ground) is an across the board tax on all carbon emissions.

  • At February 13, 2007 2:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    coby, the ridiculous nature of the Kyoto rules can be seen when considering the millions of immigrants to the U.S. over the last two decades, many from poorer nations such as China and Mexico. Had those immigrants stayed put, they could have made all the CO2 they want. Moving to the U.S. magically made their emissions "bad" under Kyoto.

    Your comment on "reparation" is just plain stupid--sorry, I can't think of a polite way to describe it. Emitting carbon was no crime against anyone. Until recent years, it wasn't even known to be a problem. That the poorer countries didn't get in on the party earlier was the fault of their forefathers, not mine. Much of the wealth of the U.S. and the other industrialized countries comes from efficient organization of the society's productive resources. The poor countries failed in that respect, and that is their problem.

    Limiting the carbon production is truly the only viable solution. The resulting higher prices on fuel would cut down the foolish SUV and minivan craze in the U.S. The desire of the U.S. to try to get more oil would surely lead to investment overseas to improve their utilization of carbon resources, for this would be a sure way to free up carbon for the U.S. to use. Ultimately, the poorer countries greatest assest is--as in all countries--their people and their labor. Much of the U.S. carbon consumption is fueled by labor in China and Mexico consuming carbon to make stuff for the U.S. This transfer of carbon would continue in the future.

    Taxing carbon is the utopia of all socialists, of course, but I don't find government taxation a proven fix in many fields of human endevour. If taxation is to have the same effect as limiting production, it must raise prices to the same level. It provides no better solution, and diverting huge piles of money to the government isn't likely to make more energy available. It will, instead, go to fund various programs of dubious value. By raising the prices though production limits, the excess money gets funneled back to investors, leaving them capital to pursue alternative energy schemes. It's not a perfect way, but it is proven to have results, something government "planning" is surely wanting in as well.

  • At February 20, 2007 3:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    China cannot even be entrusted to honor copywright laws. What rock have you been living under Coby?

  • At March 06, 2007 8:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Do you feel that America should be forced into giving reparations to those countries that suffer, if the government does not keep to Kyoto guidelines?
    I think this will make politicians spill the beans.

  • At March 06, 2007 11:46 AM, Blogger coby said…

    I would support some kind of global fund paid into by all GHG emitting nations according to their individual contributions out of which reparations could be paid to nations that have demonstrable damages attributable to GW.

    I am not saying that would be easy, even given total goodwill and committment, but it strikes me as a good moral baseline to develope apon.

  • At March 07, 2007 1:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You analogy doesn't work because the US isn't sitting at the table insisting other people don't eat. They're simply pointing out that if a few people stop eating (excluding the ones getting the fatest the quickest) then this isn't going to preserve the food but will give the eaters an "unfair" callory advantage.

    China will soon overtake the US and the sources of co2 emissions to be worried about looking forward are indeed China, Indea & other developing countries. Excluding them is excluding the problem.

  • At March 08, 2007 7:09 PM, Blogger coby said…

    Hi John,

    The description of the analogy said "stop first", the idea behind allowing the skinny folk to gain strength is an acknowledgment of the fact that this problem is by far largely the result of the fat people.

    China will overtake the US in a few decades, it is not that close, but given the fact that they have 3 or 4 times the US population, it seems that a fair allocation of table scraps would give them 3 or 4 times as much. Do you disagree with an allocation scheme that prorates for population?

  • At March 22, 2007 9:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Life is not yet fair to really anybody, and so I have a problem getting behind 'fairness' movements. Until the Brits pay reparations to every single group they've screwed (a long, long list) and the French, Belgians, Dutch, Spanish, Germans, Poles, Russians, and--oh, crap. Everybody on earth. Until everybody on the planet pays reparations for everything wrong their ancestors every did, I'll have a really hard time getting behind 'fairness' movements.

    I like the idea of an across-the-board tax on carbon emissions: but only on a country-by-country basis. No international tax collector. While I'm receptive to the idea of AGW, I see it as a major threat to US sovereignty and my own liberty....which is eroding faster and faster here in the US. The last thing I want is for some ungovernable body of political commissars from outside the nation telling me what I can and can't do.

    Regarding future generations: I don't care about the fate of the people who live in 2150. But I don't litter now, and I drive an old Mercedes which I run on veggie oil. And I recycle. And I don't vote for Republicans here in the US.

    Now, I'd love green energy--read as "Non-fossil fuel"--and here's why: I hate the foreign policy messes that fossil fuels produce. But I could really care less about AGW-governing bodies.

    And to Tom Richards, some while ago--yes, Americans have the right to 'cripple the future competitiveness of all other nations.' At least, while the market allows us to. Only the top decile gets to be in the top 10%. And that's the way life is always going to be.

    "Do you disagree with an allocation scheme that prorates for population?" Yes, Coby, I do. Here's why: there is not an entity on earth that I trust--no government, certainly not the UN, not the Pope nor Allah in his cozy little rock to figure out that allocation scheme, nor to demonstrate what constitutes provably AGW-caused damage. "Our beaches eroded! Give us AGW money!" might be well answered with "You built a jetty without doing a tidal impact study and the wave bounce did the erosion. Sod off." Too damn hard.

