[UPDATE: Comment from Anthony: There has been a tremendous amount of discussion and dissent on this topic, far more than I ever would have imagined. On one hand some people have said in comments that Willis has completely botched this essay, and the Kaya identity holds true, others are in agreement saying that the way the equation is written, the terms cancel and we end up with CO2=CO2. It would seem that the cancellation of terms is the sort of thing that would rate an “F” in a simple algebra test. But, I think there’s room for both views to be right. It seems true that *technically* the terms cancel, but I think the relationship, while maybe not properly technically equated, holds as well. Here is another recent essay that starts with Willis’ premise, where CO2=CO2 and expounds from there. See: What is Kaya’s equation?
Further update (modified 3AM 7/12/14): Willis has posted his response in comments, and due to my own travels, I have not been able to post it into the body of the message until several hours later, see it below. – Anthony]
Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
Another day, another new piece of mad garbage put out by the UN. It’s called “pathways to deep decarbonization”, all in lower case (8 Mb PDF). Their proposal is to get CO2 emissions down to zero. I didn’t get far into it before I cracked up laughing and lost the plot.
It starts with the following definition:
Deep decarbonization requires a very significant transformation of energy systems. The ultimate objective of this transformation is to phase out fossil fuel combustion with uncontrolled CO2 emissions. Only fossil fuels in conjunction with CCS [carbon capture and storage] would remain.
But that wasn’t the funny part. That was just depressing. The funny part came later.
Now, out here in the real world the most charitable way to describe this lunacy of forcing the nations of the world to give up fossil fuels is to … to … well, now that I think about it, there is no way to describe this as anything but a pathetic joke which if implemented will cause untold economic disruption, disaster, and death.
In any case, in order to figure out how to “phase out fossil fuel combustion”, they go on to describe what they call the “principal drivers” of CO2 emissions, viz:
The simplest way to describe the deep decarbonization of energy systems is by the principal drivers of energy-related CO2 emissions—for convenience, since the focus of this chapter is on energy systems, we simply refer to them as CO2 emissions. CO2 emissions can be expressed as the product of four inputs: population, GDP [gross domestic production] per capita, energy use per unit of GDP, and CO2 emissions per unit of energy:
That was where I lost it …
Now, at first glance that looks kind of reasonable. I mean, emissions must go up with population and with GDP per capita, and go down with energy efficiency.
Here’s why I laughed. Lets apply the usual rules of math to that equation. We know that if a variable occurs both on the top and bottom of a fraction, we can cancel it out. Starting from the left, Population on the top cancels Population on the bottom. Then GDP on the top cancels GDP on the bottom. Then Energy on the top cancels Energy on the bottom … and we’re left with …
Pretty profound, huh? CO2 emissions are equal to CO2 emissions. Who knew?
OK, now let’s build their equation back up again. But instead of using gross domestic production (GDP), we’ll use gross beer production (GBP) instead.
Note that this is identical to and equally as valid as their whiz-bang equation, in that it simplifies down to the same thing: CO2 emissions = CO2 emissions.
And as a result, the clear conclusion from my analysis is that the best way to fight the evil menace of CO2 is to figure out a way to make beer using less energy …
Now, there’s a carbon reduction program I could get behind.
Best wishes to all,
The Usual Request: If you disagree with someone, please quote the exact words you disagree with. This prevents misunderstandings, and lets us all understand your objection.
PS—Due to a cancelled flight, I’m stuck here in a hotel in LA on my way back from the Ninth International Climate Change Conference, which I’ll write about another time, and sitting in my hotel room wishing I were home. Not much to do but read boring UN documents … at least this one was funny.
PPS—Although it’s not mentioned in the document, their goofy equation is known as the “Kaya Identity“. Apparently, the number of innumerate people on the planet is larger than I had feared.