The world’s CO2 emissions dipped in 2015. But don’t celebrate just yet.

We’re here! On the peak! Unless I forgot about India…(Shutterstock)


 (Global Carbon Project)

See that dip at the end? A new study in Nature Climate Change reports that worldwide carbon dioxide emissions likely dropped in 2015, the first time that’s ever happened without the help of a global economic crisis.

That’s definitely noteworthy. And there are some interesting underlying reasons for the drop, mainly regarding shifts in China’s energy habits, which we’ll get to in a sec.

The trouble is that a number of media outlets, including the New York Times, have gone even further, suggesting that global carbon emissions might finally be peaking for good in 2015. That seems unlikely. And don’t take my word for it: One of the study’s authors, Corinne Le Quéré of the University of East Anglia, has flat-out said it’s very unlikely.

So before anyone uncorks the champagne, it’s worth exploring why we’re (probably) not at peak emissions just yet. It’s a good way to see what a vast undertaking it will be to decarbonize the world’s energy supply and halt global warming.

Why CO2 emissions fell worldwide in 2015 (hint: China)

It’s true that something remarkable happened in 2015. Historically, worldwide CO2 emissions have gone up each and every year unless there’s a major crisis that puts a dent in global economic growth. So emissions dipped temporarily in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and they fell temporarily in 2008 with the financial crisis. But once growth returns, they usually go up, up, up.

This year appears to be the first time that didn’t happen. The global economy grew at healthy 3.1 percent clip this year, but emissions fell nonetheless.

If we zoom in for a country-by-country breakdown, we can see more clearly what’s happening here:

 (Global Carbon Project)

Emissions are clearly declining in a lot of wealthy, developed countries around the world. They’ve hit a peak in overall fossil fuel consumption and are now making the transition to cleaner forms of energy. In the United States, we’ve been replacing coal plants with lower-carbon natural gas plants and adding more wind and solar. In the European Union, CO2 emissions have been declining since 1990.

In poorer, developing nations, by contrast, emissions continue to grow rapidly. China, India, South Africa, Turkey, Indonesia, etc. are all ramping up their use of coal, oil, and natural gas to increase electricity use, power factories, put more vehicles on the road, and generally get richer. They’re trying to catch up with the Canadas and Japans of the world. (Also note that rich countries have been outsourcing their factories, and hence emissions, to poorer countries.)

But the biggest story of all is China, the world’s No. 1 emitter. Ever since the 1990s, China has been growing at a spectacular rate, mainly fueled by coal. That, in turn, has helped drive up global emissions.

Until now. In 2015, as best anyone can tell, China’s emissions appear to have stalled out and then dropped — which, in turn, helped drive the decline in global emissions. China is so huge that its every hiccup causes the world to rumble. Which raises the follow-up question…

What the heck is going on in China?

Let’s zoom in for a breakdown of China’s energy use. The country’s energy statistics are notoriously unreliable, so we do need to be cautious here. But the big story here seems to be coal:

 (Global Carbon Project)

China’s coal consumption appears to have tapered off in 2014 and then dropped in 2015, which was arguably the main reason for the dip in emissions worldwide.

Now here’s where things get murky: It’s quite difficult to figure out how much of the drop in China’s coal use (if it’s real) was due to temporary factors and how much was due to permanent structural changes that will last for years to come. I wrote about this at lengthhere.

On the temporary side: China has had some unusually wet years of late, which have allowed it to squeeze more electricity out of its hydroelectric dams and reduce output from its coal power plants. Also, China has been going through a major economic slowdown this year, after years of breakneck growth. That’s also put a dent in coal consumption, though it raises the possibility of a rebound in the years ahead.

At the same time, however, China is taking other measures to facilitate a gradual shift away from coal. Utilities are adding more nuclear, wind, and solar capacity. The country is also trying to transition from factory-centric growth to service-centric growth, which would likely entail slower rates of coal consumption growth in the future.

If you put this all together, what you’d expect is that China’s CO2 emissions will likely rebound in the years ahead and keep growing — but at a considerably lower rate than they have over the last two decades. Indeed, that’s the official view from Beijing, which expects emissions to keep growing more slowly in the years ahead until peaking sometime around 2030.

