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September 09, 2007

John Gummer on the Environment

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. If this is going to be the quality of the arguments in the upcoming paper on the environment the Tories are going to be in deep doo doo.

Nor can Britain stand on the sidelines, reminding the world that the US produces 25 per cent of the world's pollution with less than 5 per cent of its population.

No, we shouldn't stand on the sides. We should remind people that the US creates 25% of the world's pollution because they create 25% of the world's stuff.

The UK has a huge carbon footprint. It's our historic pollution that is causing much of today's climate chaos. If you count the pollution caused by the worldwide companies listed in London...

Hunh? Because a company is listed in London we're responsible for their emissions? You mean those Russian resources companies? If we just threw them off the London markets then somehow emissions would fall?

This is no quick fix but a concerted, consistent and continuous transformation to a low-carbon economy. Rising energy prices make energy efficiency and energy saving increasingly worthwhile.

OK, prices will drive people to doing this anyway, so we don't need a plan. Very Conservative view, that.

Ahh, but we have a plan anyway, one that we don't need. Hmmm.

Localism is also about local food and local provision, it's about post offices and farm shops, it's about food miles and local amenities. Climate change puts a new cost on carbon and therefore changes the economic balance that, for too long, has driven us away from localism towards central control.

Ah, so they're ignoring the fact that food miles don't measure anything useful then. That it's CO2 e emissions from the whole process which are, not miles of transport per se. In fact, that tomatoes in winter, lamb year round, are better imported than grown "locally"?

Looks like Zac has had more input into that report than is good for the Tories or us.

September 9, 2007 in Climate Change | Permalink

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Comments

I've never really understood why pointing out that the US produces 25% of the world's stuff mitigates the fact that it produces 25% of the world's pollutants. It's the amount of pollutants that matters, not the amount per unit of GDP.

Tim adds: For exactly the same reason that people point out that the US does produce 25% of the world's pollutants. We're supposed to think of them as being uniquely evil to be doing so: somehow, campaigners aren't all that comfortable with the statement: "making stuff makes pollution"....if it caught on, people might start to think that if we're to reduce pollution, we'll have to stop making stuff.

Posted by: Matthew | Sep 9, 2007 11:50:43 AM

It's a dangerous trap though, Tim. Some eco-campaigners are quite happy with the notion that making stuff pollutes, that's why they want us to roll back the clock on technological progress. 25% of global pollution is a meaningless measure, though per capita measures can be useful and looking at that, we know that the US is particularly carbon-heavy. Another meaningful measure is the ratio between the level of production and the level of pollution. In other words, the environmental efficiency of the process. But using slightly complex measures that tell us where we need to improve and whom best to learn from are too difficult for the prepare-for-the-apocalypse brigade.

Posted by: Philip Thomas | Sep 9, 2007 12:06:10 PM

Nobody but you said anything about "evil". But you might want to address the fact that the US's per-capita carbon emissions are about double those of Western Europe.

Tim adds: Perhaps....as I have done for years, for example, arguing that the Federal Gasoline tax should rise sharply.

Posted by: StuartA | Sep 9, 2007 12:07:39 PM

Tim adds: Perhaps....as I have done for years, for example, arguing that the Federal Gasoline tax should rise sharply.

Right... so in fact your "they create 25% of the world's stuff" line isn't altogether convincing after all.

Tim adds: Err...so, a critique of US taxation policies (a matter of opinion) obviates the fact that the US is 25% of world GDP?

Posted by: StuartA | Sep 9, 2007 1:09:13 PM

Tim adds: Err...so, a critique of US taxation policies (a matter of opinion) obviates the fact that the US is 25% of world GDP?

No, the fact that the US emits twice as much carbon per person as other modern industrialised countries suggests that they emit more carbon than is necessary to "create 25% of the world's stuff", even by current lax standards. The fact that they create 25% of the world's stuff is therefore not a compelling response to complaints that they emit 25% of the world's carbon.

Tim adds: Good grief. 300 million people make 25% of the world's GDP. Given that there are 6 billion or so on the planet, and that making stuff emits CO2, yes, we would indeed expect them to have higher emissions per person. The reason they have higher emissions per person is because they make so much stuff. The two are directly linked.

Posted by: StuartA | Sep 9, 2007 2:08:20 PM

But so what? Using that logic China's emissions of CO2 aren't increasing in any meaningful sense, as they are increasing in line with output.

Tim adds: Ah, no, that is the important point. What is the carbon intensity of output. Which is falling in the US. For that's what we actually want, isn't it? To be able to continue to grow the economy without drowning everyone....which means reducing carbon intensity. We might want to do that faster than we already are though....
Not sure if China is doing that or not.

