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Environment & climate - June 12

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Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage.


Europe's demand for resources reaching far beyond its borders

European Environmental Agency
Demand for materials is so intense that between 20 and 30 % of the resources we use in Europe are now imported. With the boom in international trade, EU consumption and production damage ecosystems and human health far beyond Europe’s borders, according to a report published by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

'Unsustainable resource use is a truly global problem – Europe’s voracious demand for materials is felt around the world," EEA Executive Director Jacqueline McGlade said. "With growing demands on the world’s limited stock of resources, it is imperative that Europe makes more efficient use of both virgin materials and waste."

The report, 'Material resources and waste' is an update to the Thematic assessment on material resources and waste within the EEA’s 2010 State and Outlook report. It states that Europe is using resources more efficiently, though it has used increasing volumes of raw materials in absolute terms. While this trend has been interrupted by the economic downturn, it is likely that increasing resource consumption will resume with renewed economic growth.

Average annual use of material resources is nearly 15 tonnes per person. The bulk of this ends up as ‘stuff’ accumulated in the economy; the rest is converted into emissions or waste.
(7 June 2012)
Suggested by Marcin Gerwin.


Working Less for a Sustainable Future

Anders Hayden, Solutions
... While advocates of work-time reduction have highlighted the potential ecological benefits for many years, empirical evidence has emerged recently to support these claims. A study by two American economists found a significant association between work hours and energy consumption.2 Their economic model showed that if European nations adopted American work hours, they would consume some 25 percent more energy (putting their Kyoto Protocol targets out of reach); meanwhile the United States would consume roughly 20 percent less energy if it moved to Europe’s work/leisure balance (putting it within close striking distance of its original Kyoto target).

In comparing member countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) with some non-OECD nations, John Shandra and I found statistical support for the idea that longer work hours are associated with larger ecological footprints.3 The main factor is the contribution of longer work hours to higher gross domestic product, which, in turn, is associated with larger environmental impacts. We also found some evidence of a time-scarcity effect, in which long work hours led to a more environmentally damaging mix of consumption and lifestyle practices, although more research is needed on this specific issue.

Two Swedish researchers looked at the household level and concluded that a 1 percent decrease in work time reduces household energy use and greenhouse gas emissions by 0.8 percent on average—mainly by lowering incomes and consumption.4
(11 June 2012)



Climate change stunner: USA leads world in CO2 cuts since 2006

Barry Saxifrage, Vancouver Observer
The Americans? Really?

Every year the International Energy Agency (IEA) calculates humanity's CO2 pollution from burning fossil fuels. And once again, the overall story line is one of ever-increasing emissions:

"Global carbon-dioxide emissions from fossil-fuel combustion reached a record high of 31.6 gigatonnes in 2011."

The world has yet to figure out how to stop the relentless increase in climate pollution. But mixed in with all the bad news there was one shining ray of hope. One of the biggest obstacles to climate action may be shifting. As the IEA highlighted:

"US emissions have now fallen by 430 Mt (7.7%) since 2006, the largest reduction of all countries or regions. This development has arisen from lower oil use in the transport sector … and a substantial shift from coal to gas in the power sector."

How big is a cut of 430 million tonnes of CO2? It's equal to all CO2 from all Canadians outside Alberta. From a US perspective, it's equal to eliminating the combined emissions of ten western states: Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah and Nevada.

It seems the planet's biggest all-time CO2 polluter is finally reducing its emissions.

Not only that, but as my top chart shows, US CO2 emissions are falling even faster than what President Obama pledged in the global Copenhagen Accord.

Breaking the global log jam?

Until now, the failure by the USA to make significant emission cuts has been at the center of the global deadlock over what to do about climate pollution. Many of the biggest polluting nations -- such as China, India, Russia, Canada, Australia, and Brazil -- have been reluctant to create policies to reduce CO2 as long as the biggest bad-boy of them all, the USA, wasn't joining in.

But now, Americans are both promising CO2 cuts and actually doing it. In doing so they are leading the world in total CO2 reductions. Can they keep it up? There are many hopeful signs.

Take a look at my chart below in which I've added USA coal, oil and natural gas data. As the IEA pointed out, it is the plunging use of oil and coal that is driving the decline in CO2.

... The Americans buy more oil than any other nation on earth. But, as I wrote last year, rapidly rising oil prices are driving a big decline in America's oil use. The price of oil has more than doubled since 2005. Double the price of a commodity and people will use less.

Sure enough, the decline in US oil consumption since 2005 has been dramatic. Americans now buy two million fewer barrels of oil every day. That's like shutting off three Keystone-XL-sized pipelines.

But despite buying less oil, the Americans' bill for it rose by $250 billion a year. That is an extra $1,000 per adult every year -- for less oil. Ouch.
(4 June 2012)
Suggested by EB contributor Bill Henderson.

From author Saxifrage:

My latest article has some surprising climate facts:

* USA cut more CO2 since 2006 than any nation: 430 MtCO2. That is as much as all of Canada outside Alberta.
* USA on target to meet Copenhagen Pledge
* Nationally a 13% drop in coal and oil use in six years
* Oil use decline = 3 Keystone XL pipelines worth

Per person, Americans now use:
* oil at 1960 levels
* coal at 1955 levels
* natural gas at 1964
* they emit CO2 at 1964 levels



Climate Change: Brand or Be Branded

Jen Alic, OilPrice
It is very difficult to understand the climate change denial platform on a purely philosophical and scientific level. Climate change is a rather obvious aspect of the history of the Earth and clearly man interacts with climate in an increasingly dynamic manner. That this is even debated appears on the surface to be not a little ridiculous-somewhere on the level of discussing whether the Earth is round or flat.

It is the semantics of it all, which, when combined with politics and the necessary religio-political elements, muddies the waters. For partisan policy camps, it is probably beneficial that the average reader doesn't really have a clue what anyone means when they say "climate change", and throwing "global warming" into the mix only adds to the general confusion.

But here, scientists, climate change activist elite and environmental officials reading this will say that this is simplifying matters and that the real debate is not whether the climate is changing but the scale of that change as a result of our own actions. The debate, on this level, is about numbers, and it is sufficiently vague to render it a convenient instrument of politics. To this climate change elite, both "deniers" and "believers", there is only one thing to say: You have not brought the debate to the masses in a coherent way.
(6 June 2012)

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