Why we (probably) haven’t hit peak global emissions yet

No one has a crystal ball, but right now, many experts are predicting that global emissions won’t peak until around 2030 or so, at least on our current course. Indeed, most analyses of the climate pledges currently being submitted to the UN suggest as much:

 (Javier Zarracina/Vox)

There are a few reasons why most forecasters think emissions will keep rising for the next 15 years or so (at least):

First, China. As noted above, it’s entirely plausible that China’s drop in emissions this year was a blip, an artifact of better-than-average hydro output and the economic slump. Going forward, the country may not go through the same coal-fueled industrial binge that it did in the 1990s and 2000s, but there’s still plenty of room for further fossil-fuel growth. Chinese car ownership is still well below European levels and even per capita household electricity use remains one-fourth of Germany’s. That all helps explain why the central government doesn’t expect emissions to peak until 2030 or so.

Then there’s India. India is still very poor, with emissions per capita just one-third that of Europe. The country still has 300 million people without electricity, and the government has ambitious plans to greatly expand coal consumption in the decades ahead. Fossil-fuel use is all but certain to skyrocket. The big question for India is how much of that expected demand can be supplanted by cleaner sources. The country has major plans to expand solar power, but solar can’t (yet) compete with coal on either price or reliability.

Then there are all those other developing countries. Indonesia. South Africa. Mexico. Turkey. They’re also expected to see continued emissions growth in the decades ahead, and they collectively have plans for hundreds of new coal plants.

The betting line is that this emissions growth in poorer developing countries will continue to outweigh the cuts made by the United States, Europe, and other rich countries for the next decade or two. If we want to reach a global CO2 peak sooner, then either those rich countries will have to make even deeper cuts or those poorer countries will have to switch over to clean energy even faster than they’re doing.

And, of course, if we want to halt global warming, then it’s not enough for annual CO2 emissions simply to peak. Emissions then have to start declining sharply, eventually going down all the way to zero.

Carbon intensity has to fall 6% each year if we want to avoid serious global warming. We’re at ~1%.


Or here’s a simpler way to think about the decarbonization challenge, courtesy of a recent report from PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

The graph above shows carbon intensity, which is the amount of carbon-dioxide the world needs to emit to generate a dollar of economic activity. The number needs to go down sharply over time if we want to enjoy economic growth without corresponding emissions growth.

The good news is that global carbon intensity has been declining over time, by about 1.3 percent per year since 2000. We’ve been getting more energy-efficient and adding more clean-energy capacity. Today, we’re able to generate more economic activity with fewer and fewer fossil fuels.

The bad news is that carbon intensity isn’t dropping fast enough. If we want emissions to peak by 2030 and keep global warming to around 3°C — which is currently what countries are aiming to do in their UN climate pledges — then carbon intensity has to decline by 3 percent per year. Only a few countries have managed to sustain that pace since the beginning of the millennium. (The United Kingdom is one.)

And if we want to stay within the carbon budget thought necessary to avoid 2°C of global warming? Then carbon intensity has to drop by a jaw-dropping 6.3 percent each year. Very, very few countries have managed to sustain that pace for any length of time. It’s equivalent to what France pulled off back in the 1980s when it was massively scaling up its nuclear program. To stay below 2°C, every country in the world would have to make similar strides, and sustain it for decades.

That‘s the scale of the challenge. And the question of whether we can decarbonize that rapidly is way more relevant for climate change than fussing over the precise year that emissions peak.

The Pope Is About To Go ‘Green’ Big Time – Challenging Conservative Pseudo-Christians

Pope Francis at Vatican | STOCK PHOTO


Pope Francis will unveil his long-awaited Encyclical on the Environment on Thursday. The two questions on everyone’s mind are what will he say, and how will the global community – Christians and non-Christians alike – respond?

