Straight to the Point

The Farce of Emissions Intensity

Earth In BalanceEarth In Balance
Recently, nations and their spokespersons have begun bandying about new numbers, grabbing headlines with ambitious seeming reductions based on a new measurement called "emission intensity".

The public is being deceived by this type of jargon and manipulation of the issues. The real issue is our civilisation's use of resources to promote greed, and the subsequent pollution and degradation of our air, water, and land.

According to, Emission intensity is a concept variable that "...expresses the relation between emissions and economic activity." Mathematically, it is calculated as emissions in tonnes of CO2e divided by the Gross Domestic (or National) Product (the GDP). Used according to this definition, it provides a useful view of the relation between development and pollution.

However, used as a measurement to base reduction commitments upon, it is another way to lie through statistics. The people who develop these methods count on our stupidity, our inattention, and our exhaustion with the rigmarole of what we are going through, in solving what is truly a simple problem, to confuse and obscure the problem farther away from it's moral roots.

The GDP does not account for the actual costs of development: the pollution and depletion of our natural resources, the loss of living space for thousands of creatures, and the loss of the stability of our planetary systems. It has very little, almost nothing, to do with the people of a country; it is but a poor reflection on the quality of life.

Are humans no more than dollar figures? Is future growth and "permissible emissions" to be determined by how much money a country is making? A poor country, with even a very low carbon footprint, may easily attain an emissions intensity greater than that of many rich countries, due to the small size of its economy. Using emissions intensity measurements is like saying "the people who are getting ahead can keep going, and those who are not, do not stand a chance". This is nothing else but callously wrong.

To illustrate just how misleading this measurement is, let's look at some examples.

1. Country A does nothing to decrease their impact on the environment, but their production output does not change either. Because of our worldwide economy's ever-present inflation (another "feature" of our broken "development"), their emission intensity will numerically go down!

2. Country B increases the efficiency of their manufacturing facilities that produce barbie dolls, soft drinks, consumer goods, and other superfluous profit-products. This results in a decrease in CO2 emissions, but their simultaneous industrial expansion compensates, and the emissions remain the same. What happens? The US, EU, and other "developed" nations will import millions of short-lived objects, tonnes of useless packaging, and generate much trash, which eventually will be thrown into the environment, causing more harm. Country B's richest people will rake in more cash (none of it benefiting the hungry), boosting their country's GDP. Manufacturing trash more efficiently will again make the emission intensity go down!

3. What happens if a country honestly tries to reduce their emissions? Suppose Country C decides to be selfless, to halt their business as usual practices, and to change tracks towards a sustainable future? Amazing! Heroes! Their emissions will of course go down, but with it, their GDP may also decrease during the transition. What happens? Our emission intensity measurement could go down, remain even, or may even go up!

Is this a useless measurement, or what! Not only does it encourage business as usual, it encourages and supports green-washing of the worst type!

Emission intensity, and the use of emission intensity, is fundamentally dishonest, designed to protect the interests of greed, and to divert our attention from the real issue at hand: our current development model does not work. Not only does it degrade the environment, pollute our air, our water, our land, it increases poverty. For all the development of the last so many years, the amount of poverty in the world has increased, to the point that now, today, there are 500 million hungry people in India alone.

Contrast that with the statistics mentioned in this quote from Mahatma Gandhi, only one century ago:

"It is, perhaps, not known to all of us that, [even] without famine, 40,000,000 in India do not know what it is to have their hunger satisfied from year’s end to year’s end ... Under such circumstances, it is the duty of every Indian, who is able to get sufficient to feed himself, to part with something for the sake of the dying ... It would not also do to say that what you may give will be of no use to the ocean of sufferers in India. This is a mistake. If all were to argue that way, there will be no help for them. It is the drops that make the ocean." (3 Feb, 1897)

Gandhiji mentions 40 million, or 13.3% of the population then. 100 years of glorious development later, it is 58.3% hungry!

Our trickle-down approach towards economically empowering the masses has resulted in 10% of the people on Earth holding 99% of the wealth. (see Is this trickle-down or mop-up? We stand deceived.

As we are unable to leave our current development model immediately, the profit now being made must be devoted to the restoration of the climate and the care of our fellow human beings. This is a just and right use of the profits gained from spoiling Mother Earth for everyone else.

We must steer away from the comfortable self-deception in statistics like the emission intensity. More than anything, our current crises is an ethical crises: in letting individual greed rule our interactions, we, as a civilisation, have forgone simplicity and contentment for the complicated individual pursuit of happiness, real equity for the dream of getting ahead, nature's beauty and our own humanity to one another for the congestion and commotion of cities.

We cannot deceive ourselves about the desperation and hunger of more than half the people on our Earth, and the damage we have done to Nature's systems. The planet has not yet seen real development.

We are loosing our humanity. Let's be honest with ourselves, and move forward in a clear understanding of our goals.



An emission intensity is the average emission rate of a given pollutant from a given source relative to the intensity of a specific activity.Emission factors assume a linear relation between the intensity of the activity and the emission resulting from this activity.
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