The dramatic rise in carbon dioxide emissions

We have been told for twenty or more years that carbon dioxide is the villain, and that unless we change our way of life the planet will warm to levels catastrophic for our species. It must be true, for President Obama has been saying so again quite recently. I came across a most interesting piece by Ed Hoskins, an Englishman who has written on climate matters before, and in this case he built his essay around some data released by British Petroleum in its Statistical Review of World Energy 2014. Other sources, including The Guardian, provide a similar picture.

Let’s leave aside the alleged villainy of CO2, about which I have written many times before, and look simply at the pattern of emissions over the past fifty years, by considering the following graph.


It seems that cumulative emissions from the developed world levelled out in the late 1980s, and are lower now than they were then, while cumulative emissions from the developing world have grown dramatically, especially in China. Hoskins has put Australia alongside Canada, Russia and Japan in a small bracket of countries with what Hoskins called ‘distinct attitudes to CO2 control’. In fact, the Australian group’s emissions are simply in parallel to those of the USA, which suggests that they have nothing much to do with ‘carbon pollution’ policies.

I can hearing a Green sympathiser saying, ‘But what about emissions per head!’ So let’s look at those, in the second graph.


USA emissions per head have come down from a high point that coincides with the start of the OPEC oil price increases in the mid 1970s, and are now at much the same level that they were in 1965. Much the same can be said about EU emissions per head. The rapid decline in emissions per head for the Australia group  in the 1990s suggests to me that the decline is due to the collapse of the Soviet economy, but the emissions are now at the same level that they were in the early 1970s. Emissions per head in the rest of the world are advancing steadily. The third graph shows this plainly.


In Paris next year the representatives of the countries interested in the global warming scare, which is practically all of them, will meet to talk about a binding treaty that will govern carbon dioxide emissions. If it were held today, I think it fair to say that there is no earthly chance of such a treaty being agreed to.

Hoskins put these data forward to explain to the American President exactly why Mr Obama’s notion that the USA must cut its use of fossil fuels, the main source of carbon dioxide emissions, was simply silly, given that China and India were passing the USA in emissions anyway, and were not subject to his rule. But Hoskins made a number of other points that are more relevant to those of us in Australia.

Remember Kyoto, and how Australia just had to sign it, and how Kevin Rudd (remember him?) basked in the glow of approval for finally doing so? Well, according to Hoskins, just by using shale gas for electricity generation, the USA has already reduced its CO2 emissions by nearly 10 per cent since 2005. That alone, he says, has had more effect on global CO2 levels than the entire Kyoto Protocol.

Remember all the fuss about our carbon tax? Well, Hoskins says that if you look at developed economies that ‘rejected action on CO2’, their emissions have hardly grown. It doesn’t seem to matter what the policies are: economic downturns like the GFC, and improvements in technology, like shale oil and gas exploitation, seem to do the work better than treaties and laws.

And I would like the Greens leader here, and those in the ALP who still support emissions trading schemes and carbon taxes, to explain just how they would come to terms with the data above. Since carbon dioxide emissions seem to come down fastest if we switch from coal to shale gas for electricity generation, just why is it that the Greens oppose shale oil and gas?  I suppose that’s a bit much to ask. Why not nuclear? France has the lowest emissions of any developed country, and 70 per cent of its electricity comes from nuclear power stations.

It’s probably too much to ask, if I point out that we’re getting close to 18 years without significant warming, then enquire how they would come to terms with that statistic too. If they say that they don’t believe the RSS data, and prefer that from GISS, I could ask had they read my last post on that subject. They probably wouldn’t have.

Vaughan Williams, the English composer, was once asked by a lady just how it was that he was able to compose. He paused for a moment, and then replied, ‘It’s rum go.’ I feel that way about some of the most devotedly outspoken  orthodox, too.






Join the discussion 12 Comments

  • Walter Starck says:

    For another most interesting perspective on CO2 emissions see:

    • Craig Thomas says:

      Why would anybody want to expose themselves to half-baked thoughts from a crank-blog run by a University drop-out who worked for a few years as a TV weather-girl?

  • margaret says:

    Pretty graphs.

  • Mike O'Ceirin says:

    It has always struck me that the per capita argument can only proposed by someone that does not have a grip on reality. If we are all going to hell in a hand basket because of CO2 it does not matter where it comes from and it is the absolute amount that matters. Are then I forget it is a measure of how evil one is and not about a supposed solution.

