Bureaucrats and politicians from all over the world have gathered at the COP24 U.N. climate change summit in Poland to negotiate CO2 emission reductions. The foreign minister of the Pacific island of Vanuatu, Ralph Regenvanu, blamed America for all ills:
“It pains me deeply to have watched the people of the United States and other developed countries across the globe suffering the devastating impacts of climate-induced tragedies, while their professional negotiators are here at COP24 putting red lines through any mention of loss and damage in the Paris guidelines and square brackets around any possibility for truthfully and accurately reporting progress against humanity’s most existential threat.”
U.N. General Secretary António Guterres joined the doomsday choir: “Our grandchildren will not forgive us if runaway climate change is our heritage to them.”
…another two billion people will be added to the world population by 2050…
These are strong words, but are they true? Assuming for a minute that disaster indeed looms if the world does not reduce carbon emissions, is the U.S. to blame? Is America preventing progress?
It all depends on how you measure things. Don’t be surprised to learn that the metrics are rigged against the United States. If you look at CO2 emissions per capita, the United States is the world’s greatest emitter, apart from a few tiny Middle Eastern oil states. However, that metric excludes the most important carbon source: babies.
That may sound odd, but when a country has a birth rate above roughly 2.1 children per woman, it experiences population growth, and when those children grow up, they consume fossil fuel. In the last 50 years or so, the West has not grown in population due to low birth rates. The only source of growth in those countries has been due to immigration from third world countries.
The developing world, by contrast, has had, and is still experiencing, a baby boom. It’s slowing down, but according to the U.N.’s best guesstimates, another two billion people will be added to the world population by 2050, mostly in poor countries. Those extra two billion will emit far more CO2 than the current U.S. population. Per capita emissions assessments are designed to ignore population growth.
This graph from the World Bank illustrates that population matters. China has overtaken America as the largest carbon emitter; India doubled its emissions in only 15 years and will soon be the world’s second largest emitter. The data only goes to 2014, and since then, U.S. emissions have continued to drop while both China and India have skyrocketed.
China has been building a major coal power plant every week since the turn of the millennium, whereas the U.S. has been converting to natural gas, a material less rich in carbon. The Paris agreement allows China to build coal plants at an insane pace up until 2030. So, who’s the bad boy again?
Industrialized nations and the developing world have taken two very different paths. When America and Europe gained wealth, they started investing in roads, cars, buildings, education, and leisure, instead of having many children. Third world countries, by contrast, have spent most of their economic growth on producing ever more babies, who grow up in poverty.
These choices led to high per capita emissions in the West but high total emissions in the developing world. It is a gross injustice to punish Western nations, and the United States in particular, for having prioritized wealth for a few children than poverty for many.