Arnold Kling  

Outsourcing our Carbon Emissions

What Happened to State and Loc... Why is it Life Insurance?...

The blogger at The Oil Drum writes:

We are dealing with a large number of countries with very different energy intensities. The big issue would seem to be outsourcing of heavy manufacturing. This makes the energy intensity of the country losing the manufacturing look better. Outsourcing transfers manufacturing to a country with a much higher energy intensity, so even with the new manufacturing, its ratio can still look better (lower). It is hard to measure the overall impact of outsourcing, except by looking at world total energy intensities rather than individual country amounts.

The piece makes a number of interesting points and is hard to excerpt. Pointer from Tyler Cowen.

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COMMENTS (7 to date)
Bryan Willman writes:

The cited article makes a good point.

One sees many variations of this.

One used to see charts of CO2 by area. After it was pointed out that this mapped to population density, they did charts normalized per capita. But that's still wrong, because the consumer of the product may be far from where the CO2 is emitted. (Think of an electrically heated house a long transmission line away from a large coal plant.)

Local politicians used to talk about wanting "green" jobs and used it as a kind of eco-credential. OK, so we won't make cars in Seattle, but we still drive them, and that means the envrionmental burden of making a car or refining fuel for it was suffered *somewhere*.

Local concentration of course matters, but for a global issue (and CO2 is nothing but) moving the emissions somewhere else while consuming the product whose product caused them doesn't solve anything real.

Jack writes:

This reminds me of the Summers memo (from his days at the World Bank) on outsourcing pollution, though for Summers (or was it in fact his assistant Lant Pritchett?) it was just a thought experiment, maybe even a bit of humor.

[Link added via edit per Jack--Econlib Ed.]

Yancey Ward writes:


For Jack's comment, this is probably the best place to look since it has some important references, too.

Noah writes:

Oil Drum has good stuff, including great link aggregation for anyone who is interested in energy issues.

Steve Sailer writes:

Oil Drum's analysis should distinguish better between total and per capita carbon emissions. Total global emissions can be exacerbated or ameliorated through immigration policy. Immigration from a country with low carbon emissions per capita to a country with high carbon emissions per capita, such as Guatemala to America (where the difference per capita is about an order of magnitude), will, over time, significantly impact total global carbon emissions.

Immigrants from low per capita emissions countries will either assimilate economically to America's high emissions culture or fail to assimilate economically.

Anna Quezon writes:

The bigger issue at hand is determining how the world will be in the future if environmental issues continue and we don't change it now. We are already consuming more than can be restored. Eventually, if we continue to consume at this rate, there will be no resources left available.

Dependency on fossil fuels can no longer be an option. We need to learn to adjust in order to live sustainably. We can no longer continue to consume the we do, our ONE planet cannot sustain all our demands. We need to seriously switch to alternatives reducing our carbon emissions.

JH writes:

It is interesting to note that during the same period (1980 onwards) global material intensity has dropped by around 30%. (See e.g. figure 5 on

What is the difference between energy and material commodity markets? Is the impact of fossil fuel subsidies blunting incentives to improve efficiency (particularly in the developing world)? (I assume that real prices for materials and energy commodities have followed a similar path during the period but haven't checked.)

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