As our friends at 350.org like to remind us, climate change really comes down to math. Put x amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, see y degrees of warming. Our goal — meaning, our goal as an evolved, aware species that would rather not be plagued by droughts and megastorms and constant flooding and armed conflict — is to reduce how much carbon dioxide we’re putting into the atmosphere each year instead of continually increasing the amount.

We’re not good at this. And time is running very low: We either need massive, quick action or it’s too late.

Given that this particular year is nearing its end, we decided to figure out how the math for 2012 stacked up. Did we, on balance, change our ways so that our net greenhouse gas emissions declined, or did we yet again increase how much we’re polluting? Are we running in the positive or the negative or what?

Well: Scorecard! Getcher scorecard!

fenway
mikepick

The minus column
Things that reduced climate change

Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline — for now.
President Obama’s move in January to postpone the contentious pipeline wasn’t the final word, and it may end up having been more important politically than environmentally. But the rejection has prompted tar-sands companies to reconsider producing tar-sands oil at all, which is good news for the climate, given how much more greenhouse gas such fuel produces. Obama could still OK the pipeline, but it doesn’t make much sense for him to.

Effect on climate pollution: -2
Methodology for this: I picked a number between -10 (leads to reduction in pollution; good) and 10 (increases it; bad). Want to fight about it?

Australia implemented a carbon tax.
It’s fairly modest, to be sure, and highly contentious, but still counts as one of the year’s strongest efforts to curtail climate change pollution. (If that provides any insight into how this scorecard is going to go.)

Effect on climate pollution: -4

The EPA announced its pollution standards for new power plants, including for greenhouse gases.
The rule, which goes fully into effect for power plants built after 2016, will curtail carbon dioxide emissions significantly — also providing an incentive for new power plants to move to cleaner fuel sources. (See below.) This was one of the biggest, most subtle victories in the climate fight in 2012 — and, just this week, a court halted industry attempts to block the EPA from regulating much-dirtier existing plants.

Effect on climate pollution: -3

The EPA also announced a new, higher fuel-efficiency standard for cars and trucks.
The 54.5 miles-per-gallon standard will be mandatory by 2025 — an improvement that could drop oil consumption by 12 billion barrels.

Effect on climate pollution: -5

California auctioned carbon allowances as the first step in its cap-and-trade program.
Even though the first auction itself didn’t go that well, that the largest state will begin regulating carbon pollution on Jan. 1, 2013, is important, and could — slowly — further reduce output of CO2 in the U.S.

Effect on climate pollution: -2

Speaking of:

The U.S.’s CO2 output declined.
Over the summer, the country hit a 20-year low in carbon dioxide emissions. We continue to lead the world in that decline. This is thanks in large part to the still-slow economy, which has meant that domestic power generation has stayed relatively flat. But the most important news on the power generation front, and one of the biggest contributors to the drop in CO2 emissions is …

Effect on climate pollution: -5

Natural gas use is spiking.
For the first time ever, use of natural gas for electricity production matched that of coal in the U.S. And since natural gas burns so much cleaner than coal, it’s meant much less pollution, particularly of greenhouse gases. Any number of power plants are switching from using coal as a fuel to using gas.

Effect on climate pollution: -4

Coal use in the U.S. is tanking, and everyone hates it.
Not everyone, I guess, but lots of people all over the world. Finland, for example, announced plans to go coal-free by 2025.

In America, a number of coal facilities and coal companies announced bankruptcies. Existing coal plants, ones not covered under the EPA rule mentioned above, became hard for owners to sell as it became clear that they would need massive upgrades to meet pollution standards. Energy companies indicated plans to move away from coal; two notoriously dirty plants near Chicago were scheduled for closure.

All of this could have a significant effect on domestic carbon pollution over the long term.

Effect on climate pollution: -5

Efforts to export coal overseas hit a snag.
The coal industry’s effort to build West Coast ports to ship coal to Asia met strong resistance, and one such plan was cancelled entirely. Preventing export terminals will mean that it’s harder to bring American coal to market — and, therefore, to consumption.

Effect on climate pollution: -1

China and the E.U. are working together on an emissions strategy.
China will develop an emissions trading scheme with the E.U.’s help, potentially then linking its carbon market to Europe’s. The bigger the market, the more efficient — and the more likely that we can curb carbon emissions more broadly.

Effect on climate pollution: -2

The U.S. invests in an effort to target small-scale emissions across the world.
The innovative program, announced in March, targets pollutants like black carbon and methane by providing improvements on existing tools already in broad use. Think: cleaner cookstoves.

Effect on climate pollution: -1

U.S. government agencies are working on climate solutions.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cited the program above and other State Department efforts in a speech earlier this year about how climate and energy are security issues — a speech that was something of a going-away address. It remains to be seen how her likely successor will stand deal with the issue.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military continued a push to use less oil. This is more of a strategic push than one focused on climate change, but who are we to complain?

Effect on climate pollution: -2

Renewable energy use continued to grow.
Studies suggesting that renewable energy could provide most of the world’s power in the not-too-distant future were bolstered by how quickly that market grew. On a macro level, global investment grew 25 percent in the second quarter of the year. Domestically, solar in particular continued to grow dramatically.

