Why “per capita emissions” is a bad frame for the climate debate

It nudges us toward ideas that actively hurt the fight against climate change.

“Per capita” focuses us on marginal decarbonization instead of deep decarbonization

First, the blunt fact of climate change is that in order to save the world from extremely damaging effects, we can’t just partially decarbonize; we have to completely decarbonize. That means that global emissions have to come down to net zero. We can’t just have them come down part of the way.

Global net zero means that all countries’ total emissions have to come down to net zero. It also means that all countries’ per capita emissions have to come down to net zero. Because when you’re at zero, total equals per capita; they’re both just zero.

That’s what needs to happen. And that is what countries around the world, including both the U.S. and China, are pledging to do. Making pledges is not the same as living up to those pledges, but it’s still good to see all these countries acknowledging that they need to decarbonize completely.

Thinking about “per capita”, however, moves us away from thinking about this essential truth. Supporters of “per capita” thinking believe that it’s a measure of how much “slack” their is in a country’s economy — in other words, of how much emissions can be easily cut from that country’s economy.

But thinking about how much we can easily cut is marginal thinking. It’s saying “OK, first let’s cut a little bit, and then we’ll see.” But we are well past the point of being able to cut just a little bit. Maybe in the 90s we still had time to get away with that sort of incrementalism, but that ship has sailed. We are already suffering massive flooding, rampant wildfires, and other major effects of climate change. If we want to have any hope of averting even more catastrophic effects, we are going to have to get to global net zero in a matter of a few decades.

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Πηγή: noahpinion.substack.com

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