Comparing Green House Gas Emissions

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When some Canadians see articles about Canada’s carbon tax they immediately begin to spout off explanations for why it’s a bad idea. These explanations often include assertions that the whole thing is a giant scam. Some of them include references to yesterday’s weather. But one of the most frustrating things they do is to try to compare Canada’s emissions to that of China or other large nations. They point out that Canada only produces 1.5% of the world’s emissions. They follow this up by listing China’s, the United States’, and India’s emissions which are around 25%, 15%, and 6% respectively. They conclude their argument by suggesting that there is nothing Canada can do on its own and that only the large countries have to do something about global warming.
This is obviously wrong.

Whenever there are two populations being compared there needs to be a consideration for how many people are in each population. Canada’s overall emissions is less than China’s but its per capita emissions is higher. In fact, Canada has one of the highest per capita green house gas emissions. There are, of course, other factors which should be considered but population is the biggest one. The fact that Canada’s per capita amount is so high means that it should be working the hardest to reduce it. It is also in a far better position than a lot of countries due to its wealth and advanced economy.

The other part of the argument is also fallacious. Suppose that Canada’s emissions were not actually higher on a per capita basis. Does the fact that it only accounts for 1.5% of global emissions provide support for the idea that it doesn’t need to do anything to help? Of course not. Most of the world’s countries produce even fewer emissions. If every country was making the claim that they only produce a small fraction of the emissions than no one would do anything.

Finally, there is the argument that because some countries may not be doing their fair share that lets all the other countries off the hook. This is also clearly wrong. An individual country should do the right thing regardless of what other countries are doing. This isn’t necessarily a universal rule that applies to all situations but it does apply to this one due to the nature of the problem. An analogy would be a group of cities along a lake. It would be in each cities’ best interests not to pollute the lake regardless of what the other cities do. Why? Because the lake is where the cities get their drinking water and so the less poisoned the better. This can be compared to climate change where the long term weather patterns are going to have devastating effects across the globe.

All of these arguments against a carbon tax should be clearly identifiable as wrong however people have and will continue to use them. It’s just another example of politics and bad reasoning being mixed together.