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When measuring greenhouse gas emissions per person / per country, how do they assign culpability?


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So this site puts Canada past the USA as far as greenhouse gas emissions per capita go. Which strikes me as a tad counter-intuitive, as we're not quite as prone to car culture as Americans or to eating quite as much meat.

 

But then I got to thinking about the notorious bitumen sands of the prairies, and how those are considered especially bad for the environment, even compared to the (as of Deepwater Horizon) infamous fossil fuel extraction methods of the USA. But that leaves behind two further questions:

 

A. How do they distinguish greenhouse gases produced at extraction from those produced at consumption? Is it simply a matter of calculating from which country they go into the air (eg. if extracted in Canada and consumed in the USA, the GHGs from extraction are counted as Canadian ones and the ones from consumption counted as American ones) or is there some more precise formula built on assessing culpability?

 

B: Is it really fair to blame oil producing countries for catering to consumer demand? If one country didn't cater to consumer demand, another would. Doesn't the real blame belong to the consumer? If the latter, does the same apply to individuals vs. companies?

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31 minutes ago, ScienceNostalgia101 said:

So this site puts Canada past the USA as far as greenhouse gas emissions per capita go. Which strikes me as a tad counter-intuitive, as we're not quite as prone to car culture as Americans or to eating quite as much meat.

 

But then I got to thinking about the notorious bitumen sands of the prairies, and how those are considered especially bad for the environment, even compared to the (as of Deepwater Horizon) infamous fossil fuel extraction methods of the USA. But that leaves behind two further questions:

 

A. How do they distinguish greenhouse gases produced at extraction from those produced at consumption? Is it simply a matter of calculating from which country they go into the air (eg. if extracted in Canada and consumed in the USA, the GHGs from extraction are counted as Canadian ones and the ones from consumption counted as American ones) or is there some more precise formula built on assessing culpability?

 

B: Is it really fair to blame oil producing countries for catering to consumer demand? If one country didn't cater to consumer demand, another would. Doesn't the real blame belong to the consumer? If the latter, does the same apply to individuals vs. companies?

That Worldometer site only looks at CO2, not all greenhouse emissions. So meat-eating etc is not factored in. It does not seem clear how they calculate the numbers, so I can’t see whether emissions related to fossil fuel extraction are included or not, but I suspect they will be. 

Assigning “blame” is not what per capita figures are about, though, surely. What they do is focus minds on economies and societal lifestyles, as people try to work out why one number is higher than another.

What sticks out in the case of Canada is the huge amount of “non-combustion” emission, over 20% of the total. I don’t know what this is, but it cries out for an explanation. 

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Why is anyone suprised that in an Edmonton, Alberta,  winter they use more heating than in Edmond, Oklahoma or that they drive further to meet other folks or just go shopping, considering the difference in population density ?

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3 hours ago, ScienceNostalgia101 said:

A. How do they distinguish greenhouse gases produced at extraction from those produced at consumption? Is it simply a matter of calculating from which country they go into the air (eg. if extracted in Canada and consumed in the USA, the GHGs from extraction are counted as Canadian ones and the ones from consumption counted as American ones) or is there some more precise formula built on assessing culpability?

Where does it say they are doing this?

They look to be taking the total CO2 emissions in a country and dividing by the population. That's all. If the CO2 is emitted by a process occurring in that country, it's CO2 emitted by that country.

 

3 hours ago, ScienceNostalgia101 said:

B: Is it really fair to blame oil producing countries for catering to consumer demand? If one country didn't cater to consumer demand, another would. Doesn't the real blame belong to the consumer? If the latter, does the same apply to individuals vs. companies?

Who is blaming the oil-producing countries? I don't see a blame-o-meter column on that site.

2 hours ago, exchemist said:

meat-eating etc is not factored in

Consumption, perhaps not, but production certainly is. Even when you subtract out the methane production, beef has a large impact.

https://ourworldindata.org/carbon-footprint-food-methane

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28 minutes ago, swansont said:

Where does it say they are doing this?

They look to be taking the total CO2 emissions in a country and dividing by the population. That's all. If the CO2 is emitted by a process occurring in that country, it's CO2 emitted by that country.

 

Who is blaming the oil-producing countries? I don't see a blame-o-meter column on that site.

Consumption, perhaps not, but production certainly is. Even when you subtract out the methane production, beef has a large impact.

https://ourworldindata.org/carbon-footprint-food-methane

Fair enough. Do you have any idea what this vast non-combustion source of CO2 could be in Canada? (If you go to the link and click on each country, you get a bar graph and pie chart breaking down the contributions.)

