The Coal-Burning Net

Key concepts: Internet fuel consumption, Worldwatch Institute, Greening Earth Society, declining carbon emissions, Kyoto Accords, economic development

Attention Conservation Notice: You'll be more confused after reading this than you were when you started.

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This contest expires on September 1, 01999.

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The Viridian Pope-Emperor takes on all comers in a no- holds barred debate at the "Great Outdoors Recreation Pages." Witness classic Internet Free Speech at its finest, as many ill-informed cranks weigh in with cocksure solutions to imaginary problems.


From: Dick Bell (*)


Here's a different take on the carbon issue from the Worldwatch Institute, where I work. Notice that one reason the Chinese consumption of coal is coming down is because they've been reducing subsidies. Does reducing subsidies for things we don't want qualify as a Viridian tactic?

(((Yes, absolutely. It's extremely Viridian to stop working so hard and paying so much to do things we don't want to do.)))


"by Christopher Flavin

"For the first time since 1993, global emissions of carbon from the combustion of fossil fuels declined last year, falling 0.5 percent to 6.32 billion tons, according to new estimates by the Worldwatch Institute. (See Figure 1.)

"This decline in emissions in the face of a world economy that expanded 2.5 percent in 1998 suggests an accelerated 'de-linking' of economic expansion from carbon emissions, undercutting arguments that reducing emissions will damage the economy. During the past two years, the global economy has grown by 6.8 percent, while carbon emissions held steady, leading to an impressive 6.4 percent decrease in the amount of carbon emissions required to produce $1,000 of income. (See Figure 2.)

"This turn marks the first pause in the carbon emissions escalator since economic collapse cut emissions in central Europe dramatically in the early 1990s. But unlike that reduction, or the previous decline connected with the oil crises of the 1970s, the latest downturn did not result from a major economic disruption. Still, it is not yet clear how long-lasting the new trend will be.

"These new global emissions figures, the first available for 1998, were calculated early this month by Worldwatch researcher Gerard Alleng, using energy data recently supplied by BP Amoco." (...)

(((BP Amoco is definitely the cherished Viridian darling (when it comes to large creepy greasy oil companies, that is). And now for an even more striking assertion:)))

"Much of the economic growth of the last two years has come in information technologies and services, sectors that are not major energy users. Contrary to the implication of a recent Forbes article, operating the entire global Internet requires less electricity than New York City uses. Meanwhile, industries such as steel making and other resource-intensive sectors are growing more slowly." (...)

(((Those of you who were following those wacky Forbes assertions earlier (See Viridian Notes 00070, 00073) may find it astonishing to suddenly hear that "operating the entire global Internet requires less electricity than New York City." Could such things be? For all its sober recitation of enviro-wonk facts and figures, this Worldwatch report provoked a near-frantic, foot-stamping reaction from the Viridian bete noire == yes, them once again, those very paragons of evil == the artfully self- titled "Greening Earth Society.")))


"From the World Climate Report
"Volume 4, Number 23

"What's Hot

"Pain in the Gas

"Much to some people's surprise, world carbon dioxide emissions declined last year, by 0.5 percent, at least according to Worldwatch Institute, quoting figures from oil giant BP Amoco. U.S. emissions rose a mere 0.4 percent, the same source said, while the nation's economy grew by 4 percent. Independently, the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Agency (EIA) calculated that U.S. industrial sector emissions fell by 1.2 percent in 1998.

"Worldwatch's Chris Flavin said these numbers portend an accelerated 'delinking' of economic growth and carbon dioxide emissions. Flavin also said slower growth will make it easier to meet the Kyoto Protocol. He forgot to mention U.S. emissions grew at unexpectedly high rates in 1990 == 1996.

"Worldwatch wants to credit the Internet. 'Much of the economic growth in the last two years has come in information technologies and services, sectors that are not major energy users.' We're not so sure the Internet is a major energy saver: Physicist Mark Mills has calculated that e-commerce will require a substantial increase in electricity, given the robust growth trends already in place."

(((I've never heard of "Mark Mills," but I'm sure that the physicists on Viridian List will be impressed to see that the guy Mills is a "Physicist" rather than a mere physicist. And if you think that the Greening Earth Society's Physicists are impressive, you ought to see their hand-picked Meteorologists!)))

"It's not just electricity, either. (((Well, thank goodness for that much, at least.))) With Internet commerce soaring, goods that were normally moved by truck to the mall now travel by Federal Express jet to a truck to your house. There's a reason it costs more to ship Pokemon in an airplane than in a truck: F-U-E-L.

Worldwatch/BP found dramatically reduced emissions in China, Japan, and Russia, with a smaller reduction in the European Union. What did these nations have in common in 1998? How about lowered growth, recession, depression, and stagnation, respectively?

"And what did the United States have that none of the above experienced as much? Try a drastic reduction (15 percent) in the use of heating energy, which normally eats up $50 billion in fossil fuel. This was thanks to El Nino, which Vice President Al Gore & Co. would like to associate with global warming." (((Well, though I comprehend the terms "El Nino" and "global warming," I don't actually count myself as a member of the Gore Campaign. However, I could easily be pressed into the ranks through this kind of repellent spin-doctoring.)))

"We'll wager these things are going to turn around by 2000. El Nino has gone away, Japan is clambering off the canvas, and we're overdue for a cold winter."

(((Well, that's certainly an interesting wager. In fact, Greening Earth Society and their employers at the coal- mining Western Fuels Corp are pretty much wagering the future of civilization on that conviction of theirs. We are overdue for a cold winter, folks. Mighty overdue.
We're even more overdue for a cool, survivable summer.
Too bad that everybody in low-growth China, recessed Japan, depressed Russia and the many stagnant nations of stagnant Europe will have to pay for the outcome of Mr Paynter's wager without being able to pocket Western Fuel's profits.)))

Chris Paynter
Executive Director
Greening Earth Society
Suite 805
4301 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, Virginia 22203-1867

(((So what is the real story here, do you suppose? Is our beloved Net costing us no more than one happy Big Apple? Or should we shovel coal to ship our Pokemons, while we patiently wait for the return of the Ice Age?
Not only are these two Net estimates all over the map, they're not even in the same solar system. We Viridians need to know how much energy the Net is actually consuming in the actual world as that is actually understood by actual physicists and actual engineers. We would very much like some actual factual facts and figures on the subject, please. Do send some along if you have them.)) )

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