Category Archives: environment

Global Economy Stagnates to End 2022

Earth's economic growth, as measured by the pace at which carbon dioxide accumulates in the atmosphere, slipped a bit during December 2022. That mildly negative change indicates the global economy stagnated as 2022 ended, continuing the mostly flat trend established since the end of the third quarter of the year.

That's how we're reading the latest data tracking changes in the Mauna Loa Observatory's ongoing measurements of the concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere. Here's the picture.

Trailing Twelve Month Average of Year-Over-Year Change in Parts per Million of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, January 2000 - December 2022

The stagnation at the global level during the fourth quarter of 2022 coincides with three major regional developments:

  • The U.S. economy continued experiencing positive growth following its technical recession during the first half of 2022, though with signs of slowing growth.
  • The Eurozone experienced slow-to-negative economic growth conditions resulting from ongoing disruptions stemming from Russia's 24 February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
  • China's economy slumped to its slowest growth in decades because its government's nearly three year old policy of zero-COVID lockdowns and their resulting economic disruption. The government didn't reverse its ham-handed policy until the end of December 2022 following widespread political protests.

December 2022 also saw a change in how the Mauna Loa Observatory goes about collecting its measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. With the eruption of the Mauna Loa volcano, the Observatory suspended its CO₂ data collection on 29 November 2022 after a lava flow took out power lines and blocked staff access to the observatory. The Observatory's data for December 2022 was collected at the Maunakea Observatories, which are 21 miles north of the Mauna Loa Observatory.

On a final note, we're happy to welcome Environmental Economics' John Whitehead and Tim Haab back to the world of active blogging following their prolonged stints in the glamorous role of administration at their respective universities!

References

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Earth System Research Laboratory. Mauna Loa Observatory CO2 Data. [Text File]. Updated 6 Janaury 2023. Accessed 6 January 2023.

Global Economy Sees Minor Pickup in November 2022, Holds Flat to 2022-Q3 Rebound

After cooling in October 2022, Earth's economy picked up somewhat in November 2022. That rebound however hasn't risen above the recent peak set at the end of 2022-Q3.

That's the latest assessment of the state of the world's economy as measured on the side of an erupting volcano in Hawaii. More specifically, the Mauna Loa Observatory's measurements of the changing concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere that are linked to human activities give us the following picture through November 2022.

Trailing Twelve Month Average of Year-Over-Year Change in Parts per Million of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, January 2000 - November 2022

With the Mauna Loa volcano erupting, we wondered what kind of impact that might have on the observatory's measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide. According to the observatory, there's very little-to-none, because they can easily account for it:

Most of the time, the observatory experiences “baseline” conditions and measures clean air which has been over the Pacific Ocean for days or weeks. We know this because the CO2 analyzer usually gives a very steady reading which varies by less than 3/10 of a part per million (ppm) from hour to hour. These are the conditions we use to calculate the monthly averages that go into the famous 50-year graph of atmospheric CO2 concentration.

We only detect volcanic CO2 from the Mauna Loa summit late at night at times when the regional winds are light and southerly. Under these conditions, a temperature inversion forms above the ground, and the volcanic emissions are trapped near the surface and travel down our side of the mountain slope. When the volcanic emissions arrive at the observatory, the CO2 analyzer readings increase by several parts per million, and the measured amounts become highly variable for periods of several minutes to a few hours. In the last decade, this has occurred on about 15% of nights between midnight and 6 a.m.

These periods of elevated and variable CO2 levels are so different from the typical measurements that is easy to remove them from the final data set using a simple mathematical “filter.”

NOAA’s Earth Science Research Laboratory program also measures CO2 in weekly flask samples taken at over 60 remote locations around the world. The Mauna Loa Observatory baseline CO2 concentrations agree very well with flask measurements taken at a similar latitude around the world, which confirms that the volcanic CO2 does not affect our final results.

We use those final results in our methodology for evaluating the relative health of the global economy, which means our assessment isn't affected by the erupting volcano just around the corner from where those CO₂ measurements are taken.

Speaking of which, here is livestream from the U.S. Geological Survey's web cam set up to monitor the eruption, which lets us close with the closest we can get to a bang for what's otherwise pretty dry analysis....

The USGS reports they've been having intermittent problems with the livestream, so you may be seeing a static video that was recorded shortly before the connection was dropped. It's always a pain to get signal bars out in the middle of nowhere.

References

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Earth System Research Laboratory. Mauna Loa Observatory CO2 Data. [Text File]. Updated 5 December 2022. Accessed 5 December 2022.

Global Economy Cools in October 2022, Reversing 2022-Q3 Rebound

The Earth's economy cooled in October, reversing what had been a strong rebound in the third quarter of 2022.

That's the assessment from how the pace at which carbon dioxide is being added to the Earth's atmosphere changed during the first month of the fourth quarter of 2022. That change comes as signs that the United States' economy, the Eurozone's economy, and China's economy are all showing cracks after they rebounded during the preceding quarter. The latest update to Political Calculations' chart illustrating the rate at which CO₂ is accumulating in the Earth's air shows the results of the rebounds taking place in the world's two largest economies.

Trailing Twelve Month Average of Year-Over-Year Change in Parts per Million of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, January 2000 - October 2022

Because China is the world's largest emitter of CO₂ by a very wide margin, what's happening with its economy plays an outsize role in how much carbon dioxide is added to the Earth's air. During October 2022, China's government ramped up its ongoing COVID-zero lockdowns, seriously disrupting the nation's economy. That negative impact is confirmed by China's imports of foreign-produced goods, which fell during October 2022.