Edited by exchemist
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2 hours ago, exchemist said:

Fair enough. Do you have any idea what this vast non-combustion source of CO2 could be in Canada? (If you go to the link and click on each country, you get a bar graph and pie chart breaking down the contributions.)

I'm not sure, but I think just pumping oil and natural gas out of the ground releases CO2, though methane might be the big culprit, and "flaring" would be combustion. Decomposition and wildfires are some natural processes, and chemical reactions in industrial processes presumably release CO2. Concrete/cement production is a rather prominent source of CO2; I don't know if that's accounted for in "non-combustion" or "buildings"

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5 hours ago, ScienceNostalgia101 said:

o this site puts Canada past the USA as far as greenhouse gas emissions per capita go.

 

5 hours ago, ScienceNostalgia101 said:

Which strikes me as a tad counter-intuitive, as we're not quite as prone to car culture as Americans or to eating quite as much meat.

It's true that Canadians own fewer cars than Americans, but we maintain a generally high standard of living - i.e. a smaller percent of the population below the poverty line (according to each country's own definition of the poverty line) We drive everywhere, all the time - probably farther, what with road-trips, family cottages and far-flung relations. We also do a huge amount of trucking, both raw materials and finished products, over great distances. All of those natural resources have to be extracted with the use of immense machinery, all burning diesel. In summer, we zoom speed-boats over every waterway; in winter we roar with snowmobiles. We heat tiki-taki houses with propane and still generate half of our electricity with gas, oil and coal. Those numbers are decreasing, however (as long as conservative governments don't halt and reverse the program), so the stats in that chart may already be out of date. 

2 hours ago, exchemist said:

Do you have any idea what this vast non-combustion source of CO2 could be in Canada? (If you go to the link and click on each country, you get a bar graph and pie chart breaking down the contributions.)

Forest fires.

Still combustion, just not engines. Also the resulting deforestation (lack of trees to capture CO2), cement production, and garbage dumps.

And now, everything's been said twice. If that's not convincing, what is? 

6 hours ago, ScienceNostalgia101 said:

B: Is it really fair to blame oil producing countries for catering to consumer demand? If one country didn't cater to consumer demand, another would. Doesn't the real blame belong to the consumer? If the latter, does the same apply to individuals vs. companies?

Who said anything about blame? It's a chart. Numbers don't judge; they merely report.

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1 hour ago, Peterkin said:

 

It's true that Canadians own fewer cars than Americans, but we maintain a generally high standard of living - i.e. a smaller percent of the population below the poverty line (according to each country's own definition of the poverty line) We drive everywhere, all the time - probably farther, what with road-trips, family cottages and far-flung relations. We also do a huge amount of trucking, both raw materials and finished products, over great distances. All of those natural resources have to be extracted with the use of immense machinery, all burning diesel. In summer, we zoom speed-boats over every waterway; in winter we roar with snowmobiles. We heat tiki-taki houses with propane and still generate half of our electricity with gas, oil and coal. Those numbers are decreasing, however (as long as conservative governments don't halt and reverse the program), so the stats in that chart may already be out of date. 

Forest fires.

Still combustion, just not engines. Also the resulting deforestation (lack of trees to capture CO2), cement production, and garbage dumps.

And now, everything's been said twice. If that's not convincing, what is? 

Who said anything about blame? It's a chart. Numbers don't judge; they merely report.

If it’s non-combustion I don’t see how it can be forest fires. And whatever it is, it seems to be due to something in Canada which is barely present in the USA. 

Unless, I suppose, the website  does not bother to reconcile differences in reporting convention between countries. 

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36 minutes ago, exchemist said:

If it’s non-combustion I don’t see how it can be forest fires.

Indirectly. The smoke isn't necessarily confined to the air over Canada, but the resulting deforestation (that plus logging) is confined to Canada, where the dead trees are no longer cleaning the air. That also applies to the US (Russia, Spain, etc) but in Canada, the residual CO2 is shared by fewer people.

The bulk of the non-combustion contribution, however, comes from permafrost thawing, which I neglected to mention earlier.  Good thing this not a question of blame, since the whole industrial world contributed to the global warming - a few nations more than many others; several nations more than Canada - but the effect is concentrated in Canadian and Russian lands.

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1 hour ago, Peterkin said:

Indirectly. The smoke isn't necessarily confined to the air over Canada, but the resulting deforestation (that plus logging) is confined to Canada, where the dead trees are no longer cleaning the air. That also applies to the US (Russia, Spain, etc) but in Canada, the residual CO2 is shared by fewer people.

