Climate Delusionists

by Marlo Lewis on December 6, 2011

in Features

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Reason’s science correspondent Ronald Bailey titles his first dispatch from the UN Climate Conference “Delusional in Durban.” He reports that one of the “more moderate” proposals making the rounds demands that industrial countries reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 50% below 1990 levels by 2020. To help clarify the scale of effort required, Bailey links to EPA’s April 2011 report, Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2009.

Here’s the relevant table, from p. 18 of the report:

Let’s give Durban’s ‘moderates’ the benefit of the doubt and assume they’re talking about a 50% reduction in net emissions, taking into account emissions sequestered by sinks such as forests and soils.

In 1990, net U.S. GHG emissions totaled 5.3 billion tons carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO2-e). The proposed target is 50% below that or 2.65 billion tons CO2-e. In 2009, net U.S. emissions stood at 5.6 billion tons CO2-e. So to meet the target, U.S. net emissions would have to decline by 2.9 billion tons CO2-e between 2009 and 2020. For perspective, the required reduction is larger than all 2009 U.S. emissions from the electric power sector (2.2 billion tons CO2-e), or the transport sector (1.8 billion tons CO2-e), or the industrial, agricultural, commercial, and residential sectors combined (2.6 billion tons CO2-e).

Bailey puts it this way:

One way to achieve this [50% reduction below 1990 levels by 2020] would be to shut down completely the 70 percent of America’s electric power generation that is fueled by coal and natural gas, plus removing from the roads nearly half of America’s 250 million vehicle fleet.

A more “ambitious” proposal would require developed countries to cut their emissions “by more than 100 percent by 2040.” Bailey comments:

One way to achieve cuts of “more than 100 percent” might be to shut down all American industry, transport, fossil fuel power generation, and cover the landscape with carbon dioxide absorbing trees.

A few years ago, before Copenhagen flopped and cap-and-trade died in the U.S. Congress, I would have found such delusional behavior both funny and scary. Now it’s just funny.

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