Posted by: Matthew | Sep 9, 2007 4:05:57 PM

Good grief. 300 million people make 25% of the world's GDP. Given that there are 6 billion or so on the planet, and that making stuff emits CO2, yes, we would indeed expect them to have higher emissions per person. The reason they have higher emissions per person is because they make so much stuff. The two are directly linked.

I honestly can't decide if you wilfully misunderstand or are just plain thick. I tend towards the former because to reach this level of incomprehension you would actually have to be unable to read.

To spell it out: I'm not comparing them with the rest of the 6 billion en masse. I am explicitly comparing them with "other modern industrialised countries".

The reason they have higher emissions per person is because they make so much stuff. The two are directly linked.

They do not have a per capita GDP twice that of the UK, yet they emit twice as much carbon per person. Therefore your implication that their emissions are an unavoidable corollary of their GDP is not persuasive.

Even in terms of carbon intensity the USA looks bad relative to comparable countries. Considering carbon intensity measures were promoted by the Bush administration to make their do-nothing policy look environmentally sound, this is saying something. But then they can evidently rely on people like you to jump up and down about falling carbon intensity, as if emissions rising more slowly than GDP will somehow save the world.

Tim adds: "as if emissions rising more slowly than GDP will somehow save the world."

But that's exactly what we are trying to get to. Isn't it. An economy in which we can still make things, still live, without emitting (so much) carbon. Thus, we're trying to reduce the carbon intensity of production.

Posted by: StuartA | Sep 9, 2007 4:59:10 PM

But that's exactly what we are trying to get to. Isn't it. An economy in which we can still make things, still live, without emitting (so much) carbon. Thus, we're trying to reduce the carbon intensity of production.

No, we're trying to get to lower total carbon emissions. If total carbon emissions are still increasing we are going in the wrong direction, regardless of GDP.

Tim adds: No. Not true. Increased GDP allows for increased adaptation. As previously with the SRES: a world with $76 k GDP per capita will be able to cope much better with climate change than one with $16k.
Even if you don't accept that, we still do indeed want to reduce carbon intensity. If we don't then reducing carbon emissions means reducing GDP....a much harder sell, don't you think? Average global GDP per capita is currently $ 7k. If the only thing we want to do is reduce total emissions, then we have to reduce that. If, however, we can reduce carbon intensity, then we can both make the poor rich and also reduce carbon emissions.

Posted by: StuartA | Sep 9, 2007 6:28:29 PM

Nor can Britain stand on the sidelines, reminding the world that the US produces 25 per cent of the world's pollution...

This is true only if we count CO2 emissions as pollution and nothing else. Since the greens and anti-capitalists have discovered CO2 as a way of whacking the US over the head, all the more traditional forms of pollution such as sulphur and heavy metals seem to not be a problem any more. If people think the US really does pollute more than any other country, I invite them to take a tour of the Russian countryside some day.

Posted by: Tim Newman | Sep 9, 2007 9:08:20 PM

Tim, we're trying to reduce overall CO2 emissions. That to do so without reducing GDP means a lower carbon intensity of GDP is much like saying to do so without reducing the number of people is to mean a lower cabon intensity of population, not really the main issue.

There is a link between CO2 output and all output, but as you keep pointing out its hardly 1:1 - the ratio of CO2 use to GDP varies across the world, and many ways of reducing CO2 output will have no impact on growth - see the British economy over the last 15 years.

Posted by: Matthew | Sep 10, 2007 8:33:19 AM

Tim, it's a fair point but not in this context as all the commenters have been talking about pollution as CO2, and if you read Gummer's article it is an article about CO2, and the context in whic he uses the 25% is totally clear.

One thing I would say against the argument is a carbon trading scheme such as the EU has would in fact, all other things being equal (which they're not as it ignores differential global growth) mean the US and EU share of CO2 output growing, at least in the short-term.

Posted by: Matthew | Sep 10, 2007 8:35:27 AM

Ah, two Tims. First comment was to Worstall, second to Newman.

Posted by: Matthew | Sep 10, 2007 8:36:23 AM

As previously with the SRES: a world with $76 k GDP per capita will be able to cope much better with climate change than one with $16k.

You've repeatedly failed to answer basic objections to your misuse of the SRES scenarios. Until you do, invoking them is meaningless.

Even if you don't accept that, we still do indeed want to reduce carbon intensity.

Yes, reducing carbon intensity is better than not reducing it, all things being equal. But if, contrary to your unproven, unquantified assertion, growing GDP will not allow us all to "adapt", then it is irrelevant what is the "harder sell": overall carbon emissions must either way be reduced.

Posted by: StuartA | Sep 10, 2007 12:57:07 PM