It’s been widely reported here and elsewhere that CO2 emissions in the US have been falling pretty dramatically over the last five years, thanks in large part to the substitution of natural gas for coal to generate electricity in the US. Natural gas is much more environmentally friendly than coal, which emits about twice as much CO2 as gas when used for electricity generation. Last year, CO2 emissions in the US fell to an 18-year low, the lowest level since 1994, and C02 emissions from coal fell to a 26-year low, the lowest since 1986. Further, as the WSJ reported this week (“Rise in U.S. Gas Production Fuels Unexpected Plunge in Emissions“) the US now leads the world in reducing CO2 emissions thanks to the shale revolution. At the same time that America is using less coal and more shale gas and reducing C02 emissions, Europe and Asia are becoming more coal-dependent for electricity generation, and increasing C02 emissions.
Compared to the last time that CO2 emissions were at 2012′s levels — back in 1994 — real GDP in 2012 was 55% higher and the US population was 17.5% larger, making the drop in greenhouse gas emissions to an 18-year low in 2012 even more impressive. Adjusted for the population, CO2 emissions per capita last year were the lowest since 1964, almost 50 years ago (see chart above, data here and here). According to Department of Energy forecasts, the decline in per capita CO2 emissions is expected to continue so consistently that within about 20 years, greenhouse gas emissions per person in the US will be below the level in 1949!
As we observe Earth Day on April 22, we should celebrate the fact that we have “rolled back the carbon clock” by almost 50 years on a per capita basis in the US, and CO2 emissions per capita are expected to fall within the next 20 years to the lowest level in almost a century. Moreover, we should celebrate the fact that the US now leads the world in reducing CO2 emissions. And it’s important to recognize that the significant reduction in CO2 emissions over the last five years in the US was not the result of any intentional or planned energy policy, and it didn’t happen because of EPA restrictions on C02 emissions, or because of carbon taxes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Rather, it was the totally unexpected and unplanned outcome of the shale revolution, which resulted from advances in drilling technologies developed in the private sector that allowed “petropreneurs” to access previously inaccessible oceans of shale gas trapped in shale rock miles below the Earth’s surface.
As John Hanger reported recently on America’s sharp reduction in C02 emissions since 2007:
Uncle Sam is showing the world that carbon emissions can be cut sharply and cheaply. It is a true American triumph that energy related carbon emissions will be down in 2012 another 4% from 2011 levels and will be back to approximately 1995 levels. The carbon clock has rolled back 17 years, and 2012 emissions will be even less than in the near-depression year of 2009.
Cleaner and cheaper energy is a real American triumph and my Top Energy Fact of 2012!