China has become the bad boy of climate change of late. With an economy still roaring loudly, even while the rest of the world meekly whimpers, the country's coal-power stations are dialed-up to max. That has led to a booming of greenhouse gas emissions to complement a booming economy. China in fact overtook the US in the emissions stakes way back in 2007. A recent report even suggests that the gases pumped out per person in China will race past those of the average American by 2017.
No wonder fingers are being aggressively wagged by many in the West. We're off the hook – China is powering the world towards climate chaos. If she won't shoulder her fair share of the burden in the fight against global warming, why should we? Except it's not that simple. Even a casual glance down the store aisles reveals how much of the West's economic goodies come from China. Much of China's growing emissions may simply be to fuel our own material excess.
Now a new study from Stanford has put some numbers behind that suspicion. 'The Supply Chain of CO2 Emissions', published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, comprehensively tracks carbon emissions – all the way from the oil wells and coal mines right through to the consumers, proudly displaying their latest gadgets and goodies. The principle is that the consumer gets the benefit of these goods – and so holds responsibility for the emissions piled up along the path of their manufacture and transport.
Global carbon flows
|The flow of carbon emissions (in millions of tons CO2) from well and mine to consumer. Source: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/10/13/1107409108.abstract|
Put those numbers into a picture, as seen above, and it's clear to see that China is just a middleman. The arrows point fingers of blame pretty clearly. The big carbon sources are the coal, oil and gas merchants of the Middle East, Russia and Canada. And the voracious emissions gobblers remain the world's rich club -- the US, Europe and Japan. So the carbon buck can't be passed onto China, or others making our stuff. It's time to stop the blame game. We're all in this together.