Friday, December 16, 2011

Uncle Sam Is Cutting Carbon: Carbon Emissions Falling In 2011 & 2012

Uncle Sam is becoming a carbon fighter. Consider these surprising facts:

While world carbon emissions escalate alarmingly, US carbon emissions from fossil fuels are projected to fall 0.7% in both 2011 and 2012, according to the EIA in its December 6th Short-Term Energy Outlook (

Assuming falling carbon emissions in 2011 and 2012, US carbon emissions from fossil fuels will have fallen in 4 of the last 5 years or in 5 of the last 7 years.

US carbon emissions from fossil fuels by 2012 will be at or below 1998 levels, according to EIA data.

If the world had the US record over the last 5 to 7 years, the world would be on the road to stabilizing carbon concentrations in the atmosphere at levels consistent with a 2 degree celsius warming, the global goal at this point.

So how is Uncle Sam cutting carbon? He is using more gas to use less coal that emits twice the carbon of gas; doubling wind power production in 3 years; increasing 8-fold solar generation in 3 years; using energy more efficiently in transportation and buildings, with electricity consumption projected to decline in 2012; and replacing oil with lower carbon fuels like gas, ethanol, and biodiesel.


  1. Oh yea... and that recession.

    Are you kidding?

    Maybe that's how "Uncle Sam" cuts carbon, but I'm pretty sure the US cuts carbon (which, by the way, we probably produce more of per capita than any other nation, if I had to guess) through a recession caused by speculative bets on a bubble combined with rising crude costs...

    Yes, maybe "Uncle Sam" and the rest of the world should try this approach every year... Brilliant.



  4. GDP has grown every quarter since July 1, 2009. The carbon reductions in 2009 were caused in part by the economic collapse from December 2007 to July 2009. The economy grew in 2010; grew in 2011, with unemployment declining from 10.1% to 8.6%. The economy is forecasted to grow again in 2012. The declines in carbon are taking place when the economy is growing and unemployment declining and when more than 2.5 million new jobs have been created sine the first quarter of 2010. The carbon cuts are happening for the reasons stated in the post, especially greater use of gas and renewables.

  5. Hmm, that's funny because the first link I posted suggests that C02 emissions went back up significantly in 2010, which I attributed to rebounding economic growth, despite efficiency gains. See the first three graphs in the first link. Our population, output per capita, energy intensity, and carbon intensity all grew slightly. However, I'm sure this would me magnified, if not for the factors you mention.

    I'd agree with your points; I just wouldn't agree that those (policy-related) are the primary drivers behind the fall in emissions. Our C02 emissions plateaued over the last decade. This is a function of the fact that we are a developed country. So by drawing some fuzzy parallel between our own rate of emissions and that of the rest of the world, you seem to ignore the fact that highest rates of increases of emissions will be in developing countries, not countries with mature economies like ours.

  6. The 2010 increase was a bounce off a huge fall in 2009, a portion of which was caused by the economic collapse. The 2010 increase in the US was really misleading and counter the trend toward lower emissions that started in 2006. The US economy has been developed for a long time and its emissions were increasing substantially from 1970 to 2006. The USA has also added 30 million people since 2000. The trend starting in 2006 toward lower USA emissions is because of the rise of gas, renewables, energy efficiency--all of which are much lower carbon than coal and oil. In terms of world emissions, they are going up at a very fast rate due to Chinese, Indian, and a few other sources. I recognize that world emissions are going up and why. My point is that the US is no longer a cause of rising world emissions. In fact, the US is becoming a source of downward emission numbers, even as 2.5 million new jobs have been created in the last 2 years.


    well, I like your positive thinking, John; however a person who weighs 300 lbs and then loses 20 is still fat in my book...


    per capita graph as well...

  9. The point of the post is not to suggest that America is not the 2nd leading emitter or that per capita US emissions are not among the highest. The point of the post is to point out that US emissions are now creating a brand new trend. The US is at an inflection point because gas, renewables, energy efficiency are displacing coal and oil, much more carbon intensive fuels. US total emissions have fallen significantly since 2005. Per capita emissions have fallen by a higher amount, more than 12%, given total emissions are below 2000 levels but we have added 30 million Americans since 2000. US total emissions will be at the end of 2012 5% to 6% above 1990 levels, the old Kyoto benchmark. By contrast, Canadian emissions are 20% above 1990 levels. If the USA continues to improve fuel efficiency (CAFE has been raised twice by President Obama), continues to substitute gas and renewables for coal and oil, continues to slow the increases in electricity consumption (EIA projects a stunning decline in electricity consumption in 2012 after a very small 0.3% increase in 2011), then Uncle Sam will become a bigger carbon fighter than he has been since 2005.