  • David says:

    Don you ask

    “… just why is it that the Greens oppose shale oil and gas?”

    I think it is in part because of the potential to damage the water table. Many farmers hold similar concerns.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Indeed so, but to the best of my knowledge there has been no serious consideration of the pros and cons by the Greens or indeed anyone else. As with AGW, the scare has been enough. As for nuclear, it is beyond the pale, again without weighing the costs and benefits. I myself have had fears and doubts about nuclear energy just because of Hiroshima and later Chernobyl, so I do understand how people get to be that way. And we live in an electoral democracy, where politicians are reluctant to lead on issues like these ones.

      • DaveW says:

        Hi Don,
        If you mean the Australian Green party, then from their Climate Change and Energy Policy, they make it clear that they have drunk the entire flagon of ‘CO2 is evil’ koolaid:
        Therefore, any source of fossil hydrocarbons is bad, even if using them results in reduced emissions. They also demand [Aim 8] “Exclusion from the R[enewable]E[nergy]T[arget] of new large-scale hydroelectric and native forest fuelled power stations.”
        You have to search elsewhere for Nuclear, but to the Greens Nuclear = bombs, bombs are bad and they want no nuclear nowhere including [Aim 16] “Prohibition of the mining and export of thorium.”

        GMOs are verboten, and they also want to lower the voting age to 16 (rationale: less experience in the real world = more likely to believe their dogma?), have a lower population but more immigration, curtail the use of natural resources, have greater control over research funding (and apply the precautionary principle to any new technology ), and quite a number of other measures that range from inane to authoritarian. Apparently, they have no interest in logic or actually solving any problems like providing energy, food and other resources to the Australian people in a way that promotes social and economic equality.

  • Gus says:

    The fundamental reason why the “Greens” oppose shale oil and gas is because their real target is not climate at all, but oil and gas companies (throw all coal business into the pot for good measure). It is the companies they seek to destroy and the climate fairy tale is just a pretext. The reason, in turn, why they seek to destroy oil and gas companies, is because they see them as the foundation of wealth and prosperity around the world, but especially in the West, in which they are correct. So, if they can hit oil and gas, they pull down the whole of humanity with it, in particular all the democratic and prosperous societies of the West.

    The “Greens” hate humanity. There has never been such an anti-humanistic movement in humanity’s political history.

    From the point of view of climate science, it makes no sense at all to talk about human CO2 emissions, while ignoring natural emissions and natural CO2 absorption. Human emissions are only about 4% of all CO2 emissions–most of which comes from the ocean and from tropical jungles. CO2 is constantly being sequestered from the atmosphere, in many cases permanently, which is why there’s been progressively less and less of it, causing considerable problems to the biosphere, which has been on the verge of carbon-starvation throughout the last couple of million years. This is best seen in Rothman PNAS 2002, Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels for the last 500 million years, doi:10.1073/pnas.022055499. Recent excavations in Labrea tar pits found traces of carbon starvation in trees recovered, see Ward et al, PNAS 2014, doi:10.1073/pnas.0408315102.

    We are doing nature a huge favor, taking the stuff from under ground, burning it and returning it back to the atmosphere where it belongs.

    Without fully assessing the carbon cycle the accusations leveled against the US and Australia are groundless too. It turns out, for example, that the semi-arid eco-systems of the southern hemisphere–including Australia–absorb 60% of all carbon intake, see Poulter et al, Nature 2014, doi:10.1038/nature13376. So, if the country naturally sequesters into its biosphere all carbon emissions of its population and more, where’s the sin? Is it sinful to live better than other people? This better life is not something stolen from others. It’s been built by hard work of previous generations who wanted to make lives better for themselves and their children. It is maintained by the society’s productivity and thus its contribution to humanity, greater in proportion than is the case for poorer societies. Wealth is a marker of usefulness. You don’t become rich by doing nothing.

    But our knowledge of carbon cycle, and in particular of atmospheric CO2, where it comes from, where it goes, is very incomplete. A half of human emitted CO2, for example, vanishes without trace, and nobody knows where it goes. The Japanese GOSAT mission is the first to look at CO2 fluxes and what it has discovered is quite unexpected. After two previous unsuccessful launches, the NASA Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 has finally made it to orbit. But it won’t be until the early 2015 that the first results will become available. Even then, the data will have to be compared with data collected by other missions, because you can never really trust just the one source. The Europeans have their Copernicus satellite observation program. The satellites, Sentinel-1 through Sentinel-5, are only being developed. Sentinel 1A was launched in April this year, 1B will be launched next year. Sentinel-4 will be the one looking at atmospheric composition, and this one will be launched in 2020.

