From climate etc.
By planning engineer (Russ Schussler)
Are we more concerned with reducing CO2 emissions only in the western world, or do we want to reduce emissions worldwide?
Currently, most of the western world is collectively trying to reduce global carbon emissions and achieve “net zero”. The fatal flaw is that the success of the approach depends on two premises:
- The western world will be able to greatly reduce its carbon emissions by using wind, sun and other renewable resources.
- The western world will be able to inspire, persuade, cajole or command other nations to do the same.
How will the West prevent other nations from acquiring “affordable” energy to improve their standard of living? What carrot and stick could be used? The World Bank tries to exercise control over what types of development are or are not funded. The US Secretary of Energy recently said: “We want to reach net zero [emissions] by 2050. We’re really urging other countries to do the same…Countries are vulnerable to peer pressure because no nation wants to be the “outlier.”
In the long term, the effectiveness of these tools and approaches seems weak compared to the great pressures involved in providing health, safety and economic development to third world nations. It is tragically naïve at best to expect that China and third world nations will settle peacefully to be held back by western world carbon targets and machinations in the long term.
Countries that are likely to rely on coal and deviate from the Western approach have very large populations. Over 1.4 billion people live in both China and India. Will China support Africa’s energy development? China is currently supporting various African nations in their modernization efforts. Each of these three areas has as many inhabitants as the United States and Europe combined. As emissions from the US and western Europe contract, emissions from Asia are skyrocketing. India and Africa may just be starting a steep uptrend.
Several things emerge from the table above. If the trend continues, increases in emissions from Asia and Africa will dwarf any impact from reductions in North America, Oceania and Europe. This will be the case even if North America, Oceania and Europe somehow manage to reach net zero.
Bear in mind that the western world is on a course towards more expensive electricity. When you understand that this is also likely to lead to greater unreliability, you see the emerging concerns as greatly amplified. More expensive (and less reliable) energy in the West will lead to a greater migration of manufacturing, production, industry and emissions to developing countries. This seems very likely today as efforts to implement green technologies rely on resources and technologies manufactured in China and third world countries with energy sources not as clean as those being replaced.
Does it make sense to continue with a plan that not only envisages massive leaps in technology, higher costs and reduced reliability for those involved, but effectively causes the developing world to go in a different direction? Or does it make more sense to consider plans that might be more effective globally, given the most likely scenarios that will play out globally?
A better scenario?
The numbers given below were developed informally for illustrative purposes. But rest assured that with a complex, sophisticated computer model, relying on a variety of inputs, we could tweak the parameters to achieve essentially the same results presented below.
Scenario A represents the bifurcated future likely to emerge if current strategies continue. In Scenario B, the US strategy is to develop and improve affordable “cleaner” technologies for domestic and global use. The impact of this focus will be to increase carbon emissions in the US but decrease net emissions in China, India and Africa. In addition, with smaller cost differences, less energy consumption is exported to foreign manufacturers with higher emissions. US efforts that make modest improvements toward moderately cleaner technology can potentially have far more far-reaching impacts than 100% reduction targets ignored by the third world. Below are the example illustrative numbers.
Among these hypothetical alternative scenarios, one can see the possibility that the US could be more effective with focused, less stringent goals. Perhaps our greatest strength lies in being at the forefront of developing technologies that also work for us and the third world, rather than excelling on a path that others cannot and/or will not follow. To the extent that other developed nations engage in the development of affordable effective approaches, the potential outcomes described above may be even more significant.
Is it reasonable to expect that a coordinated global approach, requiring costly zero-emission technologies, can work without enforcement by a central world government? Probably not. Self-interest works on both sides of world trade. Consider that today cheap, dirty third world resources support the manufacture of much of our “clean” technology. These trends are likely to continue and potentially intensify. Increased development in China, Africa and India will likely help isolate them from Western pressures. A world with independent and widely divergent approaches to energy supply will not be optimal.
In the end, are we more concerned with keeping CO2 emissions low only in the western world, or do we want to reduce emissions worldwide? The “green solutions” being developed in the US, Oceania and Europe are proving increasingly expensive, cumbersome, complicated and impractical. Because of the cost, complexity and challenges, they cannot transform Africa or support major improvements in India and China. The best strategy might be to look for technologies that can support a balance between economy, reliability and social responsibility on a global basis.
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