“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Climate "reparations"

In my post on my family's carbon footprint I concluded that we are major offenders. My friend Michael Tobis of the blog "Only In It For The Gold" provided a link to an interview by Amy Goodman of the Democracy Now web site, television, and radio program. The interview was with Naomi Klein, an author and journalist with a decidedly anti-capitalist, anti-corporate, some would say anti-western point of view (though I snarkily note that her books are for sale at the usual outlets).

The interview centered on the contention that the (primarily western) countries most responsible for the carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gas) emissions should be responsible for both the most drastic reductions in emission rates (i.e., primarily in the reduction in the burning of fossil fuels) and for providing the capital to developing countries likely to be most affected by climate change for mitigation of the effects of climate change and for steering their economies toward a trajectory of sustainable development. This latter is considered to be much more expensive than the non-sustainable model exemplified by western economies.

This certainly seems to be a reasonable position at the outset - we in the U.S. emit at about five times the worldwide average per capita and, until recently, were the largest emitter as a nation. China has now surpassed us as a nation, and this will be of note later in this post. Klein characterizes this position as "you broke it, you bought it."

We've certainly benefited from our emissions, achieving a standard of living to which many citizens of the countries demanding "reparations" aspire and doing so by converting fossil fuel to carbon dioxide and water at prodigious rates. So is it really as simple as "you Americans have emitted the carbon dioxide that will drive climate change. You must pay for the mitigation and you must pay us to develop in a way different than the one you chose."

Let's look at China and the U.S. The Union of Concerned Scientists web site shows that, in 2006 the U.S. emitted 5902.75 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, while China emitted 6017.69 million metric tons. For the U.S., this is 19.78 metric tons per capita, while for China it's 4.58 metric tons. That makes us four times as bad, right?

Sorry, I don't totally accept that. If we're "bad" for our per capita emissions, then why is China not equally "bad" for its population? The fact is, the Earth doesn't care whether a ton of carbon dioxide was emitted by one person or by five. China's land area is almost identical to that of the U.S., so it's not as if their percentage of the land area of the Earth somehow justifies their enormous population. And as China's wealth increases so will its emissions, despite China's pledge to reduce its so-called "carbon intensity."

What, then, for countries such as Bangladesh? Here's a country that is inundated regularly by flooding and is desperately poor. And yet it's the seventh most populous country in the world and has a population density 35 times that of the United States. That density has increased by about 2 1/2 times since 1970. When looked at in terms of CO2 emissions per capita, the U.S. is about 709 times as intensive as Bangladesh. When looked at by CO2 emissions per U.S. dollar of purchasing power parity adjusted GDP, the U.S. is about twice as intensive (this reflects the extremely low GDP of Bangladesh). Finally, when looked at in terms of CO2 per unit of land area, the U.S. is about 2.2 times as intensive, reflecting the large population of Bangladesh compared to the relatively small land area. Interestingly, Bangladesh has a higher economic output per unit of land area than the U.S.

While one can endlessly play games with countries' numerical data, I want to make the point that the contention that it's as easy as requiring the "rich" countries to pay for all consequences of atmospheric CO2 and for the sustainable development of the developing (poorer) nations is naive. This would, in many cases, merely be rewarding overpopulation. Overpopulation is the 700 pound gorilla in the room and, no matter what else we do or stop doing, if we don't control population it's all for naught.

No one should think, based on this, that I believe that we as a country, or that I individually can wash our/my hands of responsibility. We certainly have a huge role to play in emissions reduction, mitigation, sustainable development, and humanitarian aid to countries who "missed the boat" on the easy and carefree exploitation of fossil fuels. But totaling each country's cumulative emissions, dividing into world cumulative emissions to derive the fraction of "responsibility" for reduction, mitigation, and sustainable development investment is not something that I believe is right or that I could support.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Mundane examples of energy

I was walking up the hill to my house and started to think about energy. I thought I'd give a few examples. For starters, my "resting metabolism" is somewhere around 1900 kilocalories per day. This is energy per unit of time, or power. Using Google's terrific calculator, this converts to a more familiar figure for power, 92 watts. So it takes about the same amount of energy to run me for an hour as to light a small room for an hour.

OK, now how about the hill? Using Google Earth I find that I gained 91.1 meters in elevation on the climb. Using the National Geodetic Society's Surface Gravity Predictor I find my local gravitational acceleration to be 9.795 meters/second^2, or as Rhett over at Dot Physics prefers, 9.795 Newtons/kilogram. I know this rounds to 9.80 but it's kind of cool to find and use the more precise number. My mass is an embarrassing 84.82 kilograms, so raising it up that hill requires converting 84.82*9.795*91.1 (mass*gravitational acceleration*height) or 75,690 joules of food energy to do the work to accomplish. This is 18 kilocalories (the type referred to in nutritional discussions as "calories")or a tiny bit over four plain chocolate M&M's. I don't use the energy in the M&M's with 100% efficiency though. In this post I estimated an efficiency of 11% to 14% so I'll figure that I'd need to eat about eight times as much fuel energy or 32 plain chocolate M&M's.

Of course more is burned since I'm lifting my feet up and down, swinging my arms, etc. To estimate this, I'll add a "walking briskly" amount to the climb energy. The linked site says I'll burn about 460 kilocalories/hour in my "brisk walk." I run down the hill and walk up, so I'm going to speculate that the running aspect makes up for the energy gain of going down hill. I do try to keep my heart rate in the so-called training zone so this shouldn't be too far off. This run/walk takes me about 42 minutes, and so should burn about (42/60)*460 or 322 kilocalories. Adding the 18, my exercise burned about 340 kilocalories or 1,420,000 joules. This is also about 395 watt hours, so this amount of energy will light a room (with a 100 watt bulb) for about four hours. It's also the amount of heat energy released by the gasoline in about one and a half shot glasses. My Land Rover LR3 HSE would possess this amount of kinetic energy (not counting the energy of the rotating masses) when traveling at about 73 m.p.h.