The last time America’s carbon dioxide emissions were this low, Nelson Mandela was being inaugurated as South Africa’s president, O.J. Simpson was being chased by police in a white Bronco, and Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin were agreeing to ease up on the whole let’s-point-countless-nukes-at-each-other thing.
U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions steadily rose from the mid-90s until they hit a peak in 2007. Since then, emissions have fallen in five out of seven years. In 2012, emissions were 12 percent below the 2007 level, dipping back to 1994 levels. That’s according to data released Tuesday by the U.S. Energy Information Administration:
Let’s celebrate with a trip down memory lane. Here are the reasons the EIA gives for America’s falling emissions, set to a soundtrack of some of the biggest hits of 1994.
First, let’s note two things that are not contributing to falling emissions. CO2 output is not falling because the economy is shrinking nor because the population is shrinking. The population grew 0.7 percent between 2011 and 2012 and GDP grew by 2.8 percent — yet energy consumption fell by 2.4 percent.
Here Comes the Hotstepper
Americans are turning to their air-conditioners more frequently to help them beat the heat, but they’re not needing their heaters so much. And that’s notable because it takes more energy to heat a home than to cool it. Last year’s winter and early spring were so warm that, by the end of March, there had been 19 percent fewer days that required heating than the 10-year average.
Americans and their utilities are making strides in energy efficiency. Electricity generation, transmission, and distribution became 1 percent more efficient between 2011 and 2012.
Americans drove 3.3 percent fewer miles last year than in 2007, and their cars and trucks are becoming more efficient.
America has lost a lot of factories and factory jobs. That’s pushing industrial carbon emissions to other countries. Industrial output fell 2.7 percent from 2007 to 2012, and manufacturing output was down 5 percent during the same period.
Stroke You Up
Power plants have been abandoning coal, driving the largest drop in the economy’s overall carbon intensity since record-keeping began in 1949.
So celebrate the good news while you can. Going forward, emissions will probably go up again.