Maurice O'Brien: Cutting carbon emissions futile

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Will cutting our carbon emissions really make any difference to the planet? The answer is a definite no, and most of the proposals to do so are ludicrously inadequate anyway.

Take Australia, for example, where about 135 million incandescent light bulbs are in use. The Government wants to ban them by 2010 to cut the nation's greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 800,000 tonnes a year by 2012. If this sounds a lot, bear in mind that it represents a reduction of just 0.14 per cent.

American journalist Robert Samuelson derides such tiny cuts as part of a feel-good political culture that is mostly about showing off, not curbing greenhouse gas emissions, and is made worse by politicians who pander to green constituents who want to feel good about themselves.

Grandiose goals are declared, he writes, but measures to achieve them are deferred or don't exist.

He adds that it's all just a delusional exercise in public relations that, while not helping the environment, might hurt the economy.

Samuelson is right that such puny cuts are ludicrous as a means of preventing global warming. Why? Just take a look at China, which is scheduled to build 562 coal-fired power plants over the next five years.

That's more than two a week.

China's annual carbon emissions of 1.3 billion tonnes have already overtaken those of Europe and will exceed those of the United States this year.

This will make China the biggest emitter on the globe. China, in fact, accounts for half the rise in the world's CO2 emissions since 1992, and Chinese pollution affects the entire Northern Hemisphere, including significant amounts of smog over the western United States.

China is, in fact, doubly responsible for emissions, since it drives much of the world's deforestation. According to the Washington Post, large swathes of the globe's forests are being cut at an alarming pace to feed a global wood-processing industry centred in coastal China.

Mountains of logs, many of them harvested in excess of legal limits aimed at preserving forests, are streaming towards Chinese factories where workers churn out such products as furniture and floorboards.

At the current pace of cutting, natural forests in Indonesia and Burma will be exhausted within a decade, writes the Post, while forests in Papua New Guinea will be consumed in as little as 13 years, and those in the Russian Far East within two decades.

These forests are a bulwark against global warming, capturing carbon dioxide that would otherwise contribute to heating the planet.

Chinese gangs bribe local officials, who look the other way. In the process, whole ecosystems are being wiped out.

If we were to calculate China's total contribution to global warming, it would far exceed that of any other country on earth.

This is the most troubling aspect of the entire global warming issue: why should the rest of the world go out of its way to reduce greenhouses gases, when China belches out fumes and tears down forests with impunity?

The relatively trivial savings the rest of us make in greenhouse gas emissions are more than offset by China's determination to pollute as much as it wants.

How can greenhouse gas emissions possibly be curtailed when such global population growth and high emissions rates in China (and India) are undoing whatever cuts the rest of the world makes?

* Maurice O'Brien is an author and former journalist and is working on a book about carbon neutrality, The Way It Has To Be.

- NZ Herald

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