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Carbon Emissions Are Like Cholesterol

In seminars around the world, I have talked about how carbon emissions are analogous to fat in a diet. It is something we don’t want, but is often an unavoidable part of our daily lives. We can accumulate fat on our bodies in many ways, but mostly through bad habits. Although challenging, we can change our habits and slowly get rid of the fat. The same is true with carbon emissions: fossil fuels have been our bad habit. We can consciously wean ourselves off in a planned manner, or we may have to hastily quit due to supply shortages, energy and/or carbon price spikes, climate impacts, wars or any number of other reasons we cannot yet see.

The US Is ‘Fat’

The US society is significantly dependent on fossil fuels. Due to our habits and our infrastructure (water, transportation and energy systems), the US carbon emissions per person is about double that of other countries with the same quality of life and geography. So, the US citizen is relatively “carbon fat” when compared to other modern cultures like Japan or Germany. We are “obese” when compared to China and India whose carbon emissions are only 1/4th and 1/20th respectively. Considering that there are 4 times as many people in China (and roughly same for India), if they emitted as much carbon/person, the world would need far more resources than are available on this planet.

The Math

The US produces about 20 metric tons/ person and the Chinese produce about 5 mt/person. Considering there are about 4 times as many people in China, if each Chinese person consumed as much as the US citizen, the growth in world-wide emissions would be huge. For example, if each Chinese person added 15 metric tons (to equal the US person’s emissions), the relative difference would be about 4 X 15 = 60mt. This is a three-fold increase over current US emissions! Adding India in a similar fashion would mean an additional four-fold increase over current US emissions. So the net emissions growth would be equal to the impact of adding 7 more USAs to the planet… and this calculation does not consider population growth! Does anyone in the world still believe that planet Earth could sustain the pollution of 7 more carbon-intense USAs? Considering our limited bodies, is it plausible that an already obese person could add 7 times more fat and still survive?

But I Digress…

Carbon emissions are really more like cholesterol (or even cancer). Reducing something you can’t directly see/feel/understand on a daily basis is very difficult. It is also difficult to improve something today when you won’t see the benefits until much later, even decades. You don’t really feel the effects until it is too late.

Call to Action

We are dealing with a problem that is hardly understood and results from improvements may not be felt until much later. On the bright side, due to population differences, the impacts from improvements are also multiples of the effort. That is to say, if the industrialized countries can become “leaders” and develop technologies/methods/philosophies that reduce emissions, for each improvement, there could be a result that is seven times the effort (and that is just counting China and India)…

So it is either win big or lose big; the stakes are high. Big changes are needed and if the US doesn’t lead, who will?

One More Analogy…

If all countries were in a lifeboat, an observer could say that the US has become an expert at drilling big holes in the bottom. Now, other countries have learned how to make holes and the boat is sinking… and there are seven more people making big holes. If we don’t teach/lead how to patch holes (or not make more), the boat is doomed. The past does not matter… only how fast we can fill those holes.

The US must change its bad habits and teach others the good habits quickly, or we will be dealing with a much larger climate problem and scarcity of resources. We must lead, and there is value in leading. Carbon emissions are like cholesterol: difficult to see/control, but there is value in doing so.

Eric A. Woodroof, Ph.D., is the founder of Profitable Green Solutions, and is completely committed to helping businesses and organizations “go green,” while improving profits. His clients include government agencies, airports, utilities, cities, universities and foreign governments. Private clients include IBM, Pepsi, GM, Verizon, Hertz, Visteon, JP Morgan-Chase, and Lockheed Martin. For further exploration into financing techniques, such as loans, bonds, leases and performance contracting mechanisms, click here to watch a free recorded webinar.

Reposted with permission from Profitable Green Solutions.

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14 thoughts on “Carbon Emissions Are Like Cholesterol

  1. In your article, you say, “Considering that there are 4 times as many people in China (and roughly same for India), if they emitted as much carbon/person, the world would need far more resources than are available on this planet.” Aren’t you mixing two things? We can and have been learning how to ‘reduce, reuse, & recycle’ and this is a good thing. Resources need to be managed. But the carbon thing you and others keep throwing out there is just not sensible. Talk about the mismanagement of resources! How much has been spent trying to convince the world that plant food is warming the earth? How many trips in his private jet has Al Gore taken to fly around putting fear in the hearts of folks with bad science? How many meetings has he held in his huge mansions to discuss how to rip off the world using carbon credits? What a con! Carbon levels have risen while the earth has stayed the same temp for the past 15 years. How do you explain that? Enough with the carbon. Let’s go after silicon. Makes as much sense. No more sand! The beaches are ruining the environment!