The answer to the first question is easy to find. The Vatican has been strategically planting leaks for some time now. The Pope will speak to the people of the world, not just to Catholics or even just to Christians – of the need to care for the Earth, to care for ‘creation.’ In fact he will go beyond calling it a ‘need’ and will refer to it as a moral imperative, an obligation. We are called, as human beings living on the Earth in community, to care for the planet. For him, that is the true meaning of the Hebrew word that was poorly translated as our having ‘dominion’ over creation. For this Pope it means having an obligation to care for our Earth Mother, as opposed to exploiting her.

His Holiness’ argument is not as theological as you might expect. It’s very pragmatic: without the Earth, without ‘creation’ – nothing else matters. In his words, “If we destroy creation, creation will destroy us.”

It’s not a ‘scientific’ argument. It’s a moral and spiritual argument. The Pope, who is something of a ‘scientist’ himself (though earlier reports of his having a ‘masters degree in chemistry‘ were a bit overblown) will argue that the scientific ‘debate’ is over. The science is clear. Human activity has been lacking any commitment to caring for the planet, and our exploitation has resulted in almost irreversible damage. We must start acting now, he will argue. And our response must be global.

Additionally, this champion of the poor, this former bishop of Argentina, will argue that climate change and global warming are already having an disproportionate effect on the poor, and that the exploitation of the earth by the rich has come at the expense of the disenfranchised lower class. The planet is our only ‘natural resource,’ he will argue, and it belongs to each of us equally. Taking the oil and the coal and other minerals and resources from the planet without giving anything back is tantamount to the rich stealing from the poor. And again, being totally pragmatic, he will suggest that this can only lead to uprisings and violence and war as the disparity between the haves and the have-nots increases.

Pope Francis will call for an ethical and economic revolution to prevent catastrophic climate change and growing inequality.

This Pope preaches the Gospel of Jesus the Christ – the message that we are called to love our neighbor. (And who is our closer neighbor than the Earth herself?) He will argue the obvious, that our neighbors include the poor, the ones to whom Jesus argued we have a special obligation. ‘What Would Jesus Do? ‘ is the question he will be answering loudly and clearly.

And what will the reaction to this totally Christ-like message be?

That is equally predictable.

The Vatican has made it clear in recent days that this encyclical is a message for all people – not just Catholics, not just Christians, not even just to ‘believers.’ It is a message for all of humanity.

And how will ‘humanity’ respond?

Pope Francis has four primary audiences: Catholics, of course – all 1.2 billion of them!  Then the Christians of all persuasions. And after that the third group – politicians, particularly US conservative Christian politicians – who he will urge to take political action now. And finally the many on the planet who adhere to other faith traditions or consider themselves to be ‘non-believers.’ This Pope understands that global warming or climate change – whatever name you choose to give it – is a global problem that requires a universal global response. Caring for the Earth is everyone’s responsibility, to his mind.

So that means the Pope is speaking to all seven billion people on the globe!

How they respond may well determine the future of the planet. OK, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch, but not much.

First the Catholics. There will be as much disagreement among the Catholics of the world as with any other group. Expect the conservative bishops and cardinals to have reservations. Caring for the Earth borders on worshiping the Earth as a deity in many of their minds. And then there is the money – the Catholic Church is invested – literally – in fossil fuels.

Next you have the non-Catholic Christians, including the so-called ‘fundamentalists.’ Exploiting the earth in the name of exercising ‘dominion’ over the earth is ingrained in that audience

It is worth noting. however, that there is a large ‘liberal’ element within the Christian church, particularly within the Catholic Church, that believes Jesus was, himself, a ‘liberal,’ and that the environmental teachings the Pope will espouse are, in fact, the authentic teachings of Jesus the Christ.

Next, and this may well be the most fun group to observe over the next few days, weeks and months, are the so-called ‘Christian’ legislators in the U.S. Congress. They are going to go bananas! In fact many of them have already begun pushing back on what the Pope may say in his encyclical. U.S. Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, a Catholic and climate change skeptic, has said the Church would be “better off leaving science to the scientists.” (the rebuttal being that the Pope is more of a scientist than he is!)

And the real kicker will come in September when the Pope, at the invitation of Catholic John Boehner, addresses a joint session of Congress. Expect them to get an ecclesiastical tongue lashing!

