Sunday, April 26, 2015

Chait gets it

The focus on per-capita emissions, the obligation to look at total emissions that have brought us to this point instead of ignoring the disparate emission levels between nations in the last decades, and the completely ignored commitment (okay, something of a commitment) by India and China not to reach American levels of per capita emissions.

Best paragraph:
The United States has emitted far more carbon into the atmosphere than India or China — indeed, more than India and China combined. The United States continues to emit several times more carbon per person than either China or India. Since China and India have vastly more people and are industrializing, they are likely to increase their per-capita emissions over time. I have seen no morally cogent explanation as to why the entire burden of sparing the world from runaway global warming should fall on the countries that have contributed the least to its existence. Developing countries have already made the significant concession that they will not be allowed to follow the cheap dirty-energy developmental path used by the West.
Read the whole thing.

UPDATE:  from the comments, Raypierre has a well-developed paper on the whole issue. I'll quibble with one point:
Perhaps there should be a statute of limitations for carbon emission. This cannot be justified on the basis of ignorance of consequences of carbon emissions, since that has been known for well over a century,
I can understand a start date of responsibility for past emissions in 1896, but I think the stronger argument is that the scientific notice given to the public and policymakers of a substantial risk from GHG emissions was insufficient prior to the 1960s or 1970s. The latest start date could even be the Rio Declaration, when you transfer from a risk of a problem to a near-certainty of a problem. I think the better argument is that a realistic and reasonably understood possibility of risk, communicated to the broader community, should be the start date of responsibility.

This part nails down the overall issue:
Some forms of unequal circumstances at birth (being born black, or female, or poor) are clearly irrelevant to the question of access to something like education or adequate health care, and need unconditional redress. The question of whether a person should suffer a reduced share of the Carbon Commons simply because she was born African or Indian falls naturally into the same category.