Saturday, 2 July 2022

The "per capita emissions" statistic

which is quoted as being "among the highest" (and sometimes just "the highest") in the world for Downunder residents has to stop.  Like many other statistics it is being abused.  Even if it was correct it would be wrong to use it.

I was heavily criticised a couple of days ago by someone who considers himself an expert on all things "climate change". Even his like-minded friends are tired of his constant talk about the topic. Yes, it is an important topic but there are other important things too. 

He caught me as I was unlocking the trusty trike and told me I needed to do even more. Why was I buying that plastic box? I should be recycling a cardboard box. Mmm...I don't think a cardboard one would last long in hot water.  He still wasn't listening.

I wish he would listen. There are reasons why our per capita emissions are so high in Downunder. It isn't because we are being irresponsible or we don't care. 

I have tried explaining this to people before. I live on the largest island in the world. It is also the smallest continent. It is also the driest continent. It has a population which is much, much smaller than that of California. Our population comes in somewhere between those of Texas and Florida. The vast majority of the population live around the coastline. There are huge distances which need to be travelled. In the past, thinking we have lots of space, major cities have spread outwards so even everyday travel involves distances. To do that many people use cars.  That adds significantly to emissions.

There is also the issue of supplying power - an essential in the modern world - to this spread out population. Power plants are expensive to build and providing the means of transmission is also expensive.  The smaller the population the more expensive it becomes. Until recently many people lived in single dwellings on blocks of land isolated from everyone else. It is still what most people want if they can afford it. It is still the way those planning expansion think.  Each of those dwellings needs to be cooled in summer and warmed in winter. Many of those dwellings also have two or more cars associated with them.

I could go on. Yes, we need to change the way we live. Most people will probably agree with that but there are also the issues of geography and population. If we all lived much closer together then our "per capita" level of emissions would drop and drop dramatically.  Our population is really very small. Our climate is generally such that if heating and cooling demands were less and car use was cut dramatically we would be one of the lowest polluters on the planet. Unfortunately that is not likely to happen.

The idea that we can reach the magical "net zero" through the use of renewable sources alone may or may not be achievable. Demands that we do it based on a "per capita" emissions statistic  do not take into account all the things which contribute to that statistic.  Perhaps it is time to rethink the way we use the statistics...and of course change the way we live.

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