Monday, March 12, 2007

Global Warming and You

…or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The CO2

Following this past weekend's Rally for Kyoto in Victoria Park, it's appropriate to consider the alliance of politically driven solutions and science, and the distance that politicization actually puts between decision-making and science. For measure, Daniel Holt, a good friend of the London Fog and a contributor to the pro-democracy website Publius Pundit, sends along this piece, and we are grateful for permission to publish it here.

The contributors to the London Fog have provided a number of extremely informative posts on the subject of global warming, many of them unique in the level of insight they provide, and failing that, they're usually quite hilarious. However, I believe I have a substantive addition to make.

Let us ask: How important is it for Canada to meet its Kyoto targets, or to pass whatever other international purity test?

It seems that many Canadians believe it to be very important. A recent poll found that:
Among all the issues facing the world today, Canadians are most concerned about the environment and global warming — mentioned by one-third of the population as top issues — far ahead of war (8%), turmoil in Iraq and the Middle East (6%), conflict in Afghanistan (5%) and poverty (5%), according to a new survey by TNS Canadian Facts
Additionally, saturation media coverage indicates that many "opinion-makers" share that belief:
In fact, Canadians have noticed increased coverage of global warming in the media, with more than 80 per cent saying they have been hearing more about it in the news recently compared to a year ago. The survey also found that the environment and global warming are top concerns among all Canadians, even among those who would vote Conservative if a federal election were held today.
So global warming concerns many Canadians, deeply, across many strata.

To answer the question of the importance of Canadian contributions to global warming, let's move from its perceptual import to the actual significance of Canuck CO2 emissions. Put aside for now, arguendo, any remaining traces of skepticism you might hold re purported causal links between human CO2 production and global warming.

NationMaster shows Canada emitting 521,404,000 of the world's total 22,829,463,200 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide, for a contribution of 2.3%. Wikipedia's statistics, from a different year and a different source, show Canada emitting 517,157,000 of the world's 24,126,416,000 tonnes of human CO2, or 2.1%. In general, various organizations agree that Canada contributes around two percent of the world's man-made carbon emissions.

Meanwhile, this BBC story has global emissions rising by about 2.5% per year. Canada contributes around 2% of the world's carbon emissions — and the world's carbon emissions are growing at a 2.5% rate.

In other words, if you shut down all of Canada's factories overnight, if each and every Canadian completely halted all activity that implies any kind of carbon use, if we all returned to the land and dug up our handful of organic turnips, if we lived an atavistic lifestyle without cars or contact lenses or OHIP, most of us dying of starvation or preventable diseases or warfare at 35 — or, for simplicity's sake, as some environmentalists might prefer, if you shot dead every Canadian — if we did all that, within a year the world would have caught up anyway to where it was with Canada in it.

Let me now turn to an illustrative anecdote:
Just a few years ago, politicians and environmental groups in the Netherlands were thrilled by the early and rapid adoption of "sustainable energy," achieved in part by coaxing electrical plants to use biofuel — in particular, palm oil from Southeast Asia.

Spurred by government subsidies, energy companies became so enthusiastic that they designed generators that ran exclusively on the oil, which in theory would be cleaner than fossil fuels like coal because it is derived from plants.
Sounds nice, right?
But last year, when scientists studied practices at palm plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia, this green fairy tale began to look more like an environmental nightmare.

Rising demand for palm oil in Europe brought about the clearing of huge tracts of Southeast Asian rainforest and the overuse of chemical fertilizer there.

Worse still, the scientists said, space for the expanding palm plantations was often created by draining and burning peatland, which sent huge amounts of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

Considering these emissions, Indonesia had quickly become the world's third-leading producer of carbon emissions that scientists believe are responsible for global warming, ranked after the United States and China, according to a study released in December by researchers from Wetlands International and Delft Hydraulics, both in the Netherlands.

"It was shocking and totally smashed all the good reasons we initially went into palm oil," said Alex Kaat, a spokesman for Wetlands, a conservation group.
Yikes! Never mind the predictable expressions of surprise at a do-good project's unintended consequences. Now, instead of an eco-happy plan to switch to low-carbon energy production, we have government-funded clear-cutting of tropical rainforests and massive plumes of CO2 shooting up into the air. The significance of this level of pollution?
Supported by hundreds of millions of euros in national subsidies, the Netherlands rapidly became the leading importer of palm oil in Europe, taking in 1.7 million tons last year, nearly double the previous year.

The increasing demand has created damage far away. Friends of the Earth estimates that 87 percent of the deforestation in Malaysia from 1985 to 2000 was caused by new palm oil plantations. In Indonesia, the amount of land devoted to palm oil has increased 118 percent in the last eight years.

In December, scientists from Wetlands International released their calculations about the global emissions caused by palm farming on peatland.

Peat is an organic sponge that stores huge amounts of carbon, helping balance global emissions. Peatland is 90 percent water. But when it is drained, the Wetlands International scientists say, the stored carbon gases are released into the atmosphere.

To makes matters worse, once dried, peatland is often burned to clear ground for plantations. The Dutch study estimated that the draining of peatland in Indonesia releases 660 million ton of carbon a year into the atmosphere and that fires contributed 1.5 billion tons annually.
2.2 billion tons! How much is that?
The total is equivalent to 8 percent of all global emissions caused annually by burning fossil fuels, the researchers said. "These emissions generated by peat drainage in Indonesia were not counted before," said Mr. Kaat. "It was a totally ignored problem."
That 2.2 billion tons of carbon a year amounts to "8 percent of all global emissions." So in one hippy-dippy scheme to reduce carbon emissions, Indonesia is producing four times the amount of carbon that Canada does.

That's right, our entire contribution to global warming is dwarfed by a single harebrained Dutch environmentalist scheme. It utterly disappears in the world's overall ongoing growth. The truth is, in the calculus of human carbon emissions, Canada simply does not matter.

Let me repeat that: Nothing you could possibly do will prevent global warming.

So to all the self-important buffoons who derive vicarious thrills from joy-riding on the latest imported cause, and to the politicians who have already dumped countless billions down the crapper with who-knows-what to come, and to the London Free Press editors who have run a never-ending series of alarmist articles with asinine designs for our future, and to you: stop worrying and learn to love CO2.

Go ahead, drive that SUV.


eng said...

Don't worry, be happy

Carmi said...

Does the LFP still actually HAVE editors or are they all working out of Toronto?

I've noticed that now that the editorials are signed, barely one a week is actually written by someone from London.

Gotta love "local" media, eh?

Daniel said...

Hehe, good call. I guess that should have been addressed to "the Quebecor/Sun Media corporate honchos, and the guy who picks which AP stories to run."