    Just do country by country tax on fossil fuels, quit the worrying (by making the tax REALLY punitive) and let the market take care of the rest.

    To really make a difference, why not go into all the crappy countries--so, Africa, Central America, old Soviet Bloc (and the USA) and educate all the kids really well? Then you could eliminate poverty, which goes a lot further towards a great world than preventing AGW.

  • At March 23, 2007 12:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    "Your comment on 'reparation' is just plain stupid"

    coby, I've just revisited this thread for the first time in a while, and in looking over my previous remarks, I see my comment was baseless. I had misconstrued the word "reparation," which has softer meanings than the one I was thinking of. I apologize for that remark.

    I doubt any reparations can be easily assigned. Given that many major Western cities are forecast to have serious problems with sea level rises, it seems likely that the greatest costs incurred in combatting any effects due to Warming will be borne by the countries who've emitted the most.

    And how do you assign the blame? In the US, producers of goods are held liable, which in this case means the OPEC nations would be considered partial culprits, since they have profitted mightly from the oil flow; and they hardly have the capacity to make things right.

    Free trade in foodstuffs will allow changes in agricultural conditions to be distributed across the world's people, and immigration allowances for islanders should handle most of the rest of forecast problems. I doubt you'll convince any country to do more than that.

  • At April 28, 2007 7:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I think that this question deserves a slightly more economical approach. The point of action-skeptics, such as myself, is that exclusion of developing countries will, in the end, lead to a complete failure of any protocol adopted by the west. The reason is really quite simple; if we impose a cost on our economy, no matter how small, the market will adjust and shift production to exactly those countries that would be unaffected by such treaties -- completely cancelling the intended effect.

    Additionally, the load placed on economic development -- again, no matter how small -- would lead to a later adoption of countless additional technologies that might help speed the (already inevitable) transition from a non-renewable source of energy to those that are. Consider this: The present availability of almost-competitive solar panels has been made possible by the convergence of a large number of industries, and most particularily, the LCD manufacturing industry. Think how much further back we might be if American's penchant for large TVs had been diminished by deferral of income to more 'worthy' causes. Even a slight cost of 1% of GNP diminishes real prosperity by a whopping 30%+ over 30 years - self-evident, but that means that one could expect a 60% increased prosperity, and countless, uncalculable affordable technologies to be available in the absence of such directed policy.

    There are very few historical cases where centrally administrered efforts have led to the adoption of new innovative technologies. They only become competitive, and adoptable, when all of our economic prosperity allows them to reach that point.

    The laser was invented sometime in the 50s, I believe, but I guarantee that no amount of investment in laser research, or the creation of an International Treaty for the Adoption of the Laser would have shortened the time it took to arrive at this point, where we have CD players with mutliple laser sources deposited on solid state components mere millimetres in size.

    Point is this: We have a (natural) human instinct to act together when we see something that needs fixing; History and reason tell us quite cleary that action almost always works against prosperity and, in the end, has completely unpredictable costs.

    Any political solution to global warming will, without a shred of a doubt, be one that is not based on science, but on politics; and will in all likelihood make matters much much worse than they already are.

    I see massive fields of windmills and solar panels in the future, and a stagnation of sectors of the industry that would normally have led to human ingenuity doing its part in, naturally, addressing this problem.

  • At July 28, 2007 7:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Bill Clinton signed the Kyoto treaty in 1998.

    Yes, I know, they told you that Clinton/Gore worked hard for it, but that George Bush needs to sign it. But the truth is that the ball is in the senate's court and Bush couldn't sign it if he wanted to (but of course doesn't want to).

    As for China - They are building a new coal-fired plant EVERY WEEK. Perhaps we should be more like China - build lots of coal burning plants and then just go all electric with our cars. Yee haw!

    And you know them new coal plants were planned when tyhe treaty was drafted.

    Google this name "Maurice Strong"

    He is, as we speak, trying to wrangle a deal for importing Chinese "Chery" automobiles from China, built with coal power and huge 'carbon footprints'. Look him up. He's your great-grandaddy of world environmental crises.

  • At August 22, 2007 4:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I have been reading a lot of literature recently about how those who have the smallest carbon footprint (mostly those in the developing world) will be the least able to protect themselves from the devastation of global climate change.

    I am an American who works in alternative transportation advocacy, so I fight global warming every day, but I am still very sad at the state of environmental justice in regards to this issue. We in the first world have turned Earth's atmosphere into an overflowing landfill; are we now going to let the poorest among us suffocate in our overwhelming garbage?

    Whatever kind of economical money-saver that is, I'm not on the team.

    We need to look out for those who won't be able to afford to transport themselves away from climate-changed-induced-disaster, including those in our own country (can anyone say "Katrina"?).

    The U.S. needs to step up and act with dignity as a responsible member of the global community. That means taking responsibility for curbing emissions.

    The American people, and the world, deserve nothing less.

  • At November 19, 2007 10:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This is dated. China has overtaken the U.S. as the largest emitter of CO2.


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