Are CO2 Initiatives Already Working?

Cameron Scott argues this when he says:

It's funny how green-haters accuse greens of being catastrophists, and then argue that cutting carbon emissions will destroy our economy and send us back to the Dark Ages. (See the trailer of Phelem McAleer's Not Evil Just Wrong for a prime example.)

Well, the last pooh-pooh is on them: It turns out we're already cutting emissions in the United States. Sure, some of that is due to a sluggish economy. But negative economic circumstances don't account for the 9 percent reduction in carbon emissions since 2007. In fact, the amount of carbon dioxide produced for every dollar of economic output declined by 3.8 percent in 2008.

I responded:

I really wish you would apply your analytical abilities to equities so I would have some way to bet against you.

Had you looked, you would see that the US has been reducing the CO2 intensity for a unit of economic output for decades. Here is the first source I found online but there are zillions.  In terms of improvement, the US has done better on this metric in the last 20 years than nearly any other country in the world, and just as well as the best (e.g. Germany)

So what you tell is not a new story, and has nothing to do with recent governmental dictats or pleas by environmentalists and everything to do with the ongoing incentives of individuals and businesses to reduce costs and be more efficient.

The reason our total Co2 output has not decreased is that while CO2 per unit of GDP (I will call this CO2 efficiency) has improved 2-4 percent per year, our GDP has grown the same rate or faster. So our overall CO2 output is flat to up (and has actually been down the last few years). One of the main reasons Europe has done better than the US in total CO2 reductions is not improvements in CO2 efficiency, but because their economies have lagged. They bent over backwards in Kyoto to make 1990 the baseline year, so they could include the horrible economies of Russia and East Germany which were in the process of crashing, thus giving them an automatic CO2 reduction for nothing.

Anyway, just look at your own numbers. In the year before, we got about 3% improvement in Co2 efficiency and had about 3% economic growth so CO2 output was flat to down. Last year we had about 3% improvement in Co2 efficiency and the economy was down a lot and thus CO2 was down a lot. When there are two variables in a function, and only one is changing, most logical people attribute the change in output of the function (ie changes in total CO2 output) to the variable that changed (ie economic growth). You, for some reason, attribute changes in the output to the variable (co2 efficiency improvements) which basically remained unchanged. Nice analysis.

You can even see it in your numbers. If CO2 efficiency is up 3.8 percent and Co2 output is down 9 percent, then that means the economic growth/size component has to be down 5.4% (.91/.962 - 1). So almost 60% of the "improvement" is due to a very bad recession and 10% unemployment, but you attribute it to the unchanging 40% piece.

Did anyone in the environmental movement study math or economics?

  • feeblemind

    As you well know, it has never been about CO2 or climate change. It is all about accumulating power and redistributing wealth. It is useless to argue with brainblind.

  • Julius Schäffer

    I've been reading your blog for quite a while now and I very much like your reasoning. But I need to criticize you on a detail here: What you call "an automatic CO2 reduction for nothing" truly was the opposite.
    You're right insofar as the reduction was automatic because the remains of the socialist economy in eastern Germany couldn't compete. But that reduction didn't come for free. In fact the western German states have paid roughly [it really is hard to calculate] one trillion (a million times a million) Euro to ressurrect the east German economy and they will be paying for decades to come. There are many reasons for that, most of all it was and is a matter of solidarity, but in terms of CO2 reduction it's probably the most expensive agenda ever.

  • Another equally idiotic assertion the highly uninformed Mr. Scott makes is that

    Most surprisingly, Americans are turning away from cars! The estimated scrappage of 14 million cars in 2009 will exceed new sales of 10 million, shrinking the fleet 2 percent in one year. This shrinkage will likely continue for a few years...

    Excuse me? Remember a little thing called cash 4 clunkers? Think that had any effect? We’ve since seen new auto demand fall off the table, too, so that statement is flagrantly false.

    Then he throws out this gem:

    On the other hand, experts have shown that going green will almost certainly boost the economy.

    And then fails to link to any "evidence" (which is bogus anyway).

    A quick scan of this clown’s CV reveals him to be a fellow Mother Jonesian (like Kevin Dumb), which explains his abject stupidity & overt ignorance. It's like these people live in a parallel universe.

  • Allen

    "Did anyone in the environmental movement study math or economics?"

    If they did, they didn't learn much

  • Mike

    "The reason our total Co2 output has not decreased is that while CO2 per unit of GDP (I will call this CO2 efficiency) has improved 2-4 percent per year, our GDP has grown the same rate or faster. So our overall CO2 output is flat to up (and has actually been down the last few years)."

    When I installed a heat pump water heater, I realized a significant savings on our energy bill within a few months. But then SRP started the "peak summer" rates. These new rates erased my savings. So was the heat pump water heater worth it? Yes! Even more so now with higher summer rates. If I hadn't installed the heat pump water heater, our bill would have increased to a much larger degree.

    What is my point? Even with greater efficiency standards, and more investment in alternative energy, the fact remains that the population, along with the economy eventually, will cause in increase in demand on t part of energy. Wind and solar won't be able to carry the load of increased demand.

