CO2 Getting Better?

Sky-high fuel prices, declining energy use and a slumping economy gave the U.S. its largest annual decline in fossil fuel-based carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions since 1982, when emissions fell 5.3 percent. It seems that there is a silver lining to today’s worst economy since the great depression.

The country is making some small steps –baby steps, but there still steps at least – in the right direction for CO2 emissions control. Energy-related CO2 emissions in 2008 fell 2.8 percent compared to the year before, according to preliminary data released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). In comparison Gross Domestic Product (GDP) inched up a modest 1.1 percent in 2008. At the same time, energy demand shrunk 2.2 percent. This means the amount of energy used to produce one unit of GDP dropped 3.3 percent last year.

The decline in carbon dioxide intensity -- the amount of CO2 emitted per unit of GDP -- was even more dramatic at 3.8 percent. Since 1990, U.S. carbon dioxide intensity has plummeted 29.3 percent. The electric power sector is the largest emitter of CO2 in the U.S. Power generation emissions declined 1 percent, due in part to a boost in wind generation. Coal-based emissions fell 1.1 percent.

The EIA also breaks down CO2 emissions by end-user: transportation, residential, commercial and industrial. Fossil fuel-based emissions in each category declined, with the exception of the commercial sector, which includes stores, office and government buildings, schools and hospitals. Emissions in this sector rose 0.5 percent.

Hopefully this reduction in CO2 emissions is a trend that is going to continue for a long time and not just a small blip in time.