The Recent History of GDP Growth, CO2 Emissions, and Climate Policy Paralysis, All in One Table-Runner

Stan Cox & Priti Gulati Cox

IMG_6441cross-stitch embroidered table-runner. Watch this video narrated by Piyush Labhsetwar

Note: I began designing this table-runner just before the COVID-19 pandemic blew up in the United States. In the time I have been embroidering it, rates of death and misery have soared while wealth generation and carbon emissions (the two subjects of this work) have ended their decades-long rise and have plummeted. A deadly virus is a terrible means of slowing greenhouse warming. Whenever we come out the other side of the pandemic, we must pursue a rapid, humane, ecologically sound, and guaranteed-effective course of action to drive greenhouse emissions down to zero. Here’s how

— P.G.C.

The color of money is the color of calamity

This table-runner illustrates, from left to right, the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration from 1946 to the present. Each year is represented by two adjacent stripes: one in gradually deepening shades of green representing that year’s U.S. gross domestic product (adjusted for inflation) and one in increasingly intense shades of yellow-orange-red, representing CO2 concentration. 

There are nine shades for GDP and eleven for CO2, with shades indicating roughly equal intervals of increase in each. The shades of both types of stripes darken as the years go by, in accordance with the increases that occurred in both GDP and CO2. 

The shades of yellow-orange-red in the table-runner darken more and more rapidly as the years pass, illustrating how emissions of CO2 accelerated as industrial output and fossil-fuel use rose more rapidly throughout the world. The concentration of CO2 rose at an annual rate of about 0.8 ppm from 1945 to 1980; 1.5 ppm from 1980 to 1995; and 2.1 ppm from 1995 to 2019. (The United States accounted for almost 20 percent of the rise in atmospheric CO2 during those years.)

If two such numbers (“variables”) increase or decrease together over time, that does not prove that one causes the other to change. But growing economies do require growing inputs of energy and other resources and emit growing quantities of CO2. Thoughout the past century, anywhere you look around the world, GDP and CO2 emissions have risen (and sometimes fallen) together.

Increases in GDP and CO2 over the past three decades have had one easily identifiable cause in common: the reluctance of governments to curb the carbon emissions of the world’s largest economies for fear of slowing the growth of their own GDP.

Growth was non-negotiable

In the year 1700, the concentration of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere was about 270 parts per million (ppm). At the end of World War II, following a century of increasing fossil-fuel use, CO2 was up to 310 ppm.

Scan 1(1946 – 1960)

The increase accelerated gradually through the postwar years, without drawing much attention.

Scan 2(1961 – 1976)

Carbon dioxide concentration reached 339 ppm in 1980, but its rise still was not making headlines.

Scan 3(1977 – 1992)

By 1988, though, worldwide concern had grown to the point that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established to study the situation. That year, the CO2 concentration was 350 ppm (a figure that would become a climate rallying cry twenty years later when climate scientist James Hansen and colleagues concluded that a world “similar to the one on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted” would become impossible unless CO2 is driven back down to 350 ppm or below.)

Scan 4(1992 – 2007)

In the decades since 1988, progressively louder alarms have been going off.

Scan 5(2005 – 2019)

But any serious efforts to curb emissions were stymied by a consensus among the United States and other governments that the only available course of action was inaction. They feared that if the world were to take effective action on greenhouse emissions, economic growth would be hampered. And to them, that was unacceptable. 

As the years rolled on, the accumulation of wealth proceeded on schedule with just a few interruptions, while greenhouse gases continued to accumulate in the sky above:

1992: At the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is agreed upon. At the summit, President George H.W. Bush claims for his country the right to pursue uninterrupted growth, whatever the impact on the Earth. He infamously declares, “The American way of life is not up for negotiation.” That year, the U.S. GDP stands at $6.5 trillion; atmospheric CO2 has risen seventeen points over the preceding twelve years and stands at 356 ppm.

1997: The Kyoto Protocol is adopted. The U.S. Senate refuses to ratify Kyoto, with Larry Craig (R-ID) declaring that President Bill Clinton’s signing of the treaty is “the first time in history that an American president has allowed foreign interests to control and limit the growth of the U.S. economy.” GDP: $8.6 trillion, CO2: 363 ppm.

