In returning from a posting hiatus, I thought I’d clean up a few odds and ends before beginning this year’s posts. This one concerns countries the net effect of whose policies and business and personal efforts has given the strongest impetus to oncoming climate disaster (as laid out in previous posts, and specifically referring to the “worst consequences” outcome described in Hansen’s recent paper and summarized here). It goes without saying that in order to act as they have, these countries are deserving of the psychological label “insane” if anyone is.
Let’s start right in.
I have attempted in several posts to lay out the reasoning behind James Hansen’s scientific assessment that use of tar sands and oil shale will mean “game over for the environment”, in the sense that together with even minimal use of oil, coal, and natural gas from now on, they will lead to “worst consequences.” For several years, Canada under its latest prime minister has been going full steam ahead in attempting to mine the Athabasca tar sands, which contain a major fraction of the world’s known tar sands. In order to successfully sell this “product”, a major modification of infrastructure must be accomplished, and Canada is now – according to credible reports -- going all out to create this infrastructure, including muzzling its own scientists, distorting the facts about the actual carbon emissions, and allying with the Koch brothers (US businessmen deeply invested in all forms of carbon-polluting energy) to lobby foreign governments to allow Canada to create the infrastructure to export the resulting “dirty” oil.
If Canada were not pushing tar sands oil in 2013, including but not limited to the “gateway drug” Keystone XL export pipeline, it is very unlikely that there would be even a possibility of this “worst of all outcomes”. I need only mention that the prime minister is also under the delusion that sea ice in the central Arctic won’t melt for a good long time, so that Canada can make profits from its Northwest Passage, and the picture of insanity is complete. But that’s really a side show; the introduction of tar sands oil and attempts to make it viable earn Canada 2013’s Number 1 spot.
#2: The United States
It was a tough choice here between the US and China. The US won because its policies, politics, and business interests combined in 2013 (and previous years) to slow world attempts to cut back on carbon pollution in ways that made it more and more difficult for the world to respond. The failure over the last few years to squelch the Keystone XL pipeline is merely the icing on the cake.
The failure primarily of Republican office-holders to recognize that politics ends at climate disaster’s edge – and, in particular, failure to understand that accepting oil lobby money for votes should be a matter of how to engineer a soft landing for these companies during changeover to solar/wind, not how to double down on carbon pollution and its infrastructure using the chimera of “energy independence” – combined with the willful “stick my head in the sand” voting of almost half the population, as well as the delusion of most businesses that their “green” efforts are anywhere near what’s needed and business’ failure to recognize that outsourcing is effectively increasing carbon pollution – produce a worldwide result in which overall carbon emissions increases become ever more entrenched in the system. As Hansen notes, the facts speak for themselves: whatever minor decreases appear to be occurring in US carbon pollution, the worldwide level continues to rise at the same rate – which would not happen if the country that produces more carbon pollution than any other were exercising any countervailing force.
As it turns out, despite the solar fluff sold to foreigners, China is rapidly ramping up its coal emissions, and has committed to coal gasification plants that have repeatedly proved that they cannot effectively capture and sequester a significant part of the resulting emissions. What makes China better than the US, given that its carbon pollution is increasing faster in percentage and absolute terms? Only that the ability of America to retard the rest of the world’s reaction to the problem, and its contribution to carbon pollution, is still greater than China’s.
Despite the efforts of the former prime minister to administer even a modest check on internal pollution, Australia under its next prime minister is now going back to “business as usual” while massively mining coal to sell to foreign countries. Since Australia is one of the first countries in which the weather consequences – from unprecedented catastrophic rains to catastrophic droughts – is becoming blatantly obvious, it takes a special kind of insane blindness to do this. However, even the massive amounts of Australian fossil-fuel reserves don’t have the same effect as US and Chinese actions; so #4 it is.
India has been ramping up carbon emissions – from a smaller base – almost as fast as China, and I understand it has been tapping coal as well. I also understand that they’re using the same excuse as China: hey, we need it to develop. I’m sure that will be a great consolation as they deal with the flooding of Bangladesh and increases in heat and storm violence that render the “agricultural miracle” of the 1960s null and void.
And what’s up for this year? Why, it looks just like 2013 so far!