No Sustainable Per Capita Carbon Emissions Level

Sharon October 14th, 2009

You really need to read this:

“In a four-degree warmer world, adaptation means “put your feet up and die” for many people in the world, Oxford’s Chris West said bluntly. “In accepting the many alarming impacts, we see that it (a four-degree C increase) is not acceptable.”

The climate negotiators heading to Copenhagen in December must accept the fact that the world’s carbon emissions must eventually stop - and stop completely. There is no sustainable per capita carbon emission level because it is the total amount of carbon emitted that counts, explains Myles Allen of the Climate Dynamics group at University of Oxford’s Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics Department.

Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for many centuries, which makes it the most important greenhouse gas to reduce and eliminate. The current focus on CO2 concentrations like 450 ppm or 350 ppm is the not the right approach since it is the total cumulative emissions that determine how warm the planet will get, Allen told the conference.

If climate negotiators only look at slowing rates of carbon emissions, then natural gas will be substituted for coal because it has half of the carbon - but the total amount of carbon in the atmosphere will continue to increase.

“We didn’t save the ozone layer by rationing deodorants,” said Allen. “

I’m married to an astrophysicist, so I know how scientists talk.  I’ve spent a lot of my life as the only non-scientist in a room full of science geeks, and have gotten used to translating them into english.  It drives me nuts, actually, sometimes, my husband’s absolute reluctance to say that anything is so.  Scientific reticence means that you always express *uncertainty* so my husband will calmly observe to you that, yes, in fact, there are a few scientist out there who still believe, say, in the ether, rather than say “there’s no freakin’ ether.”  But, of course, there’s no freakin’ ether.   So I pay attention when they overcome their reticence and say “there is no sustainable per capita carbon emission level.” 

The truth is that if you’ve been watching the emerging evidence, that’s the logical conclusion - in some ways it doesn’t matter what’s in the ground - we simply can’t burn it. 


9 Responses to “No Sustainable Per Capita Carbon Emissions Level”

  1. villaboloon 14 Oct 2023 at 8:52 pm

    I have question for your husband. I have been reading about the
    lack of sunspots and how they affect the sun’s temperature in
    turn cooling off the Earth by a small amount. The skeptics of
    Global Warming are jumping on this subject as if it somehow inva-
    lidates 150 years worth of evidence.

    My question is, how long does he think that the sun will go
    through this stage before it goes back to normal?

    Also, and I realize he’s not a climatologist, if the Arctic were to
    become ice free during the summer, what changes will that bring
    to the weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere (other than
    warming Siberia which I am well aware off)? I’ve been to count-
    less web sites and not been able to get and answer to that.


  2. steve from virginiaon 14 Oct 2023 at 10:10 pm

    Actually, we have to stop cutting trees.

    We have to plant trillions more. Only the trees can save us. Silly, isn’t it?

    Plant more trees, divert less water, get rid of the cars, start making things by hand. Pretty simple really. Pretty fuckng hard with the ’style of the moment’ is something by Mercedes.

  3. ceceliaon 14 Oct 2023 at 10:50 pm

    well - not just trees. Bogs sequester more CO2 than rainforests.
    I heard a climate specialist say that prairie is a great way to sequester carbon. And then there are the bio char projects that appear to have much potential.

    But in the face of governments that fail to act - maybe what we need to do is revolt and start planting trees. There is a group in the UK (forget their name -sorry) who actually do this - appropriate public lands and plant trees at night along highways, near train stations - where ever they find even a small bit of land. So yes - plant those trees!

  4. Berkshireon 15 Oct 2023 at 5:47 am

    The brutal reality of sequestering our carbon dioxide in the atmosphere comes clear. It is additive and the pollution we create today will poison the world 10 generations from now. That is a legacy we can all be proud of. Good job!

    Probably 40 to 50% of the damage to the world can be traced to the United States and our selfish life style. Drop out and refuse to support the destruction of the earth. The US foundation of sand is based on the financial system and the leveraging of (our) borrowed money. Take your cash and hide it or turn it into something that will let you have a chance of survival. No checking, no credit card balance, no bank savings, no IRA – you get the picture. Starve the leveraged beast. In a deflationary world your cash is (your) king (dom).

    Forget moving to the Arctic. Get yourself a few thousand or more feet up, in a place of fertile soil and a chance of continued rainfall. Altitude is your friend as average temperature declines about 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit per thousand feet. Hill towns are not a new idea. Live underground with a glassed southern exposure. This style construction can be very frugal. The interior temperature is near constant and there is very little need of energy sources other than the sun. The bugs and diseases that will haunt the newly steaming lowlands will take a long time getting to you.

  5. Annaon 15 Oct 2023 at 8:43 am


    One the most humbling things about moving in with my parents in the burbs is living near the railroad tracks. The trains carry coal from West Virginia to our power plants in western Virginia. Almost every day I wait for either the train hauling in the coal or the ash away to be dumped, er, where?!? The later is in uncovered cars which blows the ashen dust over our autos.

    I hope I am not the only one thinking about the coal and…doing something about it.


  6. deweyon 15 Oct 2023 at 9:07 am

    Did you see that the coal industry bussed in hundreds of thugs to shout down and terrorize opponents of mountaintop removal at an Army Corps of Engineers meeting in WV? Worse, the local pork did nothing to protect pro-environment attendees because “you knew what you were getting into when you came here.”

    It’s at times like this that I feel the bad news is the only realistic means of cutting pollution in time to avoid a giant mess would be World War 3, and the *good* news is we’re on track to achieve it. I want some of these sons of bitches to end up starving in the rubble, dammit.

  7. Edward Bryanton 15 Oct 2023 at 2:17 pm

    I am hardly sanguine about atmospheric carbon dioxide, but I wonder if we can overcome our (seemingly) innate nature, and make the collective changes we need to make in order to forestall this climate change.

    In many ecological settings, the changes one species makes as it exploits its niche, cause changes to the ecosystem in general, and its niche in particular. These changes are detrimental to the original species and enable other species to succeed. The species that original occupied the niche is largely or completely replaced by its successor. Homo sapiens may well be one of these species; by exploiting our niche, we may change it until we can no longer occupy it… sad, but hardly uncommon.

    In simple ecosystems(and boy, are we simplifying our ecosystem in a big way), a situation can arise where there is no successor species and the exponential growth phase is followed by a collapse of population. The snowshoe hare and yeast in a vat of grape juice exemplify this successional system.

    Personally, I don’t mourn the loss of r species, nor do I celebrate the arrival of K species; it is just a measure of *when* you are in the successional system.

    While we may technically be a K-type species, we seem to function in the ecosystem as though we were an r-type species. Maybe we can transform ourselves from a functional r-type species into a K-type species, or maybe we a capable of being either based on the environmental conditions we experience, but looking around, I am not hopeful.

  8. Susan in NJon 15 Oct 2023 at 6:17 pm

    Okay Sharon, I’m personally disturbed at the suggestion that there is no aether! As for the sustainable per capita carbon emissions level, I gave up on that one a long time ago.

  9. energyblogwateron 18 Oct 2023 at 7:42 pm

    Yet another great example of where “sustainable” really just means zero.

    Zero won’t work either. We need a net positive sequestration in order to take down more CO2 than is being produced PLUS what we’ve dumped already.

    No one is going to care until real collapse starts occurring. Even then the deniers will find ways to stop fingers being pointed at them.

    However I refuse to go down for a bunch of idiot Baby Boomers who had the greatest experience of life and decided to include the greatest experience of death along with it.

    Go back to school. Learn something useful. Get out of the game and be active.

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