A Good News/Bad News Post. Can You Tell The Difference?

Well, the numbers are in. And 2012 offers a bit of good news, for those who like their good news heavily upholstered by depressing caveats.

Global CO2 emissions have reduced when considered as a percentage of global GDP, to a lower rate than any time in recent history. Now, that doesn’t mean that we’ve actually reduced our greenhouse emissions. It just means that the rate of increase is slowing.

Some analysts think this indicates better things to come; the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre recently released a report which optimistically speculates that this “…may be the first sign of a more permanent slowdown in the increase of global CO2 emissions, and ultimately of declining global emissions.”

2012’s greenhouse emissions went up by only 1.1 percent; the average increase since 2000 is almost 3 percent. That’s good. Of course, they still went up. That’s bad. 2012 global GDP went up 3.5 percent, and it’s a good thing that CO2 releases are less strongly correlated with these economic measures. That will lend force to those who argue correctly that environmental responsibility is not economically destructive.

“The three biggest emitters – China, the US and the European Union – which account for more than half of global emissions, all show this decoupling effect. The most dramatic drop was in the US, which cut CO2 emissions by 4 per cent last year, despite its economy growing by 2.8 per cent. US emissions are now 12 per cent below their 2007 peak, and back to levels of two decades ago, the US Energy Information Administration confirms. It says a big switch from coal to shale gas in 2012 was accompanied by a 5 per cent reduction in the energy needed to create each dollar of wealth.

The EU continues its decade-long fall in emissions. Its GDP might have dropped by 0.3 per cent in 2012, but emissions fell even further – by 1.6 per cent. The most significant change may be in China. After rising by about 10 per cent a year for a decade, its emissions are now almost twice those of the US. But in 2012, they grew by only 3 per cent, while its economy grew by almost 8 per cent. China still gets two-thirds of its electricity from coal, but it is shifting to natural gas, hydroelectricity, and nuclear.

“These are very positive signs,” says Niklas Höhne of energy analysts Ecofys in Utrecht, the Netherlands. “Decoupling is definitely happening. We are seeing it in a lot of the world.” Link

More reliance on renewable energy has been critical in making this happen. That’s good.

But the economic model which underlies “global GDP” is still fatally flawed. While it’s important that carbon emissions are decoupling from Gross Domestic Product, our notion of a healthy economy must be “decoupled” from the fetishizing of growth. “The economy” is Newspeak for our collective addiction to unfettered consumption, and it’s consuming the planet we live on.

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