Never before, church leaders say, has a papal encyclical been anticipated so eagerly by so many.

With Pope Francis expected to make the case that climate change, unchecked development, and over consumption are exacerbating the suffering of the poor, advocates for both  the environment and the poor are thrilled.

It’s going to be fun to watch, and without exaggerating it may well be globally-transformational.

The one thing the environmental movement has lacked has been a truly global leader. It may have found one in Pope Francis.

John Lundin

China Installed More Solar Power in 2013 than the US has in its Whole History

As long as dim-witted people are running Congress, the above headline will be commonplace around the globe, except for the United States and that’s a sad commentary…

Informed Comment – Joshua Hill

Despite predictions all through 2013 suggesting that Japan would walk away the dominant solar PV market, Bloomberg New Energy Finance has revealed that China “outstripped even the most optimistic forecasts” to install a record 12 GW of photovoltaic projects in 2013.

In fact, a massive boom at the end of the year could even have pushed the nation’s market up to 14 GW, a phenomenal feat considering that no country has never added more than 8 GW in a year.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) had predicted that Japan would come out on top in 2013, ahead of China and then the US, but with a feed-in tariff for large PV projects ending on the first of 2014, the year-end rush will not be wholly understood until March.

“The 2013 figures show the astonishing scale of the Chinese market, now the sleeping dragon has awoken” said Jenny Chase, head of solar analysis at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “PV is becoming ever cheaper and simpler to install, and China’s government has been as surprised as European governments by how quickly it can be deployed in response to incentives.”

Even China’s state news agency could not have predicted the massive boom which took place. And in July it was announced that China aimed to add 10 GW of solar power a year for the next three years — a target they seem to have hit rather easily.

Surprisingly, many market analysis companies scoffed at China’s targets for 2014. IHS and Mercom Capital both released reports earlier this year suggesting that China would struggle to reach their aim of 12 GW for 2014, but with 2013′s impressive stats, one wonders whether analysts will be revising their predictions in the next few weeks, especially in the wake of new estimations suggesting that China is aiming for 14 GW in 2014.

With the majority of solar projects located on the country’s sunny and empty western provinces, China’s state-owned power generators China Power Investment Corporation, China Three Gorges and China Huadian Corporation have become the world’s largest owners of solar assets.

Ban Coal: Coal Industry Chemical Threatens 300,000 in West Virginia

FEMA: The federal government sent 75 trucks - each carrying 18,500 liters of water - as well as bottled water to help provide water for those in need
FEMA: The federal government sent 75 trucks – each carrying 18,500 liters of water – as well as bottled water to help provide water for those in need.
 | Reuters

I’m not an advocate for coal so I agree that this report by Juan Cole is on point.

Juan Cole – Informed Comment

Some 300,000 West Virginians are at risk from their tap water after a company making MCHM spilled it into the river, turning it a little purple and making it smell like liquorice. MCHM can be fatal if imbibed, and otherwise it can make you vomit your guts out. It is used to wash coal of impurities.

Coal is destroying the earth. Some 40% of US carbon dioxide emissions come from burning coal. That amounts to 2 billion metric tons of C02 annually that Americans spew into the atmosphere by burning coal. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, extra amounts of which have been building up in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution and it is warming the earth and the seas inexorably. Humankind only has to 2020 to avoid going beyond a temperature increase of 3.4 degrees Fahrenheit. If we go to 7, 8, 9 degrees F. increase, the whole weather system could become chaotic, threatening human life.

But apart from the threat burning coal forms in causing climate change, it is just really bad for you. Burning it releases massive amounts of mercury into the environment. Mercury is a nerve gas. It isn’t normal that you can only eat fish once or twice a week for fear of being mercury-poisoned. There is some evidence that it may be implicated in the increase in autism among children. Burning coal kills 13,000 Americans each year. That is four 9/11 attacks every year. We had a war on terror, but no president dares announce a war on coal.

