The indispensable Earth Policy Institute reports that emissions of carbon dioxide by wealthy countries including the United States fell a tiny fraction in the last year, which is welcome news. While China passed the U.S. as the biggest emitter of CO2 a couple of years ago, a recent study out of Stanford calculated that if you take into account the fraction of China’s emissions that are the result of manufacturing various items for export to the U.S. and add those to the U.S.’s total, this country still wins first prize for overall carbon emissions.
The latest EPI report confirms that the oceans, soils, and trees absorb more than half of the CO2 emitted world-wide, but the volume of CO2 is such that the oceans are becoming more and more acidic, which reduces their ability to absorb CO2. At the same time, the razing of tropical forests continues apace, thus reducing their ability to absorb CO2.
Besides the slight drop in CO2 emissions, one other bright spot is the growth of alternative energy systems (wind-farm electricity capacity grew by 30 percent from 2007 to 2009) and the decline of coal (down by 13 percent during this period).
Per capita carbon emissions are still highest in the richest countries, no surprise. The champ in this dubious derby is Qatar (11.5 tons per person per year) followed by other oil-rich Arab nations. Canada, the U.S. and Australia come in at 4 to 5 tons per capita). China’s per-person total is between one and two tons a head, which is slightly higher than the global average.
The growth of wind farms is great news as is the decline of coal, but both must accelerate rapidly if the situation is to be turned around. The consensus is that the tipping point for carbon is 350 parts per million in the atmosphere. We’re already at about 387 ppm, and the number keeps rising. While we’re on the subject of numbers, check out 350.org, a leading international activist effort to bring this horror under control.