The bulk of the non-combustion contribution, however, comes from permafrost thawing, which I neglected to mention earlier.  Good thing this not a question of blame, since the whole industrial world contributed to the global warming - a few nations more than many others; several nations more than Canada - but the effect is concentrated in Canadian and Russian lands.

Aha, now that sounds more like it. Russia also has a high non-combustion percentage.

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2 hours ago, ScienceNostalgia101 said:

So I presume, then, that this means that greenhouse gas emissions are calculated based on the country from which said greenhouse gases enter the air?

What do you mean "are calculated"? By whom? Lots of agencies, organizations, research groups and individuals collect and compile lots of data. Each set of calculations may be based on different criteria, for (presumably) different purposes. Locating sources of emission is important to any efforts at amelioration of the problem.

 

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So it's mostly an aggregation of data from different sources, then. Fair enough. That still falls under the category of "country from which said greenhouse gases enter the air" more so than category of country being assigned blame for it.

 

In any event, thanks again.

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I note that Australia's government(s) have preferred to view emissions as a fossil fuel consumer responsibility and not a supplier responsibility. Making it an end user responsibility makes Australia's contribution 1.3% whereas if viewed as a supplier responsibility Australia would be 6-8% of global emissions. I don't expect that to change with the new Australian government although they do appear to take the whole issue more seriously than the previous "conservative" government.

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On 6/18/2022 at 4:29 PM, ScienceNostalgia101 said:

So it's mostly an aggregation of data from different sources, then. Fair enough. That still falls under the category of "country from which said greenhouse gases enter the air" more so than category of country being assigned blame for it.

 

In any event, thanks again.

There is a slight difference between responsibility and blame. There is plenty of blame to go several times around the industrial world (just follow the thousands and thousands of shipping containers and plastic waste in the oceans) but nowhere near enough responsibility being taken. 

Showing where it comes from at least closes down arguments over who needs to clean up their act. With a high standard of living comes an unequal  proportion of the contribution to the problem, which then affects the people of the world in inverse proportion to the cause.  Blame, just or unjust, is ineffective.

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On 6/16/2022 at 9:56 PM, swansont said:

They look to be taking the total CO2 emissions in a country and dividing by the population. That's all. If the CO2 is emitted by a process occurring in that country, it's CO2 emitted by that country.

 

It appears to be a well established legal principle that suppliers of products that cause harm are liable for those harms, irrespective of the benefits of those products - even though courts appear reluctant to rule that way with respect to fossil fuel suppliers and emissions.

More usually courts rule on something done at small scales where direct culpability can be assigned - the actions of these people/companies caused these specific harms, without multigenerational, multinational and economy damaging complications - which rulings discourage those same activities by others at much larger scales, before they get too big. Some "duty of care" arguments have succeeded, but courts around the world appear reluctant to grasp this nettle firmly.

The arguments that the end user alone bears culpability are widely referred to as "the drug dealers' defense" (along with "but they'll only buy their heroin... coal and oil and gas from someone else").

I think there is culpability at all levels but institutional large scale culpability should trump that of individuals.

I suspect that politically it has been advantageous to the opponents of strong action to turn the Environmentalist calls for individual responsibility as the principle response back against their objectives; the general reluctance to adopt personal frugality and belief it makes little difference is used to encourage community reluctance to make demands of institutions.

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26 minutes ago, Ken Fabian said:

I think there is culpability at all levels but institutional large scale culpability should trump that of individuals

When we're talking about nations, it's not so simple as per capita emissions; there is also government and corporate policy to factor in. The US and Canada both subsidize fossil fuel extraction and production.

https://e360.yale.edu/digest/fossil-fuels-received-5-9-trillion-in-subsidies-in-2020-report-finds

https://www.cbc.ca/news/science/fossil-fuel-subsidies-expaliner-1.6371411

The very big players at the top of the profit-chain pay little or no tax. The rest of us, who foot the bill for the subsidies, then get hosed at the pump, plus sales tax and pollution tax, are penalized all down the line. 

34 minutes ago, Ken Fabian said:

suspect that politically it has been advantageous to the opponents of strong action to turn the Environmentalist calls for individual responsibility as the principle response back against their objectives; the general reluctance to adopt personal frugality and belief it makes little difference is used to encourage community reluctance to make demands of institutions.

Yes, and also "We have to save The Economy!" and "We can't afford tax exemptions or subsidies for retrofitting, alternative energy or electric cars." (but we - and by this I mean many successive administrations  of different parties - can afford to pay out the subsidies and bankroll the pipelines. )

It's not about the flow of CO2; it's about the flow of $$.