    Satellite atmospheric composition observations must be carried out for a couple of decades to give us a full picture of, e.g., the atmospheric carbon cycle. This is because the various natural phenomena that drive it, like the multi-decadal ocean oscillations, ENSO, etc., take decades to unfold. This whole “global warming” scare is, in fact, nothing other than a silly, irrational response to such a natural multi-decadal oscillation. That political movements and economic policies would arise out of this attests to humanity’s eternal gullibility.

  • Dasher says:

    Nice one Don……unless someone is cooking the books pretty straightforward. As someone who reads and listens to both the left and right on this subject it is impossible get a clear picture on what is happening …….so much misinformation, simply who do you believe? My position , climate change is real, don’t know if its serious, don’t think we are approaching it sensibly (vast sums to make little difference doesn’t make sense to me), like the idea of nuclear energy if for no other reason to buy time to get the response I wrote in a local rag, the risk of misuse of waste is vanishly small compared to the loss of the planet. Oh and the new fusion technology might be a silver bullet (views?). Bjorn Lomborgs article in the Oz today presented some very interesting observations on his views on renewables……if true the Greens and regrettably Labor should hang their heads in shame.

    • Gus says:

      “… it is impossible to get a clear picture on what is happening…”

      I would suggest two sources, just two. IPCC AR5 WG1 report, Climate Change 2013, The Physical Science Basis, 1552pp.” the technical part, is the first one. I’d skip the political summary, the first 46 pp., because it hugely distorts what is being said in the technical part, the reason being too many cooks, political representatives of various countries and activists mainly, who had redacted the summary. The second source is the NIPCC “Climate Change Reconsidered II, Physical Science,” September 2013. The second source constitutes the viable second opinion on the matter. Both reports are essentially literature reviews, since neither IPCC nor NIPCC do any scientific research themselves. Both are produced by scientists.

      On reading both documents, you will find a pleasing counterpoint and differing emphasis put on the papers reviewed. For example, where the NIPCC report would focus on a particular paper, say, about the ocean multidecadal oscillations, the IPCC report would mention it as well, but in, say, while discussing uncertainties. So the reports differ in what and how they draw from the existing body of literature.

      This is most enlightening, because it kills outright any idea that there is some kind of “consensus” amongst the practicing scientists. The NIPCC report has a very good introductory chapter about climate models. The IPCC report has a good chapter about uncertainties. This is also summarized in the Technical Summary, TS.6. But even here you need to be aware of certain biases. For example, in TS.6.2 the IPCC document says that “The cloud feedback is *likely* positive but its quantification remains difficult.” How *likely* though, it does not say. At present, clouds physics and chemistry is poorly understood, their modeling is primitive at best, and their feedback is most likely to be negative and strongly so. See, e.g., doi:10.1007/s00382-014-2174-9, doi:10.1016/j.atmosres.2014.05.023, doi:10.5194/acp-12-3791-2012, doi:10.1007/s00382-014-2158-9.

      The treatment of clouds in the models makes a huge difference. At any point of time, about half of the earth surface is covered with clouds.

      You can safely skip all else that’s written on climate change, that is, adaptation measures, mitigation measures, economic mechanisms invoked, supposed perils to third world nations, ocean acidification and other stuff like it. It’s all garbage.

      If the observed climate drift is all natural, none of the other stuff matters. The climate drifts always, this way, that way. The warmer periods are followed naturally by cooler ones. Solar scientists, for example, expect the current warm period to end quite quickly and pronounced cooling to assert itself by 2020 with a minimum by 2030.

      As of now, there is nothing whatsoever in scientific observations that would prove the slight warming of 0.7C, following the end of the Little Ice Age, which was undoubtedly related to diminished solar activity of Maunder and Dalton minima, to be in any way unnatural. Most of it occurred prior to 1960, when CO2 could not have been the factor, the slight rise after 1980, following the cooling of the 1970s, of the same slope as characterized temperature rise in the early 20th century, and likely related to the highest solar activity registered in 9000 years. As soon as the activity abated, the warming stopped. There hasn’t been any in more than 17 years now.

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