MTU Researchers Introduce Bottleneck Theory to Calculate Carbon Emissions Liability
A new study by Michigan Tech researchers questions conventional methods of calculating carbon emissions liability based on point source pollution by introducing a new “bottleneck” theory.
By the term “carbon liability,” we mean a calculation of values approximating the economic externalities of carbon emissions in the global economy, in relation to the totality of global economic activity.
A comparison of the results for conventional point source pollution and bottleneck carbon emissions sources shows that oil and natural gas pipelines are far more important than simple point-source emissions calculations would indicate. It also shifts the emissions liability towards the East Coast from the Midwest. Most surprisingly, the study found that seven out of eight oil pipelines in the U.S. responsible for facilitating the largest amount of carbon emissions are not American.
The study presented an open and transparent methodology for prioritizing climate lawsuits based on an individual facility’s ability to act as a bottleneck for carbon emissions.
Fossil fuels (coal, oil, and all-natural fuel) emit carbon dioxide when burned, which experts say is the greenhouse fuel generally responsible for worldwide warming and local climate improvement. Local weather improvement brings about numerous issues that economists get in touch with “externalities” due to the fact they are external to the market place. In a new study revealed in Energies, Alexis Pascaris, graduate college student in environmental and vitality plan, and Joshua Pearce, the Witte Professor of Engineering, the two of Michigan Technological College, describe how present-day US legislation does not account for these costs and explore how litigation could be employed to tackle this flaw in the market place. The study also investigates which businesses would be at most chance.
Pearce explained their past work found that “as climate science moves closer to being able to identify which emitters are responsible for climate costs and disasters, emissions liability is becoming a profound business risk for some companies.”
Most work in carbon emissions liability focuses on who did the wrong and what the costs are. Pascaris and Pearce’s “bottleneck” theory places the focus on who enables emissions.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines point source pollution as “any single identifiable source of pollution from which pollutants are discharged.” For example, pipelines themselves create very little point source pollution, yet an enormous amount of effort has been focused on stopping the Keystone XL Pipeline because of the presumed emissions it enables.
The Michigan Tech study asked: Would the magnitude of the emissions enabled by a pipeline warrant the effort, or should lawsuits be focused elsewhere if minimizing climate change is the goal?
In order to answer this question quantitatively, the study presented an open and transparent methodology for prioritizing climate lawsuits based on an individual facility’s ability to act as a bottleneck for carbon emissions.
“Just like a bottleneck that limits the flow of water, what our emissions bottleneck theory does is identify what carbon emissions would be cut off if a facility was eliminated rather than only provide what emissions come directly from it as a point source,” Pearce said. “This study found that point source pollution in the context of carbon emissions can be quite misleading.
Overall, seven of eight oil pipelines in the U.S. are foreign-owned and accountable for contributing 74% of the entire oil industry’s carbon emissions. They are a likely prioritization for climate-related lawsuits and thus warrant higher climate liability insurance premiums.
As a whole, fossil-fuel related companies identified in the study have increased risks due to legal liability, future regulations meant to curb climate destabilization, and as targets for eco-terrorism.