Americans make up 5 percent of the world’s population, and with that we manage to crank out 25 percent of the greenhouse gases that have us hurtling toward climate catastrophe.
So, we’re the worst offenders, you’d think. But no. That would be Australia, where the per capita greenhouse gas production rates are even higher than here in the U-S of A.
The report from Down Under definitely inspires a sense of deja vu:
Like the U.S. plan, Australia’s climate bill has been criticized by green groups for its relatively weak carbon-emission reduction targets and generous industry allowances, which many argue could make it ineffective.
At the same time, representatives from industry have argued Australia’s plan goes too far, threatening jobs and adding new costs for consumers and businesses at a time when the economy is just recovering from a global recession.
Discussion in both capitals comes as negotiators from across the globe prepare to descend late this year on Copenhagen to try to come to an agreement on an international climate-change treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol.
What makes it difficult for the United States and Australia — not to mention China — to agree to strict limits on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases is the countries’ abundance of coal. Coal’s about as bad as a fuel gets, greenhouse gas-wise.
The Australians are also outdoing us on the limp-wristedness of their “fix.” They’re aimed more or less at a 5 percent cut in greenhouse gas levels by 2020 — off of 2000 emission levels. The Waxman-Markey bill narrowly passed by the U.S. House of Representatives calls for a 17 percent cut from 2005 levels by 2020, and 83% by 2050. (If those reductions were based on 1990 emission levels, we’d be getting close to what many scientists say is necessary to put the brakes on really bad effects of climate change. But they’re not, and we’re not.)
Could there be a technological fix? Well, just the other day we called carbon capture and storage a “somewhere-over-the-rainbow technology.” And we stand by that. For a detailed look at what’s going on with that, check out Steven Mufson’s recent piece for The Washington Post:
Carbon capture and storage remains the elusive holy grail of the coal industry, an idea that could contain the damage inflicted by coal-burning power plants but a technology that remains expensive, energy intensive and largely untested. Even optimists say it will not be commercially available for another six to 10 years. Pessimists say it might take much longer, and may never be ready for widespread use without attaching a punishingly high price to carbon.
Meanwhile, down in Australia, something really interesting is happening: Exxon-Mobil is actually talking up a carbon tax! That’s according to a worthwhile blow-by-blow on the Australian parliamentary maneuvering by Environmental Leader (“The executive’s daily green briefing.”)
You don’t hear industry talking that way much here in the United States, even though Dateline Earth and others have pointed out that a carbon tax for at least some applications — say, transportation? — could help send price signals that actually work. So, will Exxon be arguing for a carbon tax in the United States when the Senate takes up climate change? Stay tuned…