2001: Clinton’s signature remains on the Kyoto pact until midyear, when the newly elected president, George W. Bush, erases it, claiming that the treaty “would have wrecked our economy.” GDP: $10.6 trillion. CO2: 370 ppm.

2008: United Nations officials and economists propose a Green New Deal to pull the world economy out of the Great Recession. The UN Environment Program’s executive director declares, “The new, green economy would provide a new engine of growth, putting the world on the road to prosperity again.” U.S. GDP: $14.7 trillion. Atmospheric CO2: 385 ppm.

2015: The Obama Administration’s climate negotiators, fearful of constraining the nation’s economy, significantly weaken the Paris Agreement on climate. They successfully demand that a single word in the document be changed, so that the United States and other developed countries will agree that they “should” rather than “shall” undertake economy-wide quantified emission reductions. GDP: $18.2 trillion. CO2: within one-half part per million of 400.

2017: Donald Trump withdraws U.S. support from the Paris Agreement, saying, “This agreement is less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States.” He uses the word “climate” only twice more in his statement, both times dismissively, while using the word “economy” or “economic” nineteen times. GDP: 19.5 trillion. CO2: 405 ppm.

2020: The COVID-19 pandemic leads to a worldwide contraction of economic activity, and energy consumption plummets. On Earth Day, the World Meterological Organization predicts that global CO2 emissions will fall by 6 percent that year, the steepest annual decline since World War II. However, the WMO also calls for a “stimulus package” to help the global economy grow once the pandemic is over—a move that would be sure to accelerate the rebound of CO2 emissions. At the start of the pandemic, GDP is $21.7 trillion, and CO2 concentration is up to 415 ppm.

In the forty-three years between World War II and creation of the IPCC, nothing was done about the slow accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere, because governments didn’t recognize it as a problem. Through the following thirty-two years, however, emissions accelerated and catastrophe loomed ever nearer. Yet even with warnings flashing brighter orange and then deeper red, emissions were still left largely unrestrained. That failure resulted, and still results, from the single-minded focus of Big Business and its backers in governments worldwide on limitless wealth accumulation.



Stan Cox (@CoxStan) is the author of the new book The Green New Deal and Beyond: Ending the Climate Emergency While We Still Can (City Lights, May 5).


Pattern for a Hand-Stitched Fabric Face Mask

If you would like a printout of the instructions please click on: face mask pdf 

For those of us who don’t have access to a sewing machine, below are step-by-step photo-instructions on how to make hand-stitched fabric face masks for yourself and your family and friends. Of course it takes longer to put one of these together, but in this age of COVID-19, it is becoming more and more evident that it is crucial for us to wear face masks whenever we venture out whether to go to the grocery store, or for walks etc. So here goes.

These instructions are for a small/medium size face mask that is similar to the sewing machine pattern published by Kaiser Permanente and fits most adults.

According to a recent Washington Post article “if a mask is going to be reused [like this one], it must be kept clean. Layers add additional protection, so three-ply is good.” Also, reports suggest that fabric ties are better than elastic. This pattern — which includes two variations — is designed with those specifications in mind. One of the masks uses three layers of fabric in the design, and both have fabric strips for ties.


IMG_6372These masks, as I said, are made using the same pattern. One of them (the top one) is made with muslin cloth in three-ply; and the second grey one is made with quilting fabric. Basically any tight-woven cotton fabric will do for these hand-stitched masks.

The step-by-step instructions given below are for the white, three-ply version. The grey face mask is made just like the white one, but without the third layer of fabric.

Materials needed include pre-washed cotton muslin cloth, a hand-sewing needle, pins, scissors, thread, pencil and ruler.

IMG_6382For the face mask:

  • One piece of fabric measuring 15 1/2″ x 7 1/2″, folded in half (7 3/4″ x 7 1/2″)
  • One piece of fabric measuring 7 1/2″ x 7 1/2″ (for the third layer insert)
  • Two strips of fabric for the mask ties, measuring 1 1/2″ x 36″


IMG_6300We are going to use a Running Stitch to assemble the mask to emulate a sewing machine stitch. This is done by first stitching in one direction like dashes…

IMG_6301… and then going back and filling the blanks between the dashes like so.

IMG_6302 In order to withstand wearing and washing, the seams must be strong, so 10 to 12 stitches per inch are suggested.


IMG_6319Start off by marking a 1/4″ seam allowance line on the 7 3/4″ x 7 1/2″ (folded) fabric with a ruler and pencil on the opposite side of the folded edge, and start making the running stitch all the way to the end.

