American conservatives are fond of saying that we should stop worrying so much about carbon emissions in the US. The real problem is carbon emissions in places like China and India, which are growing faster than ours and, in China’s case, already much higher.
The motivation for this attitude is obvious: conservatives don’t want to address climate change, and this is a good excuse for doing nothing. But motivation aside, do they have a point?
The International Energy Agency recently released a series of reports about energy use in southeast Asia. Here is the penetration rate of air conditioners over the past two decades:
Air conditioner penetration has tripled and refrigerator penetration has nearly doubled. Here is the IEA’s projection for the next two decades:
As the usual aphorism goes, “They all want air conditioners too.” (And cars and refrigerators and so forth.) This might not be too bad if all these air conditioners were going to be powered by solar panels, but that’s not where the investment is:
The end result is this:
Energy use is projected to increase by half and fossil fuel use is projected to rise by 60 percent. If nothing happens to change this, it will dwarf any reduction in carbon emissions from the developed countries of the West.
And this is only southeast Asia, which doesn’t include India or China. It’s at most #3 in the fossil fuel race.
In other words, American conservatives have a point. Their motives may be suspect, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong. The Green New Deal is all well and good, but the real challenge for climate change hawks is the skyrocketing growth of fossil fuels in the developing world. That should be the single biggest focus of our attention. Everything else is a nit by comparison.