John Maynard Keynes once said something rather famous about changing your mind when the facts change. This advice, while sound, is not easy for all of us to follow. Some can go decades without checking to see if new facts contradict their beliefs. A few of course can go their entire lives. Consider media coverage of the German Green Party’s proposal that there should be a “meat free” day at public canteens. The image of Germans as voracious meat eaters appears to be fixed into our perceptions. However all decent statistics of per capita meat consumption show that Germany is now a middle ranking European country as far as the ingestion of beef, pork and chicken is concerned.
The same is very true for the inability of people to keep up with the rapid growth of both energy consumption and carbon emissions in China. Here is a quote from a story in this week’s Guardian newspaper:
“The newly wealthy elites of China, India and Brazil are flying more, buying more cars and otherwise fuelling the consumption that is driving climate change. But their per capita greenhouse gas emissions are still below those in America and Europe – a gap that China and India regularly cite at climate talks to deflect pressure to cut emissions.”
When challenged on Twitter whether it was actually true that China’s per capita emissions were lower than Europe’s the author of the piece responded “No contest.” The contest however appears to be rather closely fought. Let’s compare China’s per capita carbon dioxide emissions in 2012 with those in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, and the EU as a whole. Below are the 2012 estimates from the EDGAR database.
Instead of there being “no contest”, China’s per capita carbon dioxide emissions, at 7.1 tonnes, are only marginally lower than the EU average, at 7.4 tonnes. And they already are higher than France, Italy and Spain’s. China’s CO2 emissions are also rising by over 6 per cent each year, while the EU’s are falling. Therefore we can be highly confident that China will overtake the EU in per capita emissions either last year or next year. We can also be fairly certain that it will overtake the United Kingdom in per capita emissions this year In fact by the end of the decade per capita carbon dioxide emissions will be higher in China than in almost every European country, on current trends.
For various reasons people ignore the rapid growth of China’s carbon emissions – parochialism, an unwillingness to admit that the West alone cannot “save the world”, or a fear that climate change “skeptics” can use it as a talking point . However the facts are the facts.