An Oceanographer’s Humble Foray Into Political Science – aka – Sociopolitical Controls On Carbon Emissions

I really enjoyed last week’s lecture. I was oblivious to the international back-room dealings (and incessant complaining) during Kyoto. In his lecture, Dr. Sens brought up a few interesting points that got me thinking. In particular, the great disparity between countries’ CO2 emissions around the world, and the relationship between emissions and economic history (i.e. former USSR countries emit far less CO2 than, say, the US, Canada, or Australia) was rather intriguing.

After a bit of sleuthing, I found a great resource put together by the US DOE: Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC). It provides carbon emissions (by source) and per capita emissions for virtually every country in the world. I wondered, then, how major socio-political events in certain countries might effect per capita emissions. For example, per capita emissions in North Korea:

North Korea per capita emissions

The marked drop in per capita emissions in 1997-98 coincides with the great flooding and following drought that brought the country’s economy to its knees [wiki].

Another example: Nigeria

Nigeria per capita emissions

A great rise in per capita emissions coincides with Nigeria joining OPEC in the 1970s, and the oil boom in the Nigeria Delta. While the country was in political turmoil during the 1990’s (military coups, brutal military dictatorship), per capita emissions dropped significantly [wiki].

Lastly, I was curious how per capita global emissions fared:

per capita CO2

Interestingly, CO2 emissions doubled between 1950 and 1975, and leveled off (nearly) for the subsequent 30 years. Both Joanne and I wondered (as nerdy science types) if this was simply due to a switch in fuel consumption (i.e. coal emits more CO2 per unit energy produced than, say, natural gas). Therefore, if natural gas use were to increase, then per capita CO2 emissions should decrease (assuming all else is equal):

CO2 source over time

Indeed, the amount of coal being used with respect to other CO2-emitters has decreased from 65% to ~35%, while both liquid gasoline and natural gas emissions have increased (suggesting this may be partly responsible for the leveling off of per capita emissions).

Any other ideas, Terryians?

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Dave Semeniuk spends hours locked up in his office, thinking about the role the oceans play in controlling global climate, and unique ways of studying it. He'd also like to shamelessly plug his art practice: