U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have declined for the third year in a row, sinking to their lowest levels since 1994. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its annual report on CO2 production on October 21, and the data showed some promising signs that the country is moving in a more sustainable direction. While this is certainly good news for the environment, there are a few caveats to the news that should be noted.
The first is that the main reason we are experiencing lower emissions is due to increasing reliance on natural gas for electricity production. The report states that production from coal plants declined by 215.2 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) in 2012, but natural gas electrical generation increased by 211.8 billion kWh. Natural gas is a much cleaner fossil fuel than coal, but it still produces a substantial amount of carbon dioxide.
The second caveat to keep in mind is that much of the decline from when carbon dioxide emissions reached their peak in 2007 is due to the fact that the United States was experiencing a significant recession. The more economic activity that is taking place, the more energy is needed to fuel that activity. So more planes fly, more shipments are sent and more Xerox machines are operated.
However, none of this should take away from the fact that America is beginning to make great strides toward reducing its carbon footprint. As the EIA notes in its report, GDP was up 2.8 percent in 2012, but CO2 emissions were down 2.4 percent. So although the declines seen in 2008 and 2009 were mostly due to a shrinking economy, the country has figured out how to spur growth without an accompanying spike in emissions.
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