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In response to The Bard:
Activists and trendy eco-fashionistas are fond of parroting “think globally, act locally”. Even if we can convert California into an eco-utopia, with minimal “carbon footprints” for all, what about the rest of the world? What if people in Mexico, China and India don’t “give a rat’s ass” about their carbon footprints because they’re longing to get obese in air conditioned comfort just like us? This is a good life, living in the exurbs, staring at the boob tube 7 hours a day and gorging on junk food. Sure beats scratching out a living in the rice paddy. Much of the world wants this lifestyle, and this is accelerating carbon dioxide emissions. Acting locally is great but we ALL need to think rationally about the situation as it really is, and not fall back on jargon and hype.
You bring up a good point about the rest of the world. What about them? According to one study, China has now surpassed the United States in total CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. This is of significant concern. But the United States still contributes more than 20 percent of global CO2 emissions. And because CO2 has a very long life span in the atmosphere and because there is a lag between the release of CO2 into the atmosphere and the actual warming (and changing) of the climate, the United States bears a significant responsibility for existing levels of CO2 — and arguably any climatic changes associated with those CO2 levels. The United States is still the leader in per capita emissions. We emit much more per person than China, mainly because China’s population is so huge. There is still much room for per capita reductions. Also, the Chinas and Indias of the world likely will not take significant action unless this country does. And even if the United States does act, they may still not act.
Countries like China and India will develop and will increasingly contribute to the problem. The challenge is to figure out how to help them leapfrog old carbon-intensive technologies to help avoid significant GHG emissions. A good example is carbon capture and sequestration. This is a process of capturing the carbon released by a coal-fired power station and storing in places like underground caverns. This would allow China and other economies to use coal, a cheap and plentiful energy source, while not emitting significant levels of CO2. China is building 2 large coal power plants a week and can’t keep up with demand. We need to figure out how to make those plants able to accept CCS technology.
I heard a story once that a Chinese delegation came to California to meet with our grid operators (California ISO). The CAISO representative told the delegation that our peak electricity demand is about 55,000 MW. The Chinese delegation said their demand is growing annually by that amount. The CAISO representative then asked why they were here to meet with such a small energy player. They responded that they were interested to learn how California can be the 7th largest economy in the world (approximately equal to Italy) and only use 55,000 MW. They wanted to know how to increase efficiency. Energy will be an increasingly significant cost factor for industry. There is tremendous potential to increase efficiency in China. They have an opportunity to get it right the first time. The challenge is daunting but the opportunity is huge.