It’s 1972, The World’s Warming – What Can We Do? -or- What Are Your Paleofuture Predictions of Climate Change?

Andrew Revkin, NYT Eco-Science blogger, has an interesting post, “Imagine Everyone Was Equal, in Emissions.” He brings up a question that has long plagued the international community regarding climate change: whose responsibility is it to cut emissions – big emitters (like the US) or up-and-coming emitters (India, China)? Simply put, how much emissions cut-backs is enough to live carbon-neutral?

I’ve dealt with similar sentiments before (“Contemplating Humanity’s Carbon Use Efficiency“), and was sadly left without any answers.

Anyways, I decided to put some real numbers to Revkin’s assertions, and came up with the following thought experiment I’d like to share with you.

What if the entire world’s population were to have emitted CO2 on par with Canadian citizens since 1950?

What if there was no disparity between rich and poor countries, due to some incomprehensible string of events (i.e. way too many “what if’s” to bother going through) that resulted in the world’s population living at or near Canada’s standard of living? What would have been the result?

This aptly reminds me of the rather happenstance employment of CFCs. You see, CFC’s destroy ozone – we know it, the nobel prize committee knows it – but a single act of greed prevented the ozone layer from fizzing out in a fraction of the time its taken the gigantic hole above the Antarctic to form.

Why? Well, CFC’s contain chlorine, but they could easily have contained bromine – another halogen that would have been equally capable of cooling all our cars, fridges, freezers, and apartments. But bromine wasn’t used, simply because BFCs would have cost a fraction more to produce than CFCs. The result: a livable Earth.

Alright, fear mongerer – stop the what-if’n bullshit, and get to the what-if’n point.

So, what would have been the result if the entire world had emitted CO2 on par with Canada since 1950?

After a lazy Sunday afternoon of spreadsheet work, research, and number crunching, I determined that the total cumulative emissions by the entire world’s population between 1950 and 2004 would have been reached more than thirty years earlier. Thirty years! 1973!

What we didn’t have in 1973:

  • decent predictive climate models
  • feasible alternative energy sources
  • carbon capture techniques

Of course, we must remember that had the world’s population been emitting on par with Canada, we must assume that the advance of technology would have been significantly faster. But that assumption is too difficult to think about, so lets sweep it under the what-if’n rug.

My question for you is: What do you think might have occurred in Canada had we reached the current global climate situation in 1973 (Side Note: if you perform the same calculation for the US, we reach the same total emissions value in 1968)?

I have my thoughts on this, but I’d like to hear yours…

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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: