A new study in Climatic Change linking most of the fossil fuels extracted in the last 150 years to 90 producers has garnered a bit of interest in the climate change world. One of the issues raised in the study is responsibility, and the coverage in the media has led to debates about pointing fingers and just who is really responsible for climate change.
Here’s a sample from Tim Worstall’s blog, who calls the article “complete and total bollocks”:
The fault is not in the companies but in us the consumers. Not one single one of the fuckers would have dug up or pumped a single kilo of carbon if we hadn’t wanted to use it.
We have been warm, well fed and mobile for a century because of fossil fuels. We wanted it, we enjoyed it and if there is any blame to be passed around then it is to us, the people who enjoyed the products of which the emissions are a by product.
His article in Forbes is as follows:
Do I have to mention a similar cause-effect guilt-culpability claim by an infamous organization?
And there’s more where that came from:
According to William M. Connolley,
Its an attempt to shift the blame off us lot so we can all relax and spew out yet more CO2 and say “oh no, its not our fault, look, the Graun says its all the fault of those nasty fossil fuel companies over there”.
Not to miss an opportunity, The Onion has this article out in response: New Report Finds Climate Change Caused By 7 Billion Key Individuals:
From the article:
“Our research has proved conclusively that, year after year, the acceleration of the rate of global warming and the damage caused by this man-made acceleration can be clearly linked to 7 billion main culprits,” explained lead author Dr. John Bartlett, noting that many of these individuals have links to climate change going back nearly a century. “Worse, the significant majority of damage was done within the past two decades, when the consequences of climate change were widely known and yet these specific individuals did nothing to curb or amend their practices.”
“Now that we’ve done the hard work of identifying the key players responsible for this crisis, we can move forward with holding them accountable,” Bartlett added. “And it is my opinion that we need to regulate these individuals swiftly and decisively before they do any more damage.”
Yeah, it’s a good yuk and I do love the Onion, and I do hate to appear to lack a sense of humour, but satire runs the risk of minimizing the real issues while poking fun. In this case, it runs the risk of doing a serious disservice to those among the 7 billion who have not contributed to global warming in any appreciable amount but who are suffering as a consequence of those who have.
Are all humans equally culpable for the CO2 and land use changes that are causing global warming?
Of course not.
A small proportion of those alive today and in the past is largely responsible for the majority of the emissions. Do we, the individuals, really have a choice about those emissions? After all, if consumers didn’t want to buy gasoline to fuel their cars and heat their houses and air condition their condos and make their plastic products, they could choose to buy some other form of energy, right? Oh, wait…
So it looks as if this report has received quite the mixed response.
While reading the point-counterpoint is amusing and mentally invigorating, after you clear away all the hot air, this is an important question. Who is responsible for global warming? What do we mean by responsibility? Why do we want to assign responsibility and culpability? What good will it do to name names? Point fingers?
Here’s the abstract of the Heede paper:
Tracing anthropogenic carbon dioxide and methane emissions to fossil fuel and cement producers, 1854 – 2010Abstract
This paper presents a quantitative analysis of the historic fossil fuel and cement production records of the 50 leading investor-owned, 31 state-owned, and 9 nation-state producers of oil, natural gas, coal, and cement from as early as 1854 to 2010. This analysis traces emissions totaling 914 GtCO2e—63 % of cumulative worldwide emissions of industrial CO2 and methane between 1751 and 2010—to the 90 “carbon major” entities based on the carbon content of marketed hydrocarbon fuels (subtracting for non-energy uses), process CO2 from cement manufacture, CO2 from flaring, venting, and own fuel use, and fugitive or vented methane. Cumulatively, emissions of 315 GtCO2e have been traced to investor-owned entities, 288 GtCO2e to state-owned enterprises, and 312 GtCO2e to nation-states. Of these emissions, half has been emitted since 1986. The carbon major entities possess fossil fuel reserves that will, if produced and emitted, intensify anthropogenic climate change. The purpose of the analysis is to understand the historic emissions as a factual matter, and to invite consideration of their possible relevance to public policy.
It bears repeating the purpose of the analysis for the author — “to understand the historic emissions as a factual matter, and to invite consideration of their possible relevance to public policy”.