USA CO2 emissions may drop to 1990 levels this year

Russ Steele 

Good news? Maybe not. It could just be the signature of a collapsing economy.

This was a guest post at Watts Up With That by John Hanger who was writing at the Global Warming Policy Foundation. This was a graphic in the post:

 John Hanger writes:

America’s carbon emissions may drop back close to 1990 levels this year. That result would have been thought impossible, even at the end of 2011. But the shale gas revolution makes a reality of many things recently thought impossible. Shale gas production has slashed carbon emissions and saved consumers more than $100 billion per year. Truly astonishing!

Full post HERE.

There was no discussion of the economic impact on the CO2 decline in the post and  I wrote this comment:

Russell Steele says:

July 2, 2012 at 8:59 pm

John Hanger writes. “First and foremost are sharp reductions from electric power production as a result of fuel switching from coal to gas, rising renewable energy production, and increasing efficiency.”

In China power production has also fallen, not from increase use of natural gas or energy efficiency but, because of an economic slow down. Less power is being consumed in the manufacturing process.

My question, is how much of the decline since 2008 is due to our failing economy? Less energy is being consumed as the economy is continuing to slide down hill. Is that slide contributing to the decline in CO2 emissions? How much?

Here are some additional comments:

Pamela Gray says:

July 2, 2012 at 9:10 pm

This is good news? Hell no. Increased efficiencies mean that people are not driving as much. In plain language, when you don’t have a freaking job, you don’t drive as much. That makes you more efficient. That also means you are not buying as much. The downturn matches the slow economy and number of people out of work. This is simple math.

Here is one answer to my question:  

Donald A. Neill says:

July 3, 2012 at 1:14 am

Due respect to Mr. Hanger, but his numbers don’t entirely add up. Total US energy consumption has fallen by 3% since 2005 (from 100.16 to 97.21 quads), with most of the decline occurring since 2008, coinciding not with any amazing technological revolution but rather with the recession. We know that the recession is driving the drop in consumption because the largest declines have been in fuels used principally for electrical generation and transportation. Yes, coal consumption has declined by 14.4% since 2005 – but nuclear generation has also declined by 7%. This represents lower demand, plain and simple.

It’s also incorrect to attribute any of this decline to an increase in “renewables”. In 2005 the total renewable energy consumption portfolio amounted to 11.11 quads (of which 3/4 was hyrdo power); in 2011, it amounted to 12.9 quads. In other words, over the past 7 years, the renewable share of America’s energy consumption profile increased by 1.79 quads, while natural gas consumption increased by 2.3 quads (total 4 quads). This does not come close to “replacing” the amount by which the coal, petroleum and nuclear share decreased, i.e., 14.5 quads.

America’s aggregate energy consumption has declined markedly since 2008. The only times in the past 50 years that this has happened (again, see for statistics) were during the combined impact of 9/11 and the collapse of the dot-com bubble (1999-2001); during the early 1980s recession (1980-84); and in the wake of the oil shock (1973-75). None of these declines coincided with any revolution in technology. Massive, prolonged declines in energy consumption only ever occur as a direct result of economic catastrophe.

Don’t get me wrong; natural gas is definitely the way to go. But its virtues have nothing to do with price or “carbon footprint” (for the record, there is no empirical evidence to support the AGW hypothesis; carbon dioxide emissions are irrelevant except as a bugbear for the political left). NGs single most important virtue is that America owns it, and owns a hell of a lot of it. The way out of the current crisis and decline (which, according to energy consumption statistics, is unquestionably the longest and deepest of the past half-century and more) is to reinvigorate America’s industrial profile at a profit. This means paying as little as possible for the raw materials used to create value – including energy. This in turn means exploiting America’s vast, untapped energy resources. It also means allowing niche, developmental energy technologies to succeed or fail according to the market instead of sustaining them via subsidies and ramming them down the throats of the populace via regulation.

And for those who like to bleat that petroleum enjoys subsidies – the only “subsidy” that has ever mattered is consumer choice. Or to put it another way: how many electric cars are running in Washington, D.C. this week? And how many people are operating their a/c off of solar panels?


In turn Mr Neill asks an interesting question.  How many Washington DC homes are operating their A/Cs on solar panels?  The answer would be most interesting.


About Russ Steele
Freelance writer and climate change blogger. Russ spent twenty years in the Air Force as a navigator specializing in electronics warfare and digital systems. After his service he was employed for sixteen years as concept developer for TRW, an aerospace and automotive company, and then was CEO of a non-profit Internet provider for 18 months. Russ's articles have appeared in Comstock's Business, Capitol Journal, Trailer Life, Monitoring Times, and Idaho Magazine.

3 Responses to USA CO2 emissions may drop to 1990 levels this year

  1. Sean says:

    I think people might be trying to read to much into this. We had a very warm winter in the midwest and and east coast this year so the heating loads were much smaller than normal. (Why else would natural gas be half the cost of unconventional extraction.) But the summer has been pretty hot so far and I’d expect the cooling loads to be higher than normal. As a result, the “linear” extrapolotion won’t look low after all the seasons are factored in.

  2. Dixon Cruickshank says:

    isn’t that some target the 1990 levels? would preclude the need for any action?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: