A scientific focus on USA

This video was held by Michael McCracken in 2007. He is Chief Scientist in the Climate Change Institute in Washington DC, and I think it gives an excellent overview on the USA’s situation regarding Kyoto protocol. Kyoto protocol was international agreement, with serious and planned action for different kind of countries, were developing countries wouldn’t be pressed. So, why did the US walk away? The reasons that the government pointed out were the following:

-Developing countries don’t take action.

Developing countries pollution involve a small fraction, and even more, that energy is used just to try to survive. It was agreed that when those countries got developed, they would take the sames steps the rich ones should take.

-Scientific uncertainty.

Even if scepticals do exist, 150 countries ratified the agreement, and there’s really something more than just “green” measures in the protocol. It would mean a united action against a real threat.

-Economy is growing too fast, need to much energy

So, we have too much money, and we also expect poor countries to do it? Where’s the point there?

During the negotiations, it came clear that USA would have to face some problems that other developed countries didn’t have to.

It would hard to implement KP compared to Europe, because even if Europe’s new investments are replacing old sources of power supply, american population is growing 1% per year, and so it is necessary to keep all energy sources to cover the demand for more people. If carbon power plants were turned off, it would cause of shortages.

This could’ve been a valid argument, to explain US population and developed countries the situation. Another argument that the president pointed out was that we couldn’t do anything. Indeed efficiency improving is possible, but emissions still going up, because the government’s policy after resigning the protocol was a non doing anything attitude.

Not really focusing on the scientific and expert arguments, and this turning into not well based argument, is really hurting the real issue of the challenge we face and the things should be made.

Who will save us?

Kyoto protocol’s attemps to stop pollution have been in vain, lets assume this fact. Moreover, the economic crisis the world is facing has moved this imminent disaster away from the collective conscience.

Even when economy seemed to be healthy, many countries refused to renounce to any benefit. Now that we struggle with speculation and the so called “markets”, polar bears, trees and so on have been definitely removed from the average citizen’s mind.

From my point of view, there’s little economists can do about this, because any attempt to cut emissions has led to a cut in the income of companies, and this would be really traumatic for them. For example, when Kyoto protocol established the emissions trading system in Europe, Japan, Australia and some other countries, they came out with a way of avoiding any loss, by buying cheap carbon “credits” to companies in Africa.

So, who will save us? Is there anything engineering could do? I really think that future and present engineers have the key to face climate change, for the following reasons.

Engineers discovered renewable energies, invented the electric car, made low consumption machines, and have the knowledge to create new ways of transport, industry and the capability to replace nowadays technology. Engineers should provide society with more tools to satisfy Kyoto protocol’s demands.

Is facing global warming expensive?

The maddening answer is yes, it would cost an incredible amount of effort and money to invest in this issue. This video makes an economic analysis of the most serious problems of humanity.

Surprisingly, global warming would be the most inefficient way of doing good to the world. I appreciate the economic focus of this speech, but I also hold a strong clash with his arguments.

Is it impossible to solve all the problems at the same time? It seems that our capability to change the world is limited by the amount of money available. From my point of view, and in contradiction with the best economists in the world, reducing emissions should be among the first things to take into account. I’m not talking about spending correctly, but making profit out of it.

Saving energy of all kinds by promoting efficiency at home, car, industry and many other polluters’ consumption, would involve a huge amount of savings, that could be spent in such other critical problems mentioned in the video.

All in all, kyoto protocol talks about a change in our conception of our surroundings. Mankind must take care of itself, and what a better thing to do it  than facing HIV, malaria and so on, with all the resources available. Kyoto protocol should be seen as a tool to stop global warming, but also as a way of avoiding wasting resources, in order to make other things that are really worth the effort.

The Origins

This link shows the commitment that was reached by the United Nations in 1998.

The most interesting paragraph lists the main greenhouse effect gases. This list provides a starting point, which was the objective of those countries that took the initiative in the conference. They were conscious of the confrontation that the agreement would create in terms of economic interests, and it was essential to be specific.

Once the enemy was defined, it would be easier to identify its origins, so that, revoking to some privileges, the world would continue livable for many years to come.

However, nowadays, there isn’t enough concern of the size of the problem, and we continue ignoring the nature’s warnings. As long as we maintain our emissions, I’m sure future generations will have to pay our bill to Earth.

The graph below shows the situation when the protocol was signed. Was the protocol too late? Anyway, it is clear that great harm has already been done.

To conclude, the protocol pointed out the greatest challenges we should face. Here is the list, copied from the original document:

Fuel combustion
Energy industries
Manufacturing industries and construction
Other sectors

Fugitive emissions from fuels
Solid fuels
Oil and natural gas

Industrial processes
Mineral products
Chemical industry
Metal production
Other production
Production of halocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride
Consumption of halocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride

Enteric fermentation
Manure management
Rice cultivation
Agricultural soils
Prescribed burning of savannas
Field burning of agricultural residues

Solid waste disposal on land
Wastewater handling
Waste incineration