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Climate Change

The whole story in one picture:

Figure 1 (Modified, based on original graphics from www.thepioneer.de with data from www.globalcarbonproject.org)

Working in and with the automotive industry for more than 40 years, emissions always have been a concern for me. In my adult lifetime from the 1970s till today, the world population approximately doubled (Figure 1 left). Population growth was mainly in Asia (China, India, ...) and Africa, while the population in the so called developed world (North America, Europe, Japan, Australia) did not change much. Population growth was not caused by increasing birth rates, but because of increasing longevity as people no longer died early due to large improvements in medicine, agriculture and industrial food production. Most of them were driven by scientific research, industrial entrepreneurship and technology invented in the developed world and from there spread to the other countries. True, even if it might not be woke to say so.

Unfortunately, while population doubled energy consumption increased even more and global CO2 emissions more than doubled (Figure 1 right)! If we want to bring emissions back to the level of 1970, we must either (1) cut the world population into half or (2) reduce the CO2 emissions per capita to less than half.

Alternative (1) is nothing anyone should like, as it would require a much more deadly pandemic than Covid 19 or an even more bloody war than the ones in Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya or Iraq. Technically, some nukes from the US, Russia or China might do the job ... Hope not!

How realistic is alternative (2)? Pareto's principle tells us to start with what has the largest impact. So let's ask, which countries do "sin" the most?

Figure 2 (Modified, based on original graphics from www.thepioneer.de with data from www.globalcarbonproject.org)

Shame on the "developed world", which created most of the CO2 emissions since the begin of the industrial revolution? Well, not so fast! While this has been true in the 1970s (Figure 2 left), now the "emerging countries" have taken over with China, India, Indonesia, Iran and Saudi Arabia together emitting more CO2 in absolute terms (Figure 2 right) than the whole world did in 1970 ... How dare you!?

Germany to the rescue?

Germany, where the Green movement more or less has taken over the country to save all of us - at least if you believe in the published opinion? Well, Germany with about 1% of the global population produces only about 2% of today's global CO2 emissions (Figure 2 right and 3). Even if all Germans stop breathing and thus go to absolute zero emissions immediately and forever, which some may consider a good idea anyway, mathematically it's clear that this won't change much for the world! 

Figure 3: CO2 emissions induced by primary energy consumption  (Source: Statistical Review of World Energy)

Europe's Green Deal?

Europe's share of the world's primary energy consumption is only about 10%, i.e. if Europe were to shut down fossil energy completely, from an engineer's perspective even this would not move the needle for the world in a decisive way. Remember: a 10% difference is like driving 55 km/h rather than 50 km/h. Who cares?

The role of renewable energies?

When we look at the world's primary energy consumption (Figure 4), in 2021 renewables (sun, wind, ...) plus hydroelectricity provide about 15%. With some 5% coming from nuclear power, the remaining 80% are CO2 generating fossil fuels (Oil, Coal, Natural Gas). Even if their share in relative terms may be slightly decreasing, in absolute terms they are still going up considerably. 

Figure 4: Primary Energy Consumption from 2000 to 2021 (Source: Statistical Review of World Energy)

What can we do?

If Europe and Germany want to make a real impact, the only way is with engineering. Invent technologies to reduce emissions and make the world use them? Well, have we been and will we be fast enough? Probably not, severe climate change is most likely, anyway. Thus, if we can't  stop it, we should concentrate on technologies to reduce the impact of climate change and let us deal with it:

If you can't avoid the flood, start building ships!

Like Noah, who acted as an engineer, and didn't rely on prophets claiming to know how to calm the waves.

However, when I look around, I'm not sure if we are moving in the right direction ...

 


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