Good News of the Day: U.S. Carbon Emissions Dropped 7% in 2009

US carbon emissions chart

The massive oil spill off the Gulf Coast has left a bitter taste in our mouths, and for good reason—how could this happen at the same time that the environmental movement is finally rallying popular support? But all is not lost, according to a new report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The U.S. managed to slash carbon emissions by a record 7% in 2009—a drop of 405 million metric tons. That's the biggest percentage decline since emissions data collection began in 1949.

Some of the decline can be attributed to the economic downturn. This is worrying, as Andrew Revkin points out in the New York Times, because different parts of the economy change at different rates. That means we need to pay attention to the possibility, for example, that customers of coal-burning utilities were hit harder by the recession than other citizens.

US carbon emissions chart

But the recession is far from the only contributing factor to the emissions decline. Even though economic activity dropped 2.4% last year, the population increased 0.9%. One of the biggest factors in the CO2 drop: a 4.3% drop in the carbon intensity of the energy sector due to increased use of renewables and natural gas production efficiency improvements. Better vehicle fuel efficiency also played a part. So hey, our push toward efficiency and clean energy might actually be working! It's a start.

[EIA]

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4 Comments

  • Jake Kennedy

    Interesting that this isn't more widely publicized. I guess it's because of the effect that contributing factors. Still, I think those contributing factor measurements are just as interesting -- the 4.3% drop in carbon intensity tells a story of its own! Thanks for this post.

    http://planningcycle.blogspot....

  • Jake Kennedy

    Thanks for this article, which isn't being reported on widely enough.

    From my planners perspective, it raises an interesting issue over performance indicators. By defining success as the reduction of carbon emissions, you rightly point out that we get a false reading - because of fluctuations in economic activity, etc.

    The better performance measurement is, as you point out, carbon intensity reduction.

    http://planningcycle.blogspot....

  • Jake Kennedy

    It's a shame this isn't getting more widely reported. Thank you for posting it.

    It raises the importance of how we define success in our efforts to combat climate change. By focusing our performance story on the decline in carbon emissions, perhaps we are casting too broad a net. As you point out, it raises issues related to fluctuations in economic activity, etc.

    The most telling data point is, as you say, "One of the biggest factors in the CO2 drop: a 4.3% drop in the carbon intensity of the energy sector due to increased use of renewables and natural gas production efficiency improvements".

    To me, this is the indicator of success.

    http://planningcycle.blogspot....

  • Jake Kennedy

    Thanks for this article, which isn't being reported on widely enough.

    From my planners perspective, it raises an interesting issue over performance indicators. By defining success as the reduction of carbon emissions, you rightly point out that we get a false reading - because of fluctuations in economic activity, etc.

    The better performance measurement is, as you point out, carbon intensity reduction.

    http://planningcycle.blogspot....