At the same time, China's exports crashed in October 2022, particularly to both the United States and to the Eurozone, which indicates the relative economic health of both regions declined during the month. Here, central bank rate hikes aimed at arresting high inflation are having a negative effect on economic growth in each of these regions. The U.S. and E.U. are respectively the second and third largest emitters of carbon dioxide to the Earth's atmosphere.

In our last edition, we asked how long might 2022-Q3's uptrend last? Although we were already seeing signs that rate hikes in the U.S. and the Chinese government's economically destructive zero-COVID lockdowns had the potential to reverse the summer's rebound, we wouldn't have guessed that it was already over as each of these regions are now dealing with strengthening recessionary forces.

The effects of which can coincidentally be confirmed by measuring the rate at which the concentration of an invisible gas in the Earth's atmosphere changes at a remote observatory on the side of a volcano in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

References

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Earth System Research Laboratory. Mauna Loa Observatory CO2 Data. [Text File]. Updated 5 November 2022. Accessed 7 November 2022.

Atmospheric CO₂ Suggests Global Economy Gained Steam in 2022-Q3

September 2022 saw the global economy gain apparent strength for the third consecutive month.

That assessment is indicated by the continuing rebound in the rate at which carbon dioxide is being added to the Earth's atmosphere during the third quarter of 2022. That new upward trend coincides with increased economic activity in China, by far the world's largest producer of carbon dioxide emissions, which has been lifting its government's latest economy-depressing zero-COVID lockdowns and has fired up coal-fueled power plants to promote its "energy security" to recover from a fossil fuel shortage.

It also coincides with improvement in the U.S. economy following the country's "technical" recession that saw its real GDP shrink during the first half of 2022. Though it has the world's largest economy, at less than 46% of China's output, the United States ranks as the world's second largest national producer of CO₂ emissions.

The latest update to Political Calculations' chart illustrating the rate at which CO₂ is accumulating in the Earth's air shows the results of the rebounds taking place in the world's two largest economies.

Trailing Twelve Month Average of Year-Over-Year Change in Parts per Million of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, January 2000 - September 2022

The big question now is how long might that uptrend last? Signs the global economy is slowing as central banks impose rate hikes in a "synchronized" effort to restrain inflation suggest the pace of CO₂ accumulation in the Earth's atmosphere may soon start falling again. That's because producing that outcome is expected to throw much of the world's economy into recession, where a global economy that's shrinking will emit less carbon dioxide. That die would seem to have already been cast, especially with the Chinese government committing to continue and expand its economically destructive "zero-COVID" lockdowns and a developing recession expected in the U.S.

Update 14 October 2022

Two late breaking stories regarding the state of China's economy confirm Political Calculations' analysis. Here are the headlines:

References

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Earth System Research Laboratory. Mauna Loa Observatory CO2 Data. [Text File]. Updated 5 October 2022. Accessed 5 October 2022.

America’s Missing Electricity Generation Capacity

How much more electricity generation capacity needs to be added to the U.S. power grid to fuel a complete conversion electric cars?

Last week, we took on the personal finance question of whether a petroleum or electric-powered vehicle is the better buy, but we didn't stop to consider where that electricity comes from. The following chart shows the mix of sources that Americans used to power the U.S. economy with 4,109 terawatt-hours (TWh), or 4,109 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh), in 2020.

2020 U.S. Electricity Generation by Type

The most important thing to recognize about this chart is that only an exceptionally small fraction of all that power generated actually goes to charge up electric-powered vehicles. Nearly all of that generated electricity is used instead for other purposes, which means that if Americans are to fully switch over to electric vehicles, the country needs to significantly boost its electric generation capacity to provide the juice they will need to run.

So how many cars are we talking about? For a visual frame of reference, the next chart shows how tiny the share of electric vehicles was in 2020. (For simplicity, we've grouped all electric vehicles into the Automobiles category).

2020 U.S. Vehicle Mix by Type

From here, we just need to know that the average electric vehicle consumes 34.6 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity to travel 100 miles, and we can run some back-of-the-envelope numbers to find out how much more electricity generation capacity will be needed to avoid things that would lower the quality of life for Americans or harm the economy, like rolling blackouts.

We built a tool to do the math. If you're accessing this tool on a site that republishes our RSS news feed, please click through to our site to access a working version.

Electric Car and Power Generation Data
Input Data Values
Number of Electric Vehicles Being Added to U.S. Roads
Average Electricity Consumed per 100 miles Driven [kWh]
Average Annual Miles Driven per Vehicle
Power Generation Capacity Factor

America's Missing Electricity Generation Capacity
Calculated Results Values
Additional Electricity Generation Needed [TWh]

For our default data, we find that the U.S. power grid will need to expand its capacity by 583.0 TWh per year to accommodate the power needs of 104,124,090 electric vehicles. Today, that additional needed electricity generation capacity is missing from the United States' power grid.

This result assumes the new electricity generation capacity comes from nuclear energy, which according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, is the most reliable source of electricity. Of course, there are other ways to generate electricity, for which you can substitute the EIA's indicated capacity factors for those other sources in our tool.

U.S. Capacity Factor by Energy Source - 2021

As you'll find, your choice of how that electricity is generated has a huge impact on how much more electricity generation capacity will be needed just to power electric vehicles.

References

Daly, Lyle. How Many Cars Are in the U.S.? Car Ownership Statistics 2022. Motley Fool. [Online Article]. 18 May 2022.

International Energy Agency (IEA). Electric Vehicles. [Online Report]. November 2021. Accessed 10 September 2022.

U.S. Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Energy. What Is Generation Capacity? [Online Article]. 1 May 2020.

Wallach, Omri. Road to Decarbonization: The United States Electricity Mix. Visual Capitalist. [Online Article]. 31 August 2021.