America resumed increasing its carbon emissions last yearhowever to a very limited extent: because it has continued to replace coal-fired power plants with power plants fueled by natural gas (less polluting) or by renewable sources. There are those who, on the other hand, cannot do without coal, for a long time to come: it is the emerging countries, especially the poorest among them, that need to grow immediately and quickly, which with current technologies can only be done by resorting at least in part to fossil energies.
We can divide the news into good and bad, according to our yardstick and our hierarchy of values: the important thing is to keep your eyes peeled and analyze reality for what it is, without blinkers or prejudices. The first data +1.3%. According to preliminary estimates for the year 2022, this is the rate of increase in carbon emissions in the United States. So they started to rise again (bad news for climate change), after a couple of years of decline due to pandemic restrictions. For the overall level of American CO2 emissions remains below the pre-pandemic period (good news). Also, and this is even more important, this rate of increase of carbon dioxide significantly released into the atmosphere lower than the rate of growth of the economy Use as a whole: and this is really good news. Indeed, it means that we are breaking the ancient automatism according to which more growth inexorably meant more CO2 in the atmosphere.
The disappearance of a direct and proportional relationship explained on the one hand by the fact that growth is becoming less energy intensive (thanks to technologies that allow us to save consumption); on the other hand from conversion of the power plant park towards sources that emit less CO2 (gas) or do not emit any (nuclear, hydroelectric, sun, wind).
The positive news also has a precious political and social implication: it means that we can design a future of reduced pollution without this involving the cruel utopia of degrowth or even of austerity to the bitter end (a cruel utopia especially towards the less well-off). Also part of this harvest of positive news is the fact – ascertained by the scientific community under the aegis of the UN – that the “ozone hole” is closing and one day it will disappear. For those of my age: when we were young the apocalypse was promised to us for the disasters related to the widening ozone hole. Now let’s add that prophecy of doom to the long list of threats/scenarios/predictions that have turned out to be unfounded. merit of the reforms undertaken to outlaw those gases (chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs) which generated the hole.
For the certainty with which the end-of-the-world scenarios were stirred should make us reflect on today’s possessed of the Apocalypse: the prophecies change, no one ever self-criticizes for those that have not come true, the religious tone never changes and the presumption of moral superiority with which the catastrophists harangue the world.
Moving on to the less good newsand I take my cue from a useful synthesis that Chicco Testa and Patrizia Feletig have published in the Sheetentitled “The Year of Coal”. If in the United States the production of electricity by burning coal is declining (coal has been overtaken by renewables for the first time), in the rest of the world things are going in the other direction. 2022 should mark the record for coal consumption, at 8 billion tons. The China takes the lion’s share: alone it consumes half of all the world’s coal. There Germany in 2022 it did its part to increase consumption: it pays like this the improvidentity with which she enslaved herself to Russian gas for yearswhen Putin took it away from him he had to run for cover by putting coal-fired thermoelectric plants back into operation, with a 19% increase in the consumption of this fossil energy.
If one can hope that Germany will correct the shot as soon as possible, the scenario is different for China, India and other emerging countries. Let us remember that it was we – developed countries – who wanted to give ourselves a good environmental conscience by driving away from our eyes those activities that need coal (or oil and derivatives) in their industrial cycles: steel, aluminium, cement, paper, chemicals. We we continue and will continue to consume steel, aluminum, cement, paper, plastic, fertilizers and other chemical products, but we expect them not to be manufactured in our own backyards and therefore we import them from emerging countries. Which must continue to consume coal, and in increasing quantities. More generally, the way out of misery cannot be entrusted to a utopian “short cut” with zero carbon emissions.
Right now I am writing to you from the second most populous city in Africa, the Cairo: ten million inhabitants, which reach twenty for its metropolitan area. a megalopolis still full of poor people, with high rates of youth unemployment, a social powder keg kept under control only by a military dictatorship. Food hyperinflation, the collapse of the Egyptian pound, are the latest signs of a very tense situation. To imagine that the twenty million inhabitants of Cairo can only get out of it based on solar and wind energy means never having seriously studied the technical constraints and limits of these two sources. As Chicco Testa says, thinking of powering cities of this size with relative factories using intermittent and not very dense energy is a madness that only the ZTL of the world (Europe) can conceive. Especially since we start from a situation in which the inhabitants of the South of the planet consume a twentieth of the energy (per capita) compared to us. The same eco-snobs who offer him a few solar panels under the pyramids as the only solution are the first to build barricades at home to defend the landscape from the monstrous assault… from renewables.
The South of the planet needs pragmatic, feasible, affordable solutions: a mix that for a long time yet will have to include consumption of fossil energy alongside renewable, nuclear and hydroelectric ones. It will need to finance conversions of polluting industries (even a coal-fired power plant does not use the same technology and does not dirty the same at all latitudes) with many investments on our part. Or from China.
January 10, 2023, 5:25 pm – edit January 10, 2023 | 5.25pm
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