Friday, September 28, 2007

US Carbon Emission Fell in 2006

When I talk to informed conservatives on the issue of global warming, they usually will admit that it is occurring. Some will try to fault natural causes, but I'd even say that the majority of die hard, never-voted-for-a-liberal, informed conservatives these days will tell you that global warming is probably caused by human activity. The concern that they have is what the economic cost of reducing carbon emissions will be. And, to me, that is a very real concern. Does it make sense to throw our economy into a tail spin to try to stop global warming now when in the future we may find much more economical solutions? And what about "developing countries" like China and India who are showing no signs of even slowing the growth of their CO2 emissions as their economies continue to ramp up? If we flush our economy down the toilet to save the environment, will they do the same?

Well, the US seems to have found a way to both cut carbon emissions and grow the economy at the same time. For the first time since people started keeping track of carbon emissions, the overall US level of carbon emissions has fallen in a year where the economy grew. The Energy Information Administration (a division of the US Department of Energy) graph on the right shows drop last year, as well as drops in 2001 and 1991. In 2001 and 1991, however, the US economy was in recession, while the US GDP grew by 2.9% in 2006.

The Energy Information Administration also had some mixed news about how this drop happened. As the graph on the left shows, emissions dropped largely because the US is producing cleaner electricity and using less of it (which is the primary source of residential and commercial CO2 emissions), and because US heavy industries are using cleaner power sources (i.e. replacing coal with natural gas). It was also helpful that most of the US had a mild winter and summer in 2006. That's the good news.

The bad news is that despite the increase in average gas mileage for new cars, transportation emission held nearly constant. Hopefully, as more fuel efficient cars continue to become more common, transportation emissions will decline as well, but that's not happening yet. If you'd like to know more, I suggest checking out the Energy Information Administration's presentation in pdf format here.

So what does this all mean? First of all, it means that the US economy can grow at a healthy rate while cutting carbon emissions. Of course CO2 emissions are still so large that a 1% drop isn't much more than a drop in the bucket, so it still remains to be seen if we can make larger cuts in CO2 emissions in time to avoid further climate change (some is probably already inevitable) without damaging the economy. But at least we've shown that it can be done. We can reduce carbon emissions and, at the same time, continue healthy economic growth.

So here's to saving the world and jobs at the same time.

1 comment:

  1. It is definitely possible to reduce carbon emissions and have economic growth. Just go work at a national lab and you'll find lots of people are tackling this issue and have a lot of great ideas.

    The real problem with the global warming fiasco is that too many people disregard science because of personal convictions whether they are political, religious or whatever. Many people have told me "all these scientific theories are just theories, and they are always changing. My sources say it is not and I trust them better than scientists."

    This currently applies to many areas of science, not just global warming. The real problem is we make bad decisions if we ignore science because our pastor, parent who knows nothing of science or your favorite right/left-wing political commentator tells you these scientific claims are probably wrong, always changing and should be disregarded.

    I am not saying scientists should make the worlds decisions. What I am saying is: as people and societies go to make decisions, they need to keep peer-reviewed science in mind so that they don't set up a flawed policy. Or just as good, they need to see if science provides a way to allow them to make their policy better and more efficient.

    Too many people act like politicians or pastors are more likely to understand how the universe works then scientists.


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