Global warming and my mother
November 8, 2006 9:50 AM   Subscribe

Help me ruin my mother's day: Data that compares the carbon dioxide emissions between California and China/India.

My mother is a Republican (boo, hiss) and believes that any local action taken by U.S. states to curb carbon dioxide emissions would be pointless, as countries like China and India would flout any international agreements and end up hurting U.S. businesses because they would be hobbled by over-regulation.

I need to burst my mother's Limbaugh-influenced bubble and convince her that doing something about global warming would is a Good Thing.

I have a simple hypothesis: That her state, California, emits more carbon dioxide than China and India combined.

Unfortunately, I have no data to back up this claim.

Hive mind, help me ruin my mother's day.
posted by frogan to Science & Nature (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I haven't scoured the site in great detail, but has statistics and information about all kinds of pollution across the U.S. Hopefully that could give you a head start.
posted by DrSkrud at 9:59 AM on November 8, 2006

Well, there's a great possiblility that you are very wrong. I'm at work and will google-fu this business further later, but according to the couple of mundane articles I could find, China alone produced 2.2 billion tons of CO2 in 1994, while California produced 425 millions tons in 1995. I couldn't find any data on India in the ten minute break I'm taking

That data is over a decade old, but I'm sure the trends continue today.
posted by Willie0248 at 10:04 AM on November 8, 2006

According to this link from the "Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center" (which appears to maybe be part of DOE), China emitted 1131 million metric tons of CO2 in 2003.

According to this link from the state of California web site, California emitted 362.82 metric tons of CO2 in 1999.
posted by Doofus Magoo at 10:08 AM on November 8, 2006

I think you're more wrong than your mom on this one. China and India combined are higher than all of the US much less just CA, and their output is accelerating as they become more industrialized. (charts)
posted by willnot at 10:18 AM on November 8, 2006

Sorry - those charts weren't all about carbon emissions. Together it looks like they're just slightly lower than US total output.
posted by willnot at 10:20 AM on November 8, 2006

This Wikipedia page suggests that the U.S. emitted 5,872,278,000 metric tons of CO2 in 2002, while India and China combined emitted 4,734,029,000 metric tons. Which means that for your statement to be true, California would have to account for more than 80% of total U.S. CO2 emissions. That doesn't seem likely. More recent data might tell a different story, but my guess is that India and China have increased their emissions at a faster rate than California, thus further weakening your point.

Maybe choose a different, but equally horrifying statistic? I'm sure someone more informed about global warming than I am could help you think of something.
posted by slenderloris at 10:20 AM on November 8, 2006

Best answer: There's not a chance that your hypothesis is correct.

What you might point out to your mother is that the comparion with India and China is the same excuse given in the UK for why it's not worth cutting back, and in plenty of other US states, EU Member States and other major greenhouse gas emitters. Put them all together and pretty soon you have a big heap of people whose emissions outweigh whatever it is that China or India are putting out.

You might also mention that the western nations are the ones that have been responsible for the vast majority of historic emissions. It's down to us that the carbon dioxide concentrations have gone up from 280ppm to 380 ppm since the industrial revolution started and much of the prety much certain expansion up to 450 ppm with the 2C rise this implies will also be down to us.

Your mother (and most of us) have actually not been paying our way through our lives. We've made things and used them and thrown them away without paying the full costs. instead og getting rid of all our waste safely we've let it go up the chimney, into the atmospehre to cause damage to other people. That damage includes the people who will die as a result of climate change, the people who will otherwise suffer, those whose land will be underwater or less fruitful and plenty of others.

Further arguments might include the idea that by getting in first with tight environmental regulations its possible to get a jump on developing new technology earliest and gain a competitive advantage over later suppliers which means net economic and social benefits for the state. This is actually known in some parts of the literature as the 'California Effect' because its apparent in the state already and the state is ideally suited to working in this way, i.e. high tech industrial base with plenty of different regulatory constituencies to sell to.
posted by biffa at 10:24 AM on November 8, 2006

I saw these two articles on Yahoo! News yesterday:

China to pass US greenhouse gas levels by 2010

China to Pass U.S. in 2009 in Emissions

NY Time is login free for now - anyone know how to fix it for later?
posted by niles at 10:27 AM on November 8, 2006

Here's a more permanent link to that Times article:

China to Pass U.S. in 2009 in Emissions

[Niles, I used the New York Times Link Generator]
posted by bcwinters at 10:56 AM on November 8, 2006

Best answer: I'm no scientist but maybe it would be helpful to compare per capita greenhouse gas emissions? It seems like from that perspective the US is way outdoing China.
posted by loiseau at 11:16 AM on November 8, 2006

Best answer: I'm no scientist but maybe it would be helpful to compare per capita greenhouse gas emissions? It seems like from that perspective the US is way outdoing China.

Exactly. According to this site, in 2001, the US per capita emissions of CO2 were about 15x that of China and 20x times that of India. There's is also of course the niggling little fact that the US are reponsible of about 75% of total GHG that have been in the atmosphere in the past 2 centuries.

But then again, by your mother's argument, minimum wage should be brought down at 0,75$ a day to preverse US competitiveness.
posted by bluefrog at 11:42 AM on November 8, 2006

I think biffa and loiseau have it. Historically, the US is the biggest polluter, per capita. At least according the Population and the Environment course I took in college a few years ago.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 11:48 AM on November 8, 2006

Chelle Rajan:
--what really matters for climate change is the cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide over the course of a century or so. Therefore, while it is important to reduce the rate of emissions growth from these large and rapidly industrializing countries, their share of cumulative emissions may not start to matter for another century or so. The US and Europe, on the other hand, carry a much bigger burden of cumulative emissions (42 percent) than do India and China combined (10 percent), and it is largely the impacts of those emissions that we are witnessing today. In fact, the US and Europe will continue to have the largest share of cumulative emissions of greenhouse gases for the foreseeable future.
posted by russilwvong at 3:22 PM on November 8, 2006

Just anecdotal response here but...

Here in China on EVERY house and EVERY building there are solar collectors. Most light bulbs are florecent. Beijing has a city wide central heating plant that most central business district buildings are hooked into. They recycle everything, including picking through every bag of garbage that leaves your house for a discarded paper or organic material to compost. China has about 10 cars per thousand people compared to California that has one car for every two people. The cars are also much smaller (think Japanese/Korean models) on average. The average home size in Beijing is 600 square feet, in LA its 3600.

If she needs further evidence of any of this I can gladly provide photos.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:57 PM on November 8, 2006

A point that might also augment the great data above is that California has the biggest state economy in the U.S. as well as having the strictest emissions laws for cars. That combination is part of why I helped start a business here.

If you're willing to diverge into wider areas of debate, you may also wish to ask why she favors policies that cut educational spending, when government-subsidized education in China and U.S. are the biggest single driver behind their recent economic resurgence.

Put more simply, if she thinks regulations are bad for business, she should understand that global warming is even worse for business. All the major high tech companies based here in California that provide millions of jobs agree.
posted by anildash at 7:49 PM on November 8, 2006

Put more simply, if she thinks regulations are bad for business, she should understand that global warming is even worse for business.

Not to mention that China is the world's largest planned economy yet has a growth rate that slowed to 10% a quarter!
posted by Pollomacho at 11:36 PM on November 8, 2006

So her/Rush's argument is that because they're doing it, we should too? WTF? How about setting an example of doing something right?
posted by Mr. Gunn at 9:13 AM on November 9, 2006

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