  2. A really interesting piece on carbon emissions. I feel one solution could be the carbon tax that had recently been introduced in Australia. There needs to a top down approach for companies to keep a check on their emissions. Linking it directly to their balance sheet might be initiating point.

  3. The opinions by ‘Pa’ are just plain wrong: “the carbon thing you and others keep throwing out there is just not sensible”. In fact, the hypothesis of AGW via CO2 and other GHG emissions; has been supported by the vast majority of the scientific work, and by the vast majority of the scientists doing that work. It is probably among the more ‘sensible’ things currently out there in the public arena. Compare it to the agenda of climate denialists, who have extremely little significant scientific support to back up their ‘arguments’.

  4. Doug, first…opinions, by definition, can’t be wrong…facts can, though. So, please answer my question above about the AGW “fact” that the earth will warm as carbon levels rise…”Carbon levels have risen while the earth has stayed the same temp for the past 15 years. How do you explain that?” Didn’t Jones (or was it Mann?) say that their model upon which AGW is based does not allow for a period of 15 years in which there is no warming while carbon levels rise? Or did they go in and tweak their super-secret formulas to allow for whatever number of years they need? And please don’t give me anything from Hansen for 2 reasons…1, he won’t use satelite data and insists on using land based stations even though, or because, the satelites show no warming, and, 2, he stated that the mission of NASA, since Obama appointed him, was to make the Muslim world feel better about themselves. It is my opinion, anything he says should be removed from all serious scientific debate as those 2 points make him the puppet of a politician and an ideology. So, Doug, back to my question…how is it that we aren’t warming?

  5. The answer to your question is easy. First off, the fact of the matter is that 15 years is far too short a time in which to measure climate change. ‘Climate’, by definition, refers to average weather patterns over decades to centuries. Focusing on 15 years is like looking for an elephant inside a matchbox; and declaring that elephants don’t exist just because you didn’t find one in there. Secondly, denialists such as yourself often forget the fact that anthropogenic climate influences are drivers that are superimposed on top of pre-existing natural climate drivers. The past 15 years can easily represent a short period in which some natural drivers are partially cancelling the effects of the anthropogenic drivers – but that state of affairs wil not last. The tidal wave of human GHG emissions will continue, and will inevitably drive average long-term global temperatures upwards.

  6. My thought exactly. I didn’t make up what I said. It was Phil Jones, 7/5/2009, in an email:
    From: Phil Jones [p.jones@uea.ac.uk] Sent: Thu 07/05/2009 15:17
    To: Lockwood, M (Mike)
    Subject: RE: Quick reply and another quick question ….
    Attached a paper and a box in a longer article that do similar things to what you’ve done.
    So I think it’s been done, unless you think otherwise.
    The box is on page S20-21 of the bigger pdf. This is part of a much bigger article on the State of the Climate System 2008 which will appear later in the year.
    Bottom line – the no upward trend has to continue for a total of 15 years before we get worried. We’re really counting this from about 2004/5 and not 1998. 1998 was warm due to the El Nino.

    Here’s the link to the full email chain to give you context:
    Also, please explain the 1930’s which set records that hold to this day all over NA. Please explain the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Warming Period. Please explain why neither the Chinese scientist (Liu Y) study (Oct 2011) or the “Yamal and Regional Chronologies” study could find no hockey stick in their studies.
    And I was wondering what you thought of the father of the Gaia theory, James Lovelock, backing off his stance on AGW.

  7. Wow, what alot of fluff you’ve packed into just one comment.

    So first off, without investigating any of the larger context of the email you quote; I can observe that the author explicitly states that the no warming trend in question starts in 2004/5 – which, according to my math, currently puts us just halfway into a 15 year long period. So check back with me in another 7 years, assuming the trend continues. Secondly, there’s no real magic about 15 years anyway. As I stated above, 15 years is too short a time to draw any conclusions from. Anthropogenic GHG emissions are superimposed on top of pre-existing natural climate drivers, which always fluctuate up and down. Anthropogenic emissions, on the other hand, represent an entirely new class of climate driver, since it is a one-sided driver – only pushing total heat energy up, but never driving it down. So I’d expect a fluctuating global temperature record with an underlying upward trend. Fluctuating due to the fluctuating natural drivers, and an overall upwards trend due to the one-sided anthropogenic contribution. And that’s exactly what the record shows over the past century or so – fluctuations up and down, but with a distinct upward trend. Independent evidence also shows how the upwards trend fits quite nicely with independent measurements of anthropogenic GHG contributions.

