Global warming requires global action

Click to enlarge.  Source: The Conversation

We Americans have actually done quite a bit to cut back on greenhouse gas emission, as the chart above shows.

But while we and the other North Atlantic nations have been cutting back, China and other nations have been pumping out more.

The average Chinese doesn’t add all that much to global warming, compared to the average American.  But there are so many more Chinese than Americans that China as a nation does more heat up the world more than the USA does.

Click to enlarge. Source: The Conversation.

The problem is that, for now, the economic growth of China, India and the Global South in general requires more use of coal, oil and natural gas.  If I were Chinese or Indian, I would be unwilling to give up my hope of a better material standard of living while Americans and Europeans have so much more than I do and individually leave so larger a carbon footprint than I do.

Most Americans and Europeans are not willing to lower their material standard of living to that of the average person in China or India.  I don’t think I would be, even though I know that, in the cosmic scheme of things, my life has no more intrinsic value than the life of a factory worker or farmer in China or India.

I might be willing to accept a drastically reduced standard of living if I were sure that the people in charge were honest and knew what they were doing, and if everybody else, including millionaires and billionaires, had to cut back the same as me.

Maybe I’m being too pessimistic.  Many western European nations and English-settled nations have enjoyed economic growth while (modestly) cutting back on greenhouse gasses.  Maybe our practices can be scaled up so that China, India and other countries can do the same.  But we have to recognize that the success of the North Atlantic world is partly due to exporting our pollution-causing industries to Asian countries.

Maybe there will be some magic technology, such as cheap nuclear fusion or carbon capture, that would make economic growth possible without heating up the planet.  I call these technologies “magic” because I don’t understand them well enough to judge their potential.  Certainly we should continue research on technical solutions, even if some of them are long shots.  But, as the saying goes, hope is not a plan.

Maybe the hotter world will solve the problem for us through catastrophes that make it impossible for industrial economies to operate.  Or maybe as these catastrophes begin, the world’s peoples and governments will start to work together as they never did before.

Cooperation on a world scale can’t happen unless the world’s governments—my own American government in particular—give up trade wars, arms races, regime change wars, cyber war and geopolitical rivalry.  Unless we can achieve this, nothing else matters.


CO2 and other Greenhouse Gas emissions by Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser for Our World in Data.  Lots of maps and charts.

Carbon emissions will reach 37 billion tonnes in 2018, a record high by Pep Caradell, Corinne Le Quéré, Glen Peters, Robbie Andrews and Rob Jackson for The Conversation.  More maps and charts.

Click to enlarge: Source: Encyclopedia Britannica.


Click to enlarge. Source: University of East Anglia.



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