Carbon Surprise: US Has Made Biggest Cuts in CO2

June 15, 2012

Vancouver Observer:

The Americans? Really?

Every year the International Energy Agency (IEA) calculates humanity’s CO2 pollution from burning fossil fuels. And once again, the overall story line is one of ever-increasing emissions:

“Global carbon-dioxide emissions from fossil-fuel combustionreached arecord high of 31.6 gigatonnes in 2011.”

The world has yet to figure out how to stop the relentless increase in climate pollution. But mixed in with all the bad news there was one shining ray of hope. One of the biggest obstacles to climate action may be shifting. As the IEA highlighted:

“US emissions have now fallen by 430 Mt (7.7%) since 2006, the largest reduction of all countries or regions. This development has arisen from lower oil use in the transport sector … and a substantial shift from coal to gas in the power sector.”

It seems the planet’s biggest all-time CO2 polluter is finally reducing its emissions.

Until now, the failure by the USA to make significant emission cuts has been at the center of the global deadlock over what to do about climate pollution. Many of the biggest polluting nations — such as China, India, Russia, Canada, Australia, and Brazil — have been reluctant to create policies to reduce CO2 as long as the biggest bad-boy of them all, the USA, wasn’t joining in.

But now, Americans are both promising CO2 cuts and actually doing it. In doing so they are leading the world in total CO2 reductions. Can they keep it up? There are many hopeful signs.

Take a look at my chart below in which I’ve added USA coal, oil and natural gas data. As the IEA pointed out, it is the plunging use of oil and coal that is driving the decline in CO2.

Coal is a “dead man walking”

Coal use in the US plunged 13 percent in the last six years as natural gas and renewables took its place.

Duetsche Bank has called coal use in the US a “dead man walkin'” saying:

“Banks won’t finance them. Insurance companies won’t insure them. The EPA is coming after them…And the economics to make it clean don’t work.”

Oil is pricing itself out of its largest market

The Americans buy more oil than any other nation on earth. But, as I wrote last year, rapidly rising oil prices are driving a big decline in America’s oil use. The price of oil has more than doubled since 2005. Double the price of a commodity and people will use less.

Sure enough, the decline in US oil consumption since 2005 has been dramatic. Americans now buy two million fewer barrels of oil every day. That’s like shutting off three Keystone-XL-sized pipelines.

But despite buying less oil, the Americans’ bill for it rose by $250 billion a year. That is an extra $1,000 per adult every year — for less oil. Ouch.

When it comes to dollars, Americans pay attention. Maybe that is why even the auto makers stood side by side with Obama as he announced regulations forcing cars and light trucks in the USA to improve their miles-per-gallon by 40 per cent this decade. As vehicles become more efficient oil use will fall further.

Since almost all oil in US is used for transportation, the table is set for continuing declines in oil emissions too.

Living in the 1960s

Here is the biggest shocker of all: the average American’s CO2 emissions are down to levels not seen since 1964 — over half a century ago.

One thing to keep in mind as you hear the steady drum beat of climate denial nonsense from Fox News,  Glenn Beck, or right here in comments on this page, is that this is largely the product of desperate, fearful minds, trying to keep alive the paradigm of bygone centuries.  All over America, smart communities, smart businesses, and ordinary people making sensible decisions, are weighing not only the environmental, but the economic costs of continued fossil fuel dependence, and taking a new direction.

Yesterday, I attended a conference in Traverse City Michigan on energy Efficiency. There was a stunning turnout of hundreds – chamber of commerce types, realtors, builders, manufacturers, small business people, as well as city government, journalists, local non-profits and activists, all on the same page that energy efficiency, doing more with less, was the number one route – not to some kind of greeny feel-goodism, but to greater prosperity, lower costs, more employment, better jobs, and a more vibrant and attractive community. That idea has taken deep hold in middle America. The Heartland Institutes, Fox Newses, Rush Limbaughs, and fossil industry mouthpieces might be able to hold things up, they might be able to insure that the US is no longer the technological and scientific leader of the world, but they can’t stop the overall transition that is happening.

21 Responses to “Carbon Surprise: US Has Made Biggest Cuts in CO2”

  1. Since this post below was written, and in the next year or more, nat gas certainly may be the predominant substitute, but something to note is that nat gas often gets all the credit for coal’s fall when clean, renewable energy has actually been doing most of the work — see:

    We’ll see what 2012 shows, but in 2011, it’s pretty clear that renewable energy did most of the heavy lifting.

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