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On 6/16/2022 at 9:21 PM, ScienceNostalgia101 said:

So I presume, then, that this means that greenhouse gas emissions are calculated based on the country from which said greenhouse gases enter the air?

As opposed to what?

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8 hours ago, Ken Fabian said:

It appears to be a well established legal principle that suppliers of products that cause harm are liable for those harms, irrespective of the benefits of those products - even though courts appear reluctant to rule that way with respect to fossil fuel suppliers and emissions.

The legal ramifications are not what the website is addressing. 

Quote

The arguments that the end user alone bears culpability are widely referred to as "the drug dealers' defense" (along with "but they'll only buy their heroin... coal and oil and gas from someone else").

AFAICT any CO2 generated by pumping oil/gas or mining coal is assigned to the country where that activity is taking place.

The point that it takes two to tango has possible merit, but consider that if the supply dwindles because some country decides not e.g. to pump more oil, and all else remains the same, then the response will be that the price goes up - nothing happens to the inherent demand (we are seeing this happen right now). Some people will not being able to afford to buy the oil product, but it's not like they want to stop driving their car. (and if this production decrease is driven by government action it is likely to be very unpopular) But if they did decide to stop driving a personal gasoline-powered vehicle and went with an alternative (public transportation, EV, or even just something that got much, much better mileage) then the demand goes down. Price goes down. Some oil fields become unprofitable. 

So the production part of this and the demand part of this are asymmetric. And what a country can control is likewise asymmetric. Country A can't dictate to other countries whether that other country should install green power sources and get people to buy EVs. Each country has to be responsible for their own policies.

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Where public policy crosses borders, I would say therein lies the appeal of treaties - Kyoto, Paris, etc.  The fossil fuel industry makes sure, via extensive lobbying, ad campaigns, carbon capture pipe dreams, and political campaign donations, that such treaties are usually toothless if not DOA.

Unfortunately, the "we are all responsible, break out the bicycles and rakes" ethos doesn't really penetrate past a small minority that have a certain amount of free time and idealism to implement.  

 

Culpability is also elusive to calculate when wealthy nations partly rely on agri production in faraway lands.  One example is rice consumption - when I eat methane-producing basmati rice, some of it comes from India.  Indian paddies burble methane, oil they purchased from Russia or the ME helps harvest and ship it, plastic made from an ethylene plant in Alabama packages it, etc.  And don't forget that a monoculture style of growing means that crop fields capture and retain less carbon.  The webs of responsibility are so tangled, for almost everything, as to defy clear assignments of parties.

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And then, when you do bring out the bicycle, you find that the latest fossil-funded conservative party has turned all the bike lanes over to car parking and cut funding to urban mass transport ... and then you look up at some jet fighter that cost you and your fellow taxpayers $70,000,000 and burns more fuel on takeoff than your entire town can drive in a year, and you get very, very discouraged.

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11 hours ago, swansont said:

The legal ramifications are not what the website is addressing.

Seems like part B of the question is about responsibility for emissions for suppliers of fossil fuels, which arguably includes legal ramifications.

Emissions accounting is, quite reasonably (and for practicality) done on a nation by nation basis. Emissions responsibility or culpability isn't so easily compartmentalised geographically except in the sense that climate policy in practice leaves any considerations of culpability to individual nations, which could, if they choose, apply to exports of fossil fuels as well as to the embodied emissions in the goods and commodities traded. Mostly these are being addressed (or proposed to be) via those border adjustment mechanisms, which in practice are about compensating for different climate policies and carbon pricing.

11 hours ago, swansont said:

but consider that if the supply dwindles because some country decides not e.g. to pump more oil, and all else remains the same, then the response will be that the price goes up - nothing happens to the inherent demand (we are seeing this happen right now).

As a short term market response, yes. But all else does not remain the same; the longer term response can be increased investment in alternatives, which will also enjoy a relative price advantage. A "never again" response by nations and governments that take the climate issue seriously is likely to push harder for those alternatives irrespective of any immediate crisis management, with rising costs of existing fossil fuel dependence a strong incentive even apart from climate and emissions considerations.

Edited by Ken Fabian
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14 hours ago, Ken Fabian said:

As a short term market response, yes. But all else does not remain the same; the longer term response can be increased investment in alternatives, which will also enjoy a relative price advantage. A "never again" response by nations and governments that take the climate issue seriously is likely to push harder for those alternatives irrespective of any immediate crisis management, with rising costs of existing fossil fuel dependence a strong incentive even apart from climate and emissions considerations.

There are a number of possible responses, but they are not compulsory responses. The right wing in the US has a manufactured outrage response of “pump more oil”

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