Friday, 22 October 2021

Last on the Climate Council's list?

This was almost gleefully reported in the media. Downunder is doing so badly on our efforts towards saving the planet that we come last on the list of thirty-one developed countries! Shock! Horror! This is dreadful!

Or is it? The Climate Council report comes in part from figures from the WHO. It uses something called "per capita" emissions. It is also a glorious example of how such statistics can be abused for ideological purposes.

I am not going to say we don't need to improve our environmental efforts because we could improve them and we should improve them. But are we really the bottom of the list? Let's look at it in another way.

Downunder produces around 1% of the world's emissions of that nasty little greenhouse gas. Yes, 1%. We do that despite being the world's smallest continent (or largest island). Why?

Downunder has a small population relative to land mass. We are edging towards 26m as I write this - around 25.8 m. The entire country has a population about 13m less than the state of California. Most people live in the eastern states of Downunder and most people live on the coast or within a short distance of it. They live in cities and towns that have sprawled out for long distances. The city I live in has spread north and south and, more slowly, into the low range of hills behind us.

The idea of a single unit dwelling on a small piece of land is still seen as the desirable way to live - but you need space for that. You need services and, above all, you need power. That power is expensive to provide and more power is used.

People travel long distances to work. Many of them use cars to do so. In some cases they have no choice. Public transport here is not quick. It is not convenient. Early planners did not foresee the present problems.  All this requires more power too.  People who live 50km from their place of employment are going to use more power than people who live 5km.

We also need to move things around the country. Transporting goods and services, power and water, adds to emissions too. 

It would require a massive amount of change to reduce the per capita emissions rate. People would need to use their cars far less. They would need to live closer to their place of employment (or work from home). We would need to isolate areas of the country and reduce the amount transported in and out. 

These things aren't going to happen in a hurry - if at all. But Downunderites do use alternative energy sources. This state could run on alternative energy sources up to a point - but at a cost it can't sustain in the long term. It's something we need to work on.

We need to work on the whole problem. It is going to be very hard work. People will need to radically change the way they live and work.

At the same time we need to recognise that simply using  "per capita" as a means of measuring performance is not valid. It isn't helpful. It doesn't take into account all the variables. 

Given the landscape is Downunder really doing so badly? Isn't it time to include a country like China - still called "developing" - in the statistics and demand more from them?  

No comments: