Saturday, April 25, 2009

Carbon Emissions by Quintiles (warning, economics jargon!)

When it comes to emitting carbon, nobody beats the developed countries. Although on par with China's emissions as of now, the per capita comparison (~ 7 1/2 billion metric tons of CO2 divided by ~300,000,000 in the US; for China add one billion to the second number) is no comparison. And it can be argued that the vast, vast majority of China's emissions come only as a result of US emissions.

Now, let's drop a bomblet into population growth people's proper, organized, and simplistic worldview: The same countries with the highest per capita emissions are, with one exception, shrinking in population.

You see, with basic economic development (electrical & transportation infrastructure) and with women's education (even just finishing elementary education), population growth is curbed to nearly parity, and continues dropping with a country's improvements in quality of life and social safety nets. And this occurs almost without regard to social traditions and customs.

The real problem with carbon emissions is that we have based our transportation and mass-production infrastructures on one ingredient, petroleum. As people become more wealthy, they consume more petroleum-heavy stuff. In order to shift away from carbon emissions, we need to shift to alternative forms. This shift, as I see it, must include some way to ease the blow to folks who can't otherwise afford it, because transitions of this magnitude always move in fits and starts, and not smoothly.

That's where the title of this post comes in. I've been looking for data that separates carbon emissions into socioeconomic quintiles, or, fifths of the population separated by their relative wealth. All the data I'm finding right now are numbers like total carbon emissions for a country, or per capita carbon emissions, or, projected growth in carbon emissions based on previous years' growth (those can be thrown out the window this year). Even better would be to add in geographic location.

I know that wealthier people emit more carbon than poorer people, as a rule of consumption. What I am sick of hearing from wealthier people are admonitions that to save the planet "we" all need to stop having babies and use mass transit. Now, mass transit is important, but living close to where you work is better, so that little sleight-of-hand on the part of many wealthier folks to ignore the problem with housing says a lot. And the myth of a looming population boom is another illusion.

Again, the real problem is use of petroleum, that's it. And, without a doubt, rich people use far more petroleum than poor people (and tend to have more babies and use less mass transit, too). What I would like to see are data showing just how much more petroleum is consumed by people in the top 20% of income earners in the US, vs. the bottom 20%. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that it's probably an order of magnitude greater at the top.

But, similar to rates of mass transit use by income level and birth rates by income level in the US, I have yet to find it...

5 comments:

Rebecca said...

Wow. Your brain works a lot real early in the morning. I'll have to come back to read after I've been awake a few hours.

native said...

Josh!
I can tell you from personal experience that I (we) here at Native Hunt would use, Solar,Wind and Electric power exclusively, if it were more dependable!

The damned electric vehicles which we have are "In The Shop" more than we have used them.

We are currently using Solar powered pumps for most of our water needs and although, for the most part, are maintenance free.
The initial start up costs were astronomical!

I have seriously looked into wind generated power also but the Cost Effectiveness of doing such a large scale project would very nearly bankrupt the company.

Just speaking for myself, two children are plenty for me.
My wife wants another one but I think that women are on a very different wavelength on that particular subject, maternal instincts and all. L.O.L.

But the bottom line for me in all of the above cases are: Cost Effectiveness and what my return would be, except the kids of course, they are priceless!

Josh said...

Great comments, Native! Microeconomically, we all need to remember these concerns of folks running businesses. On a macroeconomic scale, therefore in governance, we need to bring the issues of externalities to the fore and confront them as a society, working out those kinks together so we don't break folks on an individual level.

As for electrical generation, have you looked into cooperative agreements with your local power company? I don't know about business level work, but we pay a premium of a couple of bucks a month, and PG & E purchases our equivalent use in green energy. Also, there are solar power management companies that will 'rent' out your rooftop space and manage the equipment.

I'm all for comparative advantage in these cases, where everybody follows the same general set of rules.

One last note, that efforts to price in externalities associated with carbon emissions have yielded higher levels of innovation toward green technologies, because the more honest price (when we include the effects of carbon in the price) creates a more competitive field. Hopefully, that innovation would include dependability.

native said...

Yes Josh,
I am also very hopeful that the dependability factor will improve, and sooner than later.

Our ranches are so remote that we do not even have P.G.&E power so there can be no "credits" from P.G.&E extended to us.
The one bit of P.G.&E power which we do have is singularly, located right next to the hard paved road. And that is what we run our walk in cooler as well as our front office with.

All of the rest of the properties are Propane and Solar generated energy's.

I am especially fond of the Solar, and the Battery powered vehicle's because of the "quiet" factor.
In my older age I have really began to appreciate "quiet" noise.
Animals and wind noises are so very conducive to a relaxed state of being, and this statement is coming from a former Hard Rock guitar player!

Josh said...

I had a sneaky suspicion that remoteness was going to be a factor on your part, native...

Yeah, quiet's nice, isn't it?

I'll keep an eye out for appropriate technologies, and let you know what I find.