Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Stunning Fact: Carbon Intensity Of US Economy Dropped A Record 6.5% In 2012

US carbon emissions fell to 1994 levels in 2012, despite a growing GDP and the population growing by nearly 3 million. The key to the total emissions decline of 3.8% was a record 6.5% drop in the economy's carbon intensity. That smashes the previous record fall in carbon intensity.

The EIA's must read report on carbon emissions in 2012 says about carbon intensity:

"The combined reduction in energy use per dollar of GDP and the carbon intensity of the energy supply meant that the overall carbon intensity of the economy (carbon dioxide per GDP) declined 6.5 percent in 2012
  • The largest drop in the overall carbon intensity of the economy since records were kept beginning in 1949. Only two other years, 1952 and 1981 had declines greater than 5 percent."


Again, the report is full of important data and is well-worth reading. The data underlines that the US can grow its economy, create 2 million jobs per year, and add 3 million people to its population and cut carbon emissions substantially at the same time, without using magic.

Instead, the combination of using less energy per dollar of GDP and using more zero or low carbon energy is a very real formula for cutting carbon emissions and growing the economy.


  1. John - Although a piece of this decline has to do with natural gas substituting for coal in power generation. (See the report). This is of course true and is why you support the continuation of fracking (more regulated) as a part of the energy puzzle. No doubt Marcellus Shale Coalition will herald this report without looking at the other factors that caused a decline in carbon emissions.

    At the end the report summarizes as follows, without any mention of natural gas in electric energy generation as one of the causes: milder weather, a depressed economy (less industrial output), and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks.

    I doubt the Marcellus Shale Coalition will quote that part of the report.

    Causes for the drop in energy intensity since 2007:
    The factors behind the almost 10-percent drop in energy intensity include:
    •Weather – there was a 7-percent increase in CDDs and an 11.5-percent decrease in HDDs from 2007 to 2012. Because much more energy is needed for space heating than for air conditioning, the decrease in HDDs (and heating demand) outweighed the increase in CDDs (and air conditioning demand). This change in weather reduced energy consumption about 481 trillion Btu in 2012 as compared to 2007 for the residential and commercial sectors.
    •Industrial output was 2.7 percent lower in 2012 than in 2007 and manufacturing output in particular was 5 percent below the 2007 value.
    •Vehicle miles traveled were lower in 2012 than 2007 by 3.3 percent.
    •Vehicle fleet efficiency improved 16 percent between 2007 and 2012, also contributing to lower energy intensity.

    And of course the lower carbon output of natural gas for electricity generation (as compared to coal) ignores the life-cycle emissions of the fracking processes and the other "externalities" of ruined land, water, air and human/animal health.

    1. You are right to emphasize the role of energy efficiency in decreasing energy intensity. It remains essential.

  2. I know I sent a previous comment. I suppose you have not seen it yet. Have you also taken a look at Energy Modeling Forum report referenced here? http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/10/21/the-shale-gas-boom-wont-do-much-for-climate-change-but-it-will-make-us-a-bit-richer/

    It indicates that the economic success of this fossil fuel natural gas will displace and reduce efforts to build renewable energy technologies, this delaying the transition to a green economy. Do you agree with that? If so, what would you do as governor to keep renewable technologies on an even playing field with this fossil fuel extraction?

    1. I have not read the full report yet and will. To date, low-priced gas has not stopped massive wind, solar and energy efficiency booms in the USA. Wind and solar have been thriving for 2 reasons. There costs have come down massively. Indeed, the decrease in solar pricing tracks the fall in gas pricing since 2008. And they have been booming too because the public strongly supports policies to accelerate their deployment. California is just one example among many states accelerating renewables. California will be at 33% renewable energy for electricity power production by 2020. It New York, Massachusetts, Maryland and more are not backing off supportive policies because of lower gas prices. Indeed, Gerry Brown has said the fall in gas prices has made it possible to subsidize renewable energy, find the money to do so more easily because energy costs have gone down. Energy efficiency still remains the lowest cost way of meeting energy needs even with low gas prices. Again the public strongly supports policies requiring more energy efficiency like better building codes, appliance standards, fuel efficiency standards for cars.