The elephant in the room

One thing that will not be addressed in Copenhagen is the damage done by an  ever growing human population on the natural balance of the Earth. This is  the real elephant in the room which eventually we must have to face up to. Even if we eliminate completely CO2 emissions from energy production by developed countries we humans will continue to degrade the earth while our numbers increase.

These are the back of the envelope calculations of Mankind’s emissions of CO2 resulting just from there being 7-9 billion of us on the planet whether we burn fossil fuels or not.

1. Breathing : People on average breath in about 7 litres a minute of air. The air we breath out contains 4% CO2. In affect we are burning food(carbon) in oxygen to provide the energy to keep warm and  active. Each one of us therefore emits about 0.3 liters of CO2 a minute weighing 0.6 gm, or 0.3 tons of CO2 per year. The current population is 7 billion and UN  forecasts a population  of 9-10 billion by 2100. Lets take a nice round figure of 10**10 people as the maximum human population. This gives:

Yearly CO2 emissions through breathing :  3 Gigatons/year

2. Domesticated Cattle breathing: Cattle are a key source of sustainance to many people throughout Africa and the rest of the world. The world populaion of domesticated cows is about 2 billion. Each cow produces about 1.5 tons of CO2 just by breathing. Methane emissions from cows humans and agricuture are completely ignored here

Yearly CO2 emissions through of domesticated cows : 3 Gigatons/year

3. Agriculture, Deforestation through burning and land clearance. As ever increasing numbers of people demand food  more from the available arable land so the pressures on natural envirnments and especialy forests increase. Forests are a key sink of the carbon cycles.

Figures resulting from deforestation from FAO : 2-4 Gigatons CO2/year

4. Finally the emissions of CO2 from Burning of Fossil fuels by developed and developing nations – Industrialisation. The agreements hoped to be reached  in  Copenhagen focus entirely on man-made (western industrial) induced emissions of CO2 high energy production. The current global figures for all CO2 emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels  in 2008 is:

Yearly emissions fossil fuels: 5 Gtons CO2/year.

There are important measures that can be agreed in Copenhagen to reduce emissions of CO2 by industrialised countries. Yet these can only delay catastrophy while population levels increase beyond sustainable levels.

About Clive Best

PhD High Energy Physics Worked at CERN, Rutherford Lab, JET, JRC, OSVision
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