  • “Did anyone in the environmental movement study math or economics?”

    - we don't need maths or this "economics" you speak of. we have faith!

  • Eddie

    Amazing how "output per dollar" becomes "reducing emissions" in the same breath... as if by magic. Reminds me of a couple of administrations ago when slowing the acceleration of the rate of growth of the deficit became known as "cutting the deficit".

    And how many of those scrapped cars in 2009 that won't be replaced were actually being used? Is taking a car out of a yard and putting in a scrap heap a net reduction of autos on the road?

    I wouldn't let my 10 year old turn in a report with these kinds of unexamined statistical shenanigans in it.

  • Julius Schaeffer

    I've been reading your blog for quite a while now and I very much like your reasoning. But I feel I need to criticize you on a detail here: What you call "an automatic CO2 reduction for nothing" truly was the opposite.
    You're right insofar as the reduction was automatic because the remains of the socialist economy in eastern Germany couldn't compete. But that reduction didn't come for free. In fact the western German states have paid roughly (it really is hard to calculate) one trillion (right: a million times a million) Euro to resurrect the east German economy and they will be paying for decades to come. There are many reasons for that, most of all it was and is a matter of solidarity, but in terms of CO2 reduction it's probably the most expensive agenda ever. The "nothing" you speak of, it is actually a lot.

  • kebko

    "Did anyone in the environmental movement study math or economics?"

    I once had an environmental science major tell me that they found a man in Illinois with so much radon in his basement, that he had a 500% chance of dying from it.

  • Dr. T

    “Did anyone in the environmental movement study math or economics?”

    Most of them didn't study biology, ecology, or any other science. They didn't study mathematics, statistics, or economics, either.

    Most of the hardcore environmentalists are Luddites or nihilists. Either they oppose modern technology and want us to live like Stone Age hunter-gatherers, or they hate us planet-destroying humans and hope that we kill ourselves without destroying other species. I'm equally tired of both variants.

    The non-hardcore environmentalists are mostly optimistic magical thinkers. They believe that avoiding part-per-trillion levels of pesticides (that don't kill bugs until they exceed part-per-thousand levels) will protect their kiddies. They believe that recycling a plastic jug so it doesn't end up buried in a landfill is saving the planet. They believe that buying a Prius will help keep Antarctica from melting. These environmentalists are beloved by people selling the environmentalism equivalent of snake oil. To me, these environmentalists can be a mild annoyance or a source of humor.

  • Uncle Fester

    You should be ashamed of yourself for expecting a Progressive to get their facts straight. What kind of racist are you, anyway?

  • The comments are almost side-splittingly funny on Scott's post:

    "You told us that CO2 emissions are dropping in the US in excess of the effects of recession. That's good news! Let's all keep working to get emissions to drop further."

    Working? What? You want us to further the recession and raise unemployment higher?

    Oh, it gets better:

    "Biodiversity is more important to the planet AND our survival than is our economy."

    I think I just shat myself.

  • Jonny

    Bravo!

  • Val

    At least these guys are honest about the end game:

    http://www.vhemt.org/

    Gotta respect that.

  • raj

    "In terms of improvement, the US has done better on this metric in the last 20 years than nearly any other country in the world, and just as well as the best (e.g. Germany)".

    The real reason for reduced CO2 emission, as you well know, is the shifting of manufacturing activities to China. If CO2 footprint is measured on the basis of goods actually consumed, then I doubt if you will be able to make the same claim. While goods have been increasingly out-sourced, CO2 emission has been increasingly off-shored.

  • Elliot

    Perhaps we should consider it spiritually. Lowering CO2 is a reduction in sin per metric angelic ton. If we can keep up with this rate of fictive unit transfer we will all be out of purgatory before the Devil knows we're dead. I'd site a law of conservation here but I was out that day.

    In fact, with my limited, but sincere, math background I should be running that place.

    E

  • DrTorch

    Coyote wrote
    "Did anyone in the environmental movement study math or economics?"

    Another CS Lewis quote:

    'It must be remembered that in Mark's mind hardly one rag of noble thought, either Christian or Pagan, had a secure lodging. His education had been neither scientific nor classical---merely 'Modern'. The severities both of abstraction and of high human tradition had passed him by: and he had neither peasant shrewdness nor aristocratic honour to help him. He was a man of straw, a glib examinee in subjects that require no exact knowledge'

    From "That Hideous Strength"

    Apparently, modern education is not limited to people named 'Mark'

  • Just a thought...

    The lefties are really big on manufacturing jobs - heavy industry. These are the same folks that are anti-energy.

    When will they realize that heavy industry is CO2 intensive (it doesn't bother me, but it oughta bother them)?

  • MJ

    The lefties are really big on manufacturing jobs – heavy industry. These are the same folks that are anti-energy.

    Seems like a paradox, doesn't it? But actually, they've found a way around this contradiction with a rhetorical flourish. Promoting green/sustainable/renewable/independent/job-saving/economy-transforming energy allows them to take a pass on the second (anti-energy) part.

    Put the two together, and Voila!, you get proposals for "investments" in green energy/manufacturing.