Saturday, December 01, 2007

What Harper and Rex Murphy Can't Grasp

I watched the clip of Rex Murphy endorsing Stephen Harper's policy on cutting carbon emissions. The policy, as I've heard Harper explain it, is that all nations must commit to binding cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

On its face it has the same appeal as the flat tax proposals that get bandied about. From our perspective in the advantaged, industrialized world, Harper's carbon policy makes plain sense.

What we don't want to consider is how this policy is seen by the emerging economies and the Third World and we certainly don't want to consider how it makes them see us. Only once we look at it from their perspective does the manifest inequity of the Harper proposal become apparent. From their perspective the policy looks patently racist.

The Harper policy embraced so warmly by Rex Murphy is a policy considered in a void. Completely left out are some unfortunate realities these people would rather not have mentioned. For example, North Americans create so much greenhouse gas because we use a disproportionate amount of fossil fuels.

It's easiest to look at the American example. Our numbers are pretty close so we can fall under the US example. Americans represent about 5% of the world's population. Americans consume more than 25% of the world's fossil fuels. That means Americans use five times the world average in fossil fuels and produce five times the world average in greenhouse gases.

Now, let's take India. Indians use considerably less than the world average in fossil fuels and produce commensurately less greenhouse gas emissions. Ballpark it at about one-tenth of the American numbers.

The big difference is that there are 1,130,000,000 Indians, give or take a few million. The same source (the CIA) estimates America's population as of July, 2007 at 301,000,000. So, India is nearly four times as populous as the United States. China comes in at 1,322,000,000.

India and China are considered emerging economies and that means industrialization and that means fossil fuels and that means greenhouse gas emissions. Still, on a per capita basis, their fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions are a small fraction of our own.

Now, let's say we decide that everyone should agree to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 50%. Let's say an Indian, on a per capita basis, produces about 10% of the per capita American emissions figure. So, by cutting 50% across the board, we're in effect preserving our ratio discrepancies in perpetuity. We're locking in our right to continue consuming the lion's share of the world's energy and to continue pumping out the lion's share of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. What's more, we expect them to agree to that. If you were the little guy on the receiving end of that ultimatum, would you agree to it? You're lying if you said you would.

There has to be accommodation on this problem. We emit vastly more so we should have to cut at least somewhat more. Measures do need to be taken by India and China but we in the advantaged, industrialized world have to do more than we expect of them, a lot more.

Overall, what we need to do is determine, on the best scientific evidence available, a global emissions target. That'll be the pie. And then we have to work out how much of that pie each nation should be allocated based on a variety of factors including population. It's a form of global carbon rationing but there's no other way to make this work through international co-operation.

This is not some "off the wall" concept. It's actually the very basis of the Bali Communique of 150-major British and European corporations.

Harper can't hide behind his simplistic reasoning any longer, and there's no excuse for Rex Murphy following suit either.

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