Have US Carbon Emissions Peaked? – An Analysis

June 12, 2009

Federal legislation to cap US carbon emissions is imminent (or at least we hope so). Virtually all of the largest states have enacted either comprehensive caps on carbon emissions or at least set enforceable goals to get more energy from clean sources like wind and solar. Soon, new cars are going to have to get more miles on a gallon of gas, dramatically reducing emissions from the transportation sector of our economy. And new energy efficient technologies are coming out every day, helping us do more with less. So is it safe to say that US carbon emissions have peaked? US carbon emissions are down and they will drop further if we fight climate change, create green jobs. In 2008, US carbon emissions dropped by 2.8 percent, the steepest decline since 1982 according to the Washington Post. Now there is no doubt that this drop is strong correlated to the economic down turn (historically, carbon emissions have always risen with economic increased output and fallen during recessions), but other factors are in play here. But what is more telling is that the ties that bind the economy to carbon seem to be getting weaker – “the amount of carbon dioxide produced for every dollar of economic output also declined by 3.8 percent.” What does that 3.8 percent mean? It means is that we are even less reliant on carbon dioxide to fuel our economic recovery than we thought and that we are able to generate capital with less and less carbon. With the recession continuing in 2009, it seems likely that we will see overall US emissions drop even more, even if we were doing nothing to consciously de-carbonize our economy… But we are actively fighting climate change, and the steps that we take today will ensure that our tomorrow will be cleaner and greener, throughout the bears and the bull. Fighting climate change and breaking the ties that bind our economic output to carbon and protect us for surging commodity prices for oil and coal. Though the recession is costing us jobs and so much more, it has given us the opportunity to build a recovery plan that respects people and the planet. By continuing to fight climate change through legislation, everyday action, and carbon offsets, we are actively stimulating the economy. Green jobs have surged in recent years, thanks in no small part to private initiatives. The economic downturn will cost us jobs in some sectors, but through the continued support of carbon offsets and clean energy policies, we can create jobs that match our values, while continuing the critical work of stopping climate change. Resources: The Clean Energy Economy, Pew Charitable Trusts