And now it should be clear that some of the chemicals used in producing coal for power plants are themselves highly toxic and form a constant health threat.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Wind power is just about as inexpensive as coal, now. The American Midwest, the most highly coal-dependent region in the country, is the Saudi Arabia of wind. And, it has substantial potential for solar power generation, as well.

There are already as many American jobs in the solar power industry as there are American workers in coal mines. The workers can be retrained to install solar panels on people’s roofs.

The US and the world need to make a final push to go as green as possible as soon as possible. Coal is a drag on any such effort.

AP reports:

For the evils of coal see:

The Top 15 Most Dangerous Conservative Politicians And Government Officials To Watch In 2012

I’ve only listed the first six here.  The rest can be found on the resource website:

Addicting Info

From the Supreme Court to the halls of Congress to governor’s mansions across the country, conservatives have ruthlessly pushed an agenda that has torn America asunder since 1980. As 2011 comes to a close, conservatives are still trying to push failed policies. This is a list of 15 individual conservatives that pose a significant threat to American society as we move into 2012 and beyond.

1. John Roberts) The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court leads four other conservative judges on the bench. Placed on the high court by President Bush, John Roberts has been influential in changing campaign finance laws (Citizens United) and has since ruled in favor of big corporations. And the conservative court isn’t through yet. Conservatives desire to overturn abortion, environmental laws, President Obama’s health care law, and voting rights laws, and you can bet that they are aiming to use the Supreme Court to do it.

2. Eric Cantor) The House Majority Leader has been very busy since his party took over the House in 2010. Cantor has proven that he has more power than John Boehner does, hence the fact that Boehner isn’t even on the list. Cantor is willing to do whatever it takes to slam every right-wing bill through Congress. He also has the backing of Tea Party House members. Cantor is still young, which means he could be a major player on the right for decades to come. It’s also likely that he could be the next Speaker of the House if the GOP keeps control after the 2012 Election.

3. Clarence Thomas) The second Supreme Court Justice to make the list has deep ties to the conservative movement. He has ties to Koch Industries and has received money from the Heritage Foundation and other conservative organizations. He has refused to recuse himself from cases that he has ties to and that is what makes him dangerous. Thomas ruled with the other conservatives in Citizens United even though he had a conflict of interest in that case as well. As long as he is on the bench with Roberts, outside influences can dictate how the conservative wing rules.

4. Mitch McConnell) He may be the Senate Minority Leader but that doesn’t make McConnell any less poisonous to America. He has led the effort to block and stall many important pieces of legislation in the Senate and has blocked Presidential nominees from taking their posts, leaving many departments leaderless. We’ll see more of the same thing in 2012.

5. Paul Ryan) The second member of the U.S. House of Representatives to make the list, Ryan is a major threat because he introduced legislation that would kill Medicare by privatizing it. Essentially, Ryan’s plan throws all American senior citizens under a speeding bus. Ryan isn’t an old man either. He could remain active in politics for decades, which means his ideas will still be around as well. Even if the people of Wisconsin don’t re-elect him to Congress, Ryan could still join any conservative think tank or organization, or become a lobbyist. They would love to have him too. Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare are in danger as long as Ryan is around.

6. Scott Walker) The first of two governors on the list has been busy since he took office. The Governor of Wisconsin is on this list because he is an example of just how involved the Koch brothers are in shaping public policy. Under Walker’s “leadership” he has severely weakened labor unions and worker’s rights, weakened environmental laws, weakened pubic education, weakened voter rights, and has put public lands and facilities up for grabs as a way to increase privatization. Some of these facilities are of deep interest to the Koch brothers. As further evidence that Walker is basically a Koch slave, he took a fake call from a person pretending to be David Koch at the height of the collective bargaining debate. Walker could very well be recalled by the people of Wisconsin but Walker intends to sabotage that effort. Walker’s career in Wisconsin may not last beyond this year, but that doesn’t make him any less of a threat, as governors around the country are following his lead and he could always run for federal office later on.