IMG_6320Remember to back-stitch about 3-4 stitches at the beginning and end (like you see here) of the seam for strength.

IMG_6321Finishing the seam.

IMG_6322Finished seam.


IMG_6325Now make pencil marks about 1/4 inch deep at the four corners of the 7 1/2″ x 7 1/2″(insert) fabric.

IMG_6326Placing the 7 1/2″ x 7 1/2″ fabric along the stitched seam line and the other three sides of the 7 3/4″ x 7 1/2″ fabric, make small, two-stitch tucks…

IMG_6327… on the four pencil-marked corners to keep the fabric (third layer) insert in place, making sure…

IMG_6328… to attach the insert fabric only to one…

IMG_6330 … of the two layers of folded fabric.

IMG_6333After you’re finished, turn the fabric inside out…

IMG_6334… and flip it to the other side (the side that’s not attached to the insert. Now draw two 1/4″ allowance pencil lines along the two open sides of the fabric and stitch.

IMG_6335Now all four sides are closed. Trim any loose threads and straighten the sides.

IMG_6336With the seam side on top, measure up from the folded edge (bottom) and make pencil marks at 1 1/2″ (mark 1), 1 1/2″ (mark 2), 1″ (mark 3) and 1 1/2″ (mark 4), on each side of the mask.

IMG_6337Starting near the fold line at the bottom, create the first pleat by bringing the first mark to the second mark on both sides of the mask and pin into place. For the second pleat, bring the third mark to the fourth mark on both sides of the mask and pin that into place.

IMG_6338Now stitch the pleats down on each side…

IMG_6339… ensuring to make some extra stitches at the corner of each pleat for strength.

IMG_6340Remove the pins and turn the mask so the seam is on the top and pleats open toward the top of the mask. Mark 7/8” (mark 5) from the top pleat on each side.

IMG_6341Now pin the top pleat to the 7/8″ mark…

IMG_6342… on each side…

IMG_6343… and stitch the 7/8″ pleat down on each side. “This final pleat, according to the Kaiser Permanente pattern, allows the mask to cup over the nose and to hug the side of the face.”

IMG_6345The mask part is now done, and it’s time to attach the 1 1/2″ x 36″ strips of fabric, or straps, that will tie at the back of your head. I made the strips by joining two 1 1/2″ x 18 1/4″ pieces of fabric (like you see above), but you can skip this step if your fabric is long enough. Now mark the center of the strips and make a 1/4″ allowance seam line with a pencil a little over 3 1/2″ long. Also, on the mask, mark the center of the two short sides.

IMG_6348Now pin the center mark of the strip to the center mark on the short edge of the mask, right sides together…

IMG_6349… and stitch.

IMG_6350Fold the strip along the seam line…

IMG_6351… turn the mask around and fold another 1/4″ to the center of the strip…

IMG_6352….. and then double-fold the strip so you are enclosing the edge of the mask and the edges of the strip.

IMG_6353We will be closing the edges of the mask and the edges of the strip by using a hem-stitch. Start by attaching the strip from one edge of the mask to the other.

IMG_6354Press down and fold the rest of the strip in half to make a center line…

IMG_6358… and then double fold again bringing the two 1/4″ folded edges to the center line…

IMG_6359… and enclosing the strip like so.

IMG_6360Here again, at the armpit where the strips attach to the mask, you will make a few extra stitches for strength.

IMG_6361Continue in hem-stitch all the way down the strip…

IMG_6362…till you reach about 2″ from the edge and fold 1/4″…

IMG_6363… fold the strip…

IMG_6365…and close the edges. Repeat this on the other side and the remaining side of the mask with the other strip.

IMG_6367And your mask is ready to wear.


IMG_6368 2For the mask using quilting fabric, you fold the fabric in half, right sides together and stitch the seam on the opposite side of the fold just like you did for the three-ply mask.

IMG_6369Turn the piece so the right side of the fabric is facing out and press the seam (if you have an iron) or just press down like so…

IMG_6371… and you’re ready to make the pleats and attach the strips.

IMG_6374Remember to hand wash the masks after every use…

IMG_6384… line dry…

… and stay safe!

Update: To stitch a face mask for a child, use a 15″ x 5 1/2″ piece of fabric.