Monday, 13 October 2014

World carbon emissions out of control

I am writing another post that has been triggered by a news article, only this time it is about climate change. The headline 'China's per capita carbon emissions overtake EU's' came as a bit of a shock.

'While the per capita average for the world as a whole is 5 tonnes of carbon dioxide, China is now producing 7.2 tonnes per person, to the EU's 6.8 tonnes. The US is still far ahead on 16.5 tonnes per person.'

I was always led to believe that it was China's 1 tonne footprint, based on less consumer goods, lower energy consumption and higher bicycle usage, that we were meant to aspire to.  The chart below taken from Shrink That Footprint shows how things stood back in 2001.

In 2001 the carbon footprint for the whole world was 4 tonnes per person per year, so over the last 12 years, despite knowing that carbon emissions are causing catastrophic climate change, the world's footprint has increased to 5 tonnes per person. The actual carbon emissions are even worse than this, because there are an additional 1 billion people in the world now, who are all emitting 5 tonnes each too.

Why wasn't this the headline? World carbon emissions are still increasing wildly. Any pretence that carbon emissions are under control let alone decreasing is a farce!

So how could China's per capita carbon emissions overtake the EU, from such humble beginnings? That is an enormous change from 1.7 tonnes per person in 2001 to 7.2 tonnes in 2013.  I have mentioned previously, a large part of the increase in carbon emissions is a result of the shift in manufacturing industries from the West to China. So the largest increase in their emissions is from burning coal, to power factories, that are producing cheap goods for us.

Also emissions in the EU have decreased slightly, but that is mainly the other side of manufacturing industries moving to China and taking the energy consumption with them.

It is such a bad idea. Labour is cheaper in China because there is a lower standard of living and less regulations to protect the workers. So instead of keeping jobs in the EU, where there is a minimum wage, sick pay, holiday pay, paid maternity leave, strict health and safety rules, regulations on pollution and pressure to reduce carbon emissions, companies have cut costs so that we can have more 'stuff' at a lower price.

Personally, I don't want more 'stuff' and when I do really need to buy something new, I aim to buy local products or EU as a minimum, so that I know no one has been exploited making it and my money helps to support local industries. This may mean paying higher prices, but that will just mean that I can't buy so much stuff. It also reduces shipping all round the world and hidden carbon emissions.

What the above article really made me question is why have I been basing my personal carbon reductions on 90% of the average American, when they are clearly the biggest carbon emitters. Using the formula that Sharon Astyk used in the Riot for Austerity, was relatively easy to understand and follow so it had some appeal, but in all honesty I personally wanted quite a generous starting point, to make my target easier. Making a 90% reduction seemed......overwhelming. Now I feel like not making a 90% reduction is overwhelming!

So from now on I am going to frame things differently, and continue to significantly reduce my carbon emissions.


  1. Good for you! This is really sad reading...I can't understand why people choose to ignore what is happening, or maybe it's easier for them to ignore it? And 'stuff'...why do people feel the need to buy more and more 'things' without a's much more fun re-using and recycling things to use and I must say I have a lovely smug feeling when I've saved money in the process.

    1. Well fear paralyses people and prevents them from acting apparently. But I think in this instance people are not being told the truth by the media in the UK and US. I saw a report that basically said in English-speaking countries there are 'climate skeptics', who are mainly not scientists, and they are given an equal if not more prominent say in interviews or newspaper articles. This gives the general public the impression that there is some debate or uncertainty and gives politicians the excuse not to act. Whereas the rest of the World listen to the 95% of scientists who have evidence to prove climate change is really happening. There is no question about it.

      You can probably testify from your own experience outdoors gardening that the climate is changing? For instance I never collected conkers wearing a T-shirt as a kid. This year I could.

      You set such a good example on the 'stuff' front! I have found your ideas to re-use things really helpful :-)