Continue here…

7 Billion and Counting

This video really does a great job explaining the earth’s population growth to 7 billion people in such a short period of time…

Mario Piperni

One of the hypothesis concerning the origin of modern humans is that we emerged out of Africa 50,000 to 100,000 years ago.  By 1804, there were 1 billion of us on the planet.  Over the next 200 years, we found a way to increase that number to 7 billion (give or take 56 million).

If you’re not quite sure how we accomplished that feat, here’s a short NPR video which helps explain it.

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The 1% Have a Stranglehold on Politics: New Al Jazeera Documentary Sheds Light on the Koch Brothers

Why won’t our media expose the Koch Brothers for what they are?

Oh never mind, the corporate media is part of the problem in this country.

Think Progress

Al Jazeera released a new mini-documentary yesterday on the Koch Brothers — the multi-billionare energy tycoons who have spent over $50 million on campaigns to tear down the science of climate change and clean energy policy.

The documentary features a lengthy interview with our colleague Lee Fang, an investigative reporter with Think Progress, who has played a major role in uncovering the strong “web of influence” of the Koch Brothers on state and federal politicians. The film touches on the Koch role in everything from health care to energy policy. It’s worth the watch. (Note: much of the energy and climate stuff is in the second half, after about 15 minutes.)

This is exactly why “the other 99%” of Americans are protesting in the streets.

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Fox Viewers Overwhelming Think We Should Prepare For Alien Invasion Before Fighting Climate Change

No surprise there!  I suspect the intelligence quotient of the majority of Fox News lemmings is in the double digits…

Think Progress

A new (supposedly) NASA-funded study postulating that aliens may attack humans over climate change had all the ingredients for a perfect Fox faux controversy — it bolstered their anti-science narrative, painted their opponents as clownish radicals, and highlighted wasteful government spending on a supposedly liberal cause. Fox reported the “news from NASA” several times several times today, presenting it as official “taxpayer funded research.” A chyron on Fox and Friends read: “NASA: Global warming may provoke an [alien] attack.”

But as Business Insider pointed out, they’re “wrong” — “That report was not funded by NASA. It was written by an independent group of scientists and bloggers. One of those happens to work at NASA.” NASA distanced itself from the report as well, calling reports linking the agency to it “not true.” Kelly finally corrected the record this afternoon, saying, “I was making that up.”

But before she did, she was so bemused by the study that she directed her viewers to completea poll on her website which asked how we should respond to the study: “Immediately increase efforts to curb greenhouse gases,” “Develop weapons to kill the Aliens FIRST,” or “Gently suggest scientists research how to create job.”

Not surprisingly, most suggested they research something else. But more than six times as many respondents (19 percent to 3 percent) said we should focus building weapons to kill aliens before curbing green house gases.

Watch a compilation:

The poll is of course not scientific, but you can hardly blame the viewers who did respond, considering Fox’s constant misinformation about climate change. For instance, as she presented the poll, Kelly said of curbing climate change, “just in case right?” — as in, “just in case” the science is right. She did not make a similar quip for alien attack. Numerous studiesconsistently show that Fox viewers are among the most misinformed of news viewers, while at least one study has shown that — perversely — watching Fox actually makes people lessinformed than they were to being with.

“Trust me folks, this story is hard to understand,” Fox and Friends host Gretchen Carlson said of the “NASA study.” Indeed.

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Freak heat burst hikes Wichita temperature by nearly 20 degrees in 20 minutes _ after midnight

Oh, but “global warming is a hoax” according to most right-wingers. 

If nothing else, this report should at least give them food for thought on the issue…

The Washington Post – National

 Published: June 10

An unusual weather pattern caused temperatures in Wichita, Kan. to soar nearly 20 degrees in 20 minutes even though the sun had long gone down.National Weather Service meteorologist Stephanie Dunten says the heat burst hiked temperatures from 85 to 102 degrees in 20 minutes, beginning at 12:22 a.m. Thursday.

She says a pocket of air in the upper atmosphere collapsed, and when it hit the ground it sent winds of more than 50 mph through parts of the city.

The Wichita Eagle says that during a heat burst, rain falling from higher elevations cools air beneath it as it evaporates. The cooler air then descends quickly to the surface. As it falls, it is compressed and warms dramatically.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.