Excellent pop science book online

Based on first impressions, I highly recommend “Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air” – David MacKay, U. of Cambridge, England.

(H/T Nat Torkington)

My snippet will be a figure rather than text. It shows cumulative per capita emissions (averaged from 1880-2004) on one axis, and population on the other. The area of each rectangle indicates the proportion of responsibility for anthropogenic CO2 forcing to date due to each country. The height of rectangle indicates the average responsibility of the citizens of that country.

This is important. If it’s news to you, I recommend you expend some time contemplating it. Click on the image for a sharper picture.


  1. One motivation for making this graph in which total emissions have been averaged over time, but population has not [it shows roughly year-2000 population] is to deduce the consequences of the ethical position called “polluter pays”. (I’m not advocating this, just noting it as a possible ethical system.) Now, the UK and US and German populations were smaller in the past, and they didn’t pay at the time of pollution. If we took the view that descendants should pick up the tab for historical pollution, this graph shows what that per-capita tab would work out to, today. Hope this helps. Thanks for your interest! David MacKay

  2. My bad. Got to looking at the graph and missed the dates. (Ready, fire, aim.)Another interesting graph would show estimated emissions 20 years out under a “business as usual” scenario, since that is most likely.

  3. I "get it", but I am not sure what we are supposed to do with this.We can't undo the historical contributions, and we can't physically afford to let the right side of the graph ever "catch up" to the historical per capita emissions on the left… Or even the gross cumulative emissions of the US. So this historical injustice will likely be an artifact for centuries to come.Even successful negotiation and execution of a "contraction & convergence" treaty would actually extend the inequality, as the US, Canada, Australia, etc. would continue for several years to emit more per capita emissions than what the eventual “convergence” levels would be. And even that is asking a lot. To further suggest that we need to consider somehow remedying the historical injustice is almost pointless.I think we are just going to have to collectively suck it up. The West is going to have to contract to an almost incomprehensible fraction of emissions it currently takes for granted. And the emerging markets will never come close to the West’s historical levels. You’re not going to get the West to accept lower go-forward emissions than the rest of the world. And we can’t afford the ROW to catch-up. We’re at the proverbial rock and hard place thang.Actually, truth be told, I suspect that sometime in the next few years there is going to be a collective “omfg!” panic, and we are going to realize that this is just water under the bridge, and we have to set it aside and deal with the emergency at hand… At other times, somewhat naively, I think that the West may have some case to make as follows: Yes, we (largely unwittingly) overcontributed to the carbon loading of the biosphere… but we also overcontributed to the shared legacy of modern medicine, telecommunications, advances in physics, chemistry, biology, [strikethrough]our remarkable modern financial system[/strikethrough]. Once we accept that we have shared responsibilities on a tiny shared planet, I think there will be more accounting of our shared natural and manmade balance sheets.But likely not until we’ve had an unfortunate shock to the system. Which I think is coming very soon.

Leave a Reply