2010 saw the single biggest jump in carbon emissions ever. It's like we're addicted to perpetrating the most heinous crimes possible on our own children, and we can't stop! What's up with that?
It's easy to blame countries like China, which is now the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases on the planet, what with its myriad "dirty" industries and reliance on coal for the bulk of its power. But that isn’t going to fly. China may have experienced record growth, but a lot of its emissions have been palmed off on it by Americans.
On the surface, the figures of recent years suggest that wealthy countries have made headway in stabilizing their emissions. But [Glen P. Peters, researcher at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo] pointed out that in a sense, the rich countries have simply exported some of them.
The fast rise in developing countries has been caused to a large extent by the growth of energy-intensive manufacturing industries that make goods that rich countries import. "All that has changed is the location in which the emissions are being produced," Dr. Peters said.
So what record emissions growth shows us isn't merely that the rest of the world is "catching up with" the U.S. and the rest of the West — but that emissions are growing across the board, and the apparent improvements in developed countries are largely illusory.
The good news is that this means sourcing more goods locally in the U.S. — in an environmentally responsible manner, natch — could bring down the emissions of countries halfway around the world. And on the flip side, increased environmental regulations in developing countries will actually bring down the net carbon emissions of those who live in the First World.
The bad news is that we're worse offenders than we even realized. And the change we want to see in global industrial systems has to start right here.