Friday, October 30, 2015

Carbon Dioxide: Reduction is an Illusion

There is a well-worn old saying: Necessity is the Mother of Invention. To this one may add: And the Father of a huge amount of occasionally frustrating work that may, or may not, lead to increased erudition. 

My question was simple enough: what is the carbon dioxide cycle? In other words, what are the processes that produce and consume CO2, and what is the balance?
Unfortunately, most of the information on the internet is obsolete, confusing, incomplete, or downright erroneous. Diagrams created circa 2007 insist on measuring the carbon exchange, as though there is no difference between carbon (which is an element) and carbon dioxide (which is a gas). In addition, one must learn how to convert pentagrams of C to tonnes of CO2 in order to match up with other CO2 data. Easy for a physicist, but confusing for a math challenged economics guy like me.

Never the less, it is possible to glean little jewels of information from various discourses on carbon dioxide to develop a reasonable estimate of the cycle everyone likes to discuss and argue about on ad infinitum. It only took me three weeks to reach a set of conclusions (OK, I do have another life). The purpose of this article is to show the results.

CO2 Emissions in 2015

The first thing that strikes one when reviewing available information is Americans actually produce only a small percentage of human and global carbon dioxide emissions. In 2015, the United States produced 15.7 percent of all human carbon dioxide emissions and only .7 percent of total global carbon dioxide emissions. The numbers are: the United States ~5,803 M tonnes, Human caused ~37,050 M tonnes, Natural CO2 emissions ~759,707 M tonnes, and a global total of ~796,757 M tonnes. Collectively, we humans will be responsible for just 4.65 percent of global CO2 emissions in 2015. The other 95.35 percent of CO2 gases released into the atmosphere are the result of natural processes.

CO2 Reduction Goals

Much has been said and written about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) CO2 reduction proposals. The UN believes that national climate plans, called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) will form the cornerstone of a binding, global treaty on climate change among 146 nations in Paris this December. In order to limit temperature increases to 2 degrees C, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) wants to reduce GHG by 40 – 70% by 2050 and go to ~ 0 % GHG by 2100. That is not, to be polite, very realistic.

A no-nonsense evaluation of the plans, commitments, politics and economics of the key national players, reveals a sharp distinction between rhetoric and reality.  There are two problems:

  •      A substantial portion of natural gas, coal and oil consumption is not a combustion process, and consequently does not cause a direct release of carbon dioxide. Manufactured materials include plastics, fertilizers, soil amendments, paints, asphalt, lubrication products, packaging materials, and cosmetics. This means estimated human CO2 emissions, including those used in this essay, are too high.
  •      National reduction efforts are constrained by economic and political realities that can be estimated, but are subject to substantial change. Examples include shifts in per capita energy intensity, recession, food shortages, dramatic changes in fuel availability and price, patterns of human migration, social conflict, revolution, and war. These factors guarantee published CO2 reduction commitments are unlikely to be realized.

It is highly unlikely, for example, the United States will be able to reduce its CO2 emissions by 26 percent by 2025. Doing so would throw the American economy into a sharp recession because there is a strong correlation between energy consumption and national GDP. A reduction of fossil fuel consumption of that magnitude would be disastrous. On the other hand, it is possible (but not necessarily probable) that a reduction of this magnitude could be achieved by 2035. That assumption has been included in our Projection Scenario.

Someone has suggested the European Union can cut its CO2 emissions by 40%, compared with 1990 levels, by 2030. That idea has no credibility. Like the United States, net migration into Europe from Africa and the Middle East will increase the demand for fossil fuels. The only way a voluntary reduction of this magnitude could be achieved is to deliberately block all immigration and allow the European Union to slide into a very deep depression. Does anyone really believe the political establishment will actually want to jeopardize their political power in order to make this happen?

Fossil fuel consumption in the Asia Pacific region will continue to increase. China has agreed to shift its energy production activities to cleaner technologies and will (out of necessity) curb the growth of fossil fuel consumption. That will be a big job and could be politically risky. The best China can offer to the IPCC is to set a peak emissions “target” for 2030. India expects to triple its CO2 emissions by 2030. Although Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea are sensitive to the CO2 reduction effort, we have to expect Indonesia, Malaysia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Thailand, Vietnam and the other nations in this region will demand the right to increase their CO2 emissions as they seek economic growth.

The desire for economic growth will also justify increased CO2 emissions for the nations of Africa, South and Central America, Eurasia, and Mexico. With its oil resources, the Middle East is expected to rapidly increase its consumption of fossil fuels to support economic growth. Political confrontations and ambitions among nations within the Middle Eastern region will also serve to escalate fossil fuel consumption.

Many within the United Nations believe all countries should adhere to the same CO2 emissions per capita budget (called the Contraction and Conversion plan). Most Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations (which includes the United States), along with the former Soviet Union, would have to decrease their per capita CO2 emissions while all other nations are allowed to increase their per capita CO2 emissions. But it is political suicide for the ruling class if a nation falls into a recession. This puts a damper on OECD national CO2 reduction efforts. In addition, it is highly unlikely Russia will agree to a contraction of its economic fortunes or political ambitions.


So what are we doing, we humans? If the UN objectives are met, we are merely shifting the production of CO2 emissions from one set of nations to a different set of nations. Our projection scenario shows that CO2 emissions will continue to increase. As shown in the following chart, if all goes according to a realistic assessment of emission compliance, the production of global human caused CO2 emissions will increase by ~8 percent from 2015 to 2030 or about .53 percent per year. According to NOAA ESRL data, that is in line with an average annual increase of CO2 in the atmosphere of .54 percent from 2000 through 2014. Despite all the hysteria, it is unlikely anything will change.

The projected percentage change is shown by region in the following chart. We have assumed the United States will meet its 26 percent reduction commitment by 2035 (instead of 2025), and made a more realistic assessment of how much reduction the European Union can achieve (but not 40 percent). We assume all other regions meet their published commitments.

If we compare a no reduction scenario (no reduction efforts are made by any nation) with projected CO2 emissions scenario (based on estimated national reductions), and assuming our assumptions are correct, we will reduce the potential increase of human caused CO2 emissions by 10.7 percent by 2030.

No Reduction


Total Asia Pacific
Total North America
Total Europe & Eurasia
Total S. & Cent. America
Total Middle East
Total Africa


And what about the Americans? By 2030 the political establishment’s plan to reduce American CO2 production by roughly 1,689 M tonnes will only be 4 percent of human caused emissions, and .213 percent of projected total global emissions. In exchange for this tiny decrease, most Americans (the 99 percent) will experience decreased income, declining economic security, and the risk of a very severe recession. Members of the OECD nations will also be very angry at the totally botched and fraudulent administration of the money given to the UN for national global warming assistance. Which means; eventually, Americans will decide CO2 reductions are not worth the effort.

And so.

In other words, the future looks like the past. The reduction projections in the above analysis are likely to prove optimistic. After all the hand wringing panic over global warming, it is more likely war, the quest for political power, and greed will have a lot more to do with fossil fuel consumption that anything the UN can do.

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