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Outgreening Europe



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The New York Times published a surprising op-ed yesterday, admitting that the U.S. is actually better at something than Europe is. And it’s a surprising something, too: environmentalism. Specifically:

But while environmentalists have lamented America’s slow response to climate change, the United States is actually on a much better path than Europe. It is making the transition from coal to gas, it is investing in new energy technologies, and its carbon emissions are falling faster than Europe’s.

The writer, Oxford professor Dieter Helm, points out that one of the reasons this is occurring is a serious flaw in the way the Kyoto protocols were structured:

By the standards of the Kyoto accord, Europe looks good. But those standards measure each country’s production — not consumption — of carbon. This has created counterproductive incentives. If steel plants are closed in Britain and replaced by steel imports from China, Britain counts that as a success. Between 1990 and 2005, Britain’s carbon production fell by about 15 percent — but its carbon consumption rose by 19 percent, when imports were counted. The rest of Europe has been deindustrializing too, and this has also encouraged energy-intensive production to move overseas.

The U.S.’s numbers reflect similar issues, of course, but has seen its carbon consumption and production rise at slower rates or decrease thanks to the transition from coal to natural gas. PricewaterhouseCoopers released its annual carbon report (basically a yearly IPCC update) last week, which was widely cited as more evidence that catastrophic global warming is on its way: Even by the misleading production metrics, the rate at which wealthy nations’ carbon production has dropped isn’t nearly fast enough, in their opinion, to keep warming to moderate levels (2 degrees Celsius over the next century). They explain: “Even doubling our current rate of decarbonisation, would still lead to emissions consistent with 6 degrees of warming by the end of the century. To give ourselves a more than 50% chance of avoiding 2 degrees will require a six-fold improvement in our rate of decarbonisation.” In fact, logically, the necessary rate of decarbonization is increasing every year that the world misses the necessary targets.

The PWC report, though does reflect the same point as Helm’s op-ed, that the U.S. is doing about as well in reducing its carbon intensity as Europe despite significantly less substantial government efforts. U.S. carbon emissions are at a 17-year low, and from 2000–2011, the U.S.’s carbon intensity (carbon production over energy consumed) dropped 2.1 percent, compared to the EU’s 2.3 percent. PWC calls the natural-gas revolution “a necessary but not sufficient move to the low carbon challenge.” Those who really want to do something, then, about the dire projections the PWC report and others make, it seems, would do well to embrace their inner frackers in addition to increasing their other efforts (Helm also recommends a carbon consumption tax).



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