Simply a Plan for Passing Gas
[by Mac Johnson] 1/24/06
The great weakness of the Kyoto protocol and other utopian fantasies aimed
at controlling the emission of greenhouse gases is that such efforts focus
their emission limits primarily upon the developed world. Even the supporters
of the concept acknowledge this flaw.
not that the architects of such über-regulations aren’t
ambitious enough to dream of running the entire world economy
that keeps the protocols focused on the West. It’s just
that the developing world, being one of the long-standing victimization
causes carried close to liberal hearts, presents something
of a dilemma.
Johnson is a freelance writer and biologist in Cambridge,
Mass. Mr. Johnson holds a Doctorate in Molecular and
Cellular Biology from Baylor College of Medicine. He
is a frequent opinion contributor to Human
Events Online. His website can be found at macjohnson.com [go
to Johnson index]
a white liberal do when his urge to dominate the world on behalf
of the Earth runs smack into his
urge to free the third
world from European domination? Well apparently, if you can’t
shoo the holy cows out of the sacred grove, you can just beat
harder on the same old scapegoats.
Said otherwise (and in English), environmentalists
have decided to ignore the gases coming from the developing
world, and to
be extra mad about the gases coming from Europe and America.
Such an approach cannot possibly do much to curtail total greenhouse
gas emissions, but it hurts all the right people. And besides,
it can’t make things worse, right?
Actually, it can make things a lot worse. Greenhouse gases are
not being emitted for the heck of it. They are a byproduct of
economic activity, which tends to require profits. When this
profit is curtailed by tax and regulation in one region, competitors
in another region will gain advantage and become more profitable,
fueling growth in that region.
Burdening the Western economies with greenhouse gas schemes,
while exempting the developing world, will move net economic
activity out of the West and into the developing regions. In
a best case, this would result in a game of musical chairs, in
which the site of gas emission changes, but total emissions remained
More likely, it will increase total emissions, since the economies
of the developing world are not nearly as efficient as the developed
economies of Europe, North America, and the Asian rim. Efficient
economies generate wealth with fewer resources and less waste.
(They also tend to be less corrupt, so existing laws against
pollution are actually obeyed). This efficiency can be seen in
greenhouse gas emissions.
If one worries less about the total gas being emitted by a nation,
and more about how much good is being done by its emission, one
can see that (if one believes that greenhouse gases are a danger)
the greenhouse gases of the industrialized world are the last
gases one would want to limit.
The graph accompanying this article shows the carbon emissions
of various regions expressed not in total mass, or per capita
values, but in terms of how much wealth is generated by its emission.
The units are thousands of dollars of gross domestic product
per metric ton of carbon equivalent emitted by that region. (Year
2000 dollars and exchange rates, data from the Energy
Information Administration of the Department of Energy.)
While all such gas may be equal in its greenhouse properties,
it should be very obvious from this graph that not all gas is
equal in its economic benefit. The most efficient, and thus least
harmful, greenhouse gas emitters in the world are the modern
economies of the West (which includes the most developed economies
of Asia in this analysis). The regional averages are not weighted
for total GDP, but are instructive nonetheless.
The emissions of the United States fall within the same range
as those of Europe and the other modern economies. On average
these economies emit only approximately 0.14 metric tons of carbon
to create $1000 of benefit to their people --less even than regions
possessed of little modern economic activity, such as Latin America,
Africa and Southeast Asia.
By contrast, the Middle East produces three times as much carbon
emission for the same benefit, in part because of the careless
flaring off of fossil fuels at the site of production. Paradoxically,
increased demand for natural gas (and better transportation infrastructure
for it) could conceivably reduce this source.
Likewise, the economies of India and China, two rapidly developing
regions that would be the probable new sites of much of the economic
activity forced out of the West by Kyoto-style burdens, are remarkably
less efficient. China produces 600% as much carbon equivalent
per unit of wealth as do the Western economies.
By far the worst offenders, though, are the economies
of the former Soviet Bloc nations. If there was ever any doubt
capitalism and harnessed self-interest benefit the environment
by increasing efficiency, this figure should remove it (but it
won’t, of course; secular religions are just as stubborn
as the clerical sort).
Sure, America, Europe, Japan, South Korea and
their like burn a lot of fuel, but then they do a lot of useful
things with it.
The planned economies of the Soviet worker’s paradises,
by contrast, burn a lot of fuel and produce principally friction,
exhaust, leakages, and corruption. Much of the third-world burns
only a little fuel but produces even less benefit. The Middle
East spews carbon merely to avoid having to deal with it at the
wellheads. And while India, China and other rapidly developing
nations improve daily and produce increasing wealth and hope,
they remain significantly less carbon efficient than the developed
Why would anyone want to curb carbon use where it does the most
good, and subsidize it where it does less good? Clearly, the
wisdom of introducing a significant economic burden upon our
economies as a reaction to climate change is debatable.
And this analysis doesn’t even address
the accuracy of current beliefs about global warming, an entirely
unresolved, issue. To give you an idea of how crude our current
understanding of such climate modeling really is, consider that
last week a paper appeared in the journal Nature, reporting that
plants naturally produce large amounts of methane through a previously
Methane is the second most important greenhouse
gas, according to current understanding, and it is claimed
that it may account
for 20% of man-made effects on climate. The phenomenon reported
in Nature was so large that it could account for as much as 30%
of total annual sources –and yet it was totally unknown.
Models had previously assigned these emissions to human activity
such as rice farming.
This large of a surprise in methane modeling
would be equivalent to an economist claiming to have developed
a good model of the
United States economy, only to discover that his calculations
had totally omitted any contribution from the entire Pacific
Time zone of the United States –a mistake not previously
discovered because he had also so grossly overestimated the other
states that the totals seemed accurate.
Yet, we are all led to believe that the time for thought and
debate has passed and the time for massive, expensive lockstep
action is upon us. -one-
First appeared at Human Events Online
2006 Mac Johnson