Cutting the Carbon Cord

April 6, 2016


The big mistake the Utility industry made in the 1970s was, they assumed that GDP growth and electricity consumption were joined and the hip and inseparable, that there was absolutely no elasticity or price sensitivity in demand.

Along came the OPEC embargo, oil prices spiked, and between 1973 and 1975, big power users found out they could make huge cuts in energy use and still remain competitive, in fact, even more so.  Amory Lovins has been eating out on this concept ever since.(see below)

New York Times:

Throughout the 20th century, the global economy was fueled by burning coal to run factories and power plants, and burning oil to move planes, trains and automobiles. The more coal and oil countries burned — and the more planet-warming carbon dioxide they emitted — the higher the economic growth.

And so it seemed logical that any policy to reduce emissions would also push countries into economic decline.

Now there are signs that G.D.P. growth and carbon emissions need not rise in tandem, and that the era of decoupling could be starting. Last year, for the first time in the 40 years since both metrics have been recorded, global G.D.P. grew but global carbon emissions leveled off. Economists got excited, but they also acknowledged that it could have been an anomalous blip.

But a study released by the International Energy Agency last month found that the trend continued in 2015. In another study published on Tuesday, Nathaniel Aden, a research fellow at the World Resources Institute, a Washington think tank, found that since the start of the 21st century, 21 countries, including the United States, have already fully decoupled their economic growth from carbon emissions. In those countries, while G.D.P. went up over the past 15 years, carbon pollution went down.

“It’s really exciting, and it suggests that countries can sever the historic link between economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions,” Mr. Aden said.

Of course, even if 21 countries have achieved decoupling, more than 170 countries have not. They continue to follow the traditional economic path of growth directly tied to carbon pollution. Among those are some of the world’s biggest polluters: China, India, Brazil and Indonesia.

And decoupling by just 21 countries is not enough to save the planet as we know it. Over the 15 years that Mr. Aden studied, the decoupled countries lowered emissions about 1 billion tons — but overall global emissions grew about 10 billion tons.

The question is whether what happened in the 21 countries can be a model for the rest of the world. Almost all of them are European, but not all are advanced Group of 20 economies. Bulgaria, Romania and Uzbekistan are among them.


Carbon Brief:

However, it is not enough for global emissions to stall. In the interests of maintaining a planet where global temperature rise stays well below 2C, and preferably below 1.5C, the UN has said that emissions must fall to net zero in the second half of the century.

The IEA’s analysis masks considerable regional variety. The global stalling of emissions in 2014 and 2015 is the product of rising emissions in most countries, accompanied by a reduction in others.

Most of the countries that have cut their emissions have also grown their economies. This means that, for a handful of nations, the process of decoupling emissions from the economy is well underway.

The World Resources Institute, a climate think-tank based in Washington DC, has today released analysis showing which countries have achieved this decoupling, by comparing BP data on emissions to World Bank data on GDP.

The BP data contains emissions statistics from 67 countries. Of these, 21 have succeeded in decreasing their emissions while growing their GDP in the period 2000 to 2014.

Here, a recap of what happened following the jump in oil prices in the 70s, and energy efficiency in general, and a more recent video from Amory Lovins on disrupting the energy and oil industy.




20 Responses to “Cutting the Carbon Cord”

  1. lracine Says:

    The data the NY times uses came from the World Resource Institute, and the data used to generate “that spin” came from BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2015 (yes folks that BP.. aka Merchant of Doubt…..).

    The numbers cited in the World Resource Institute do not MATCH the IEA Report…. there appears to be a discrepancy between BP Statistical Review and the IEA Report for CO2 Emissions….

    For example, the WRI reports says that there was a 3% decrease in Austria’s CO2 emissions from 2000 to 2014 (this was a randomly selected data point, the first one I came to, to compare the two reports….).

    The IEA reports that Austria’s CO2 emissions were 61.7 million tons for 2000 and 65.1 million tons for 2013…. this is NOT a decrease!!!!

    The IEA report is well worth the time to sit down and read….

    If you want to investigate BP’s numbers here is the link. (By the way, BP’s numbers on Proven Reserves and Production are pretty accurate…. but this is different….. lol).

    In the IEA Report, all the data from 2013 to present are projections…. not actual reporting…

    Having watched the IEA “projections” in other areas over the years… they do a pretty go job “actually” reporting “hard data” supplied to them… the accuracy of their “future projects” leave a bit to be desired…. so throw everything from 2013 to present into garbage can and look at what is left.

    The countries are reporting data for fuel usage.. not CO2 emissions… the IEA is then applying a methodology to calculate the emission based on this data, see page 37 of the report… this methodology has been “adjusted” and changed several times over the years. The explanation of the methodology leave questions,,, but compared to the observed and measured CO 2 levels in Hawaii, do they track ? Are they correlated? You all can draw your own conclusions on that.

    The conclusion reached on page 50 of the report is that the CO2 emissions have increased by 56% for the time frame of 1990 to 2013.

    Or to put it this way per the IEA….

    1990 the Global CO2 emission for that year 20,623 million tons
    2000 the Global CO2 emission for that year 23,322 million tons
    2013 the Global CO2 emission for that year 32,190 million tons

    I’ll stop my rant at this point…. I think I have made my case that this report by WRI is a load of stinky worm infested dog dodo…….

  2. H Lee Grove Says:


    Here is a fascinating presentation by an French engineer on the topic of GDP/BTU. It’s a little fast to read the subtitles if you don’t speak French, but not undoable. He makes some pretty interesting predictions–that are already manifesting themselves (2nd video link) in multiple ways only 2 years later.


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