Effect on climate pollution: -2

American public opinion on climate issues began to shift back toward action.
Thanks in part to the myriad, immediate examples of a changing climate — Sandy and ice melt and drought and the hottest year ever — people increasingly suggested that maybe the government should do something about it. Which, of course, is a key first step to something actually happening.

Effect on climate pollution: 0 (You’ll see why shortly.)

wrigley
madcitycat

Which brings us to …

The plus column
Things that increased climate change

The United Nations did nothing.
Fifty thousand people met in Rio; who-knows-how-many traveled to Qatar. And that all resulted in a vague promise to maybe do something in 2013. The U.N.’s ability to mandate change is certainly limited, but that it didn’t mandate any at an enormously critical time is not just incompetent, it’s immoral.

Oh, also? The big U.N. climate report due in 2013 was leaked early. But more importantly, it won’t address permafrost melt, one of the biggest negative feedbacks in the warming cycle. Meaning that if the U.N. ever actually does take action, it will be taking action on overly optimistic information.

Effect on climate pollution: 8

The presidential campaign was all about how great coal is.
As the U.S. decided who it wanted to lead the country for the next four years, the options with which it was presented failed to suggest that they’d lead on the critical issue of climate. Both Romney and Obama French-kissed the coal industry for an extended period of time, which was as ugly as that image makes it sound.

The media didn’t hold the candidates to account on the topic either, with one debate moderator even dismissing the issue as unimportant.

Effect on climate pollution: 2

The House of Representatives continues to be run by scientifically illiterate jerks.
Over the past two years, the House voted 223 times to help the fossil fuel industry and its other polluting friends while simultaneously either ignoring efforts to reduce carbon pollution or working hard to oppose environmental regulations. That won’t change in 2013; the incoming chair of the House Science Committee is an overt climate-change denier.

The Senate isn’t immune to criticism. It blocked U.S. participation in an E.U. plan to regulate airline emissions.

Effect on climate pollution: 4

Coal use may be dying in the U.S., but overseas, business is booming.
A recent report from the International Energy Administration suggested that by 2017, coal would pass oil as an energy source. By that year, the world will be producing another 3.4 billion tons of CO2 from coal alone over what we’re producing now. Why? Well, the World Resources Institute suggests that the world has 1,200 new coal plants in the pipeline.

A lot of that coal they’ll burn is coming from the U.S. Our mountaintop-removal and conventional mining, heavily subsidized by the government, is heading to China and Europe.

Effect on climate pollution: 7

The melting Arctic was a bad sign — and a huge creator of greenhouse gas.
In September, the Arctic saw the lowest amount of ice coverage in its history. (Compare this year’s ice with 1984.) That melt means less white stuff on top of the world. And less white stuff (like, literally, white things) means less heat from the sun is reflected back into space. The effect of that loss of ice and snow is potentially equivalent to 20 years of CO2 emissions.

The warmer temperatures also mean permafrost thaw — releasing trapped methane and allowing the decomposition of vegetation, which itself produces even more methane. Methane, you may remember, is 20 times more effective at trapping heat than is CO2.

Effect on climate pollution: 5

China continued to be the world’s largest source of CO2 pollution …
While the country’s per-person emissions are still lower than the U.S.’s, China generates more CO2 than any other country.

Effect on climate pollution: 3

… But the world is doing its best to keep up.
A report on 2010 emissions suggested that global CO2 output that year was 6.7 percent higher than in 2009. This is because of things like the new global enthusiasm for air conditioning, which will obviously only continue as temperatures keep rising.

Effect on climate pollution: 2

The United States is churning out record levels of oil and gas.
The fracking boom has resulted in massive production of oil, particularly in North Dakota. Production in September hit a 14-year high; there’s some evidence that, within the decade, the U.S. could be the world’s largest oil producer. The U.S. is producing so much oil that producers are reversing the direction of pipelines, to ship fuel to ports instead of from them.

Effect on climate pollution: 4

Obama gave the thumbs-up to a key stretch of the Keystone pipeline.
That stretch of pipeline being built in Texas that’s causing all the brouhaha? It was OK’d by President Obama. When it’s complete, tar-sands producers in Canada will have a pipeline running all the way to the Gulf Coast — albeit not one capable of shunting along as much dilbit as Keystone XL would. This means more oil consumption, more exports, more use of dirty, carbon-intensive fuel.

Effect on climate pollution: 2

The wind industry in the United States may come to a halt next year.
Congress’ failure to renew a key tax credit — and the wind industry’s baffling inability to get it renewed — may put a big dent in U.S. renewable energy use over the long term.

Effect on climate pollution: 1

Shell got approval to drill oil wells in the Arctic.
Happily, the company was too inept to actually get anything out. The Shell permit was just part of the administration’s “all of the above” approach, which includes doing anything that offshore drilling companies want.

Effect on climate pollution: 1

Americans are fickle and pessimistic.
Remember up above when we counted public opinion as a good sign for the climate? That doesn’t mean that we’ll get anything done.

Only one-third of Americans think tackling climate change is important. Their passion for making change on the issue is low, meaning that politicians rarely have to take notice. And fewer Americans feel like what they do on climate matters.

Effect on climate pollution: 2

The tally

So, let’s punch all of this totally objective data into our Climate Calculator™ … Done. Climate change won 2012, -37 to 41.

Um. Better luck next year.