    The scientific evidence is against your opinions. And it is in favor of the AGW hypothesis.

  8. And the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Warming Period simply represent more of those natural climate driver fluctuations. Their existence proves nothing about AGW, either for or against the hypothesis.

  9. Doug, you might want to reread our conversation and alos the entire email chain link I provided…the point in the emails is that these are the very folks (IPCC scientists) upon whose work you and others base your “opinions” on AGW and they state that 15 years is enough, not 30 years as you said.
    And it seems so convenient that you can superimpose AGW over “natural drivers” to explain ANY change in climate that doesn’t fit all of the crazy predictions that have been made by you and your fellow faithful.
    A lot of “fluff”? I asked you questions that you don’t want to answer directly; you just list the approved talking points that you obviously believe. But why avoid my questions? Why not read thru all of the emails and see what these folks actually say behind our backs to manipulate the “scientific evidence” you seem to not even question.

  10. First, I never mentioned 30 years as a magic number. Stop trying to put words in my mouth. And there is nothing “convenient” about the observation that anthropogenic GHG emissions are being superimposed on all the natural drivers of climate that previously existed – that is a simple statement of undeniable fact.

    I answered your question about the 15 year trends. I addressed your questions about the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Warming Period. And you still have the attitude that ” I asked you questions that you don’t want to answer directly”? I call that sort of comment even more fluff.

    And as far as questioning scientific evidence goes, what about your penchant for totally ignoring, dissing, and rejecting the vast majority of solid scientific work that has taken place; that clearly supports the AGW hypothesis? Instead, you simply fall back on quotes from the tiny minority (a mere 2% – 3% of the top researchers in the field) who sometimes raise questions about the hypothesis or the supporting data – questions which are invariably answered satisfactorily by others, and questions which do not provide any convincing evidence against the hypothesis. How you deniers stick to your long-empty guns.

  11. You’re right. My bad on the 30 years…that was from a different source. Your response on the MWP and LIA was just “natural drivers” again. You never responded about the 1930’s…but let me guess…natural drivers. So, natural drivers caused the earth temps to stay level during the past 15 years even though we had rising CO2 levels. In the 1970s, while CO2 was rising and the earth was cooling, we had guys like you shouting Global Cooling! Ice age! If I had known what I know now thanks to you, I would have shouted back, “Natural drivers!” AGW predicted arctic sea ice as disappearing year after year until its all gone. We have set records in 2010 and 2012 for sea ice staying longer and reaching farther. Is that natural drivers, too? Or are you going to tell me the increasing arctic sea ice thing is weather, not climate (even though decreases in arctic sea ice year on year was part of the predictions from AGWers based on the mysterious AGW scientific model)? That would be funny because I saw one of your AGW scientists saying that the month of March 2012, which set all sorts of records for high temps, was cause for serious concern and indicative of what AGWers have been warning about. Do you agree with that? If so, then it would seem to me that it’s not just the weather if it fits the AGWers’ agenda, eh? Here’s the thing, Doug. You guys started this whole thing about the AGW. You are blaming man for something that is so vague and so far out in the future that you could claim anything (and you do). Man is innocent until proven guilty and it must be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. There are a lot of shadows. You are the ones that started this and have been holding us all hostage with your empty guns…and we are foolish enough to let you get away with it.

  12. So your whole diatribe based on your false claim about increasing arctic sea ice; is laughably irrelevant.

    And I continue to stand by my statement that 15 years is far too short a time to say anything at all about climate change. Naturally that applies to single month temperature records as well.

    Here’s the thing, Pa. There is nothing vague about AGW. It is real, it is advancing, and the worst effects are yet to come. That’s what the science says. You know, the science that you continue to ignore. The science that you continue to reject. The science that you continue to misunderstand.

  13. The second link I provide above contains this quote, with respect to arctic sea ice extent in september: “The last five summers (2007-2011) have experienced the five lowest minima in the satellite record, and the past decade (2002-2011) has experienced nine of the ten lowest minima”. The statement by Pa about how we have “set records in 2010 and 2012 for sea ice staying longer and reaching farther”; is completely false.

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