Could it be? Citing data from the federal Energy Information Administration, a report by the Earth Policy Institute (EPI) states that United States carbon emissions dropped by 7 percent between 2007 and 2011. The drop specifically relative to the coal and oil industries were even higher, at 10 and 11 percent, respectively. These cuts were offset by a 6 percent increase in emissions from natural gas, which, although it burns up to 80 percent cleaner than conventional fuels, still burns.
It is well-known that the economic crisis and its aftermath have been responsible for an expected dip in US carbon emissions; in a carbon-based economy, emissions are bound to be lower in a downturn. Still, with the economy growing again, albeit sluggishly, the continued dropoff is promising.
Significantly, the EPI report also shows wind and solar power steadily growing in their overall capacity. As we reported earlier today, the cost of solar energy may well drop below that of fossil fuels within ten years (need link); according to EPI, the US currently has 22,000 megawatts of utility-scale solar energy projects planned or underway. Yet even these numbers are nearly doubled by the amount of wind power that has already come online – as of October, according to data from both the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), wind turbines in the United States are producing nearly 45,000 MW of electricity, enough to power around 14 million homes. What’s even more impressive is the scale of the increase in wind energy production – the curve since 2000 is literally exponential.
We should definitely receive these figures with caution, particularly because global carbon emissions, driven by increases in the developing world, continue to rise at record levels. Additionally, much of the recent growth in the wind and solar industries has been aided by federal support that could meet its demise if one of the Republican presidential candidates beats President Obama next fall.
Still, the EPI report makes it clear that renewable energy, in addition to being a source for jobs, CAN present a viable, large-scale alternative to carbon-based fuels. Now imagine if we could match the expansion of wind and solar power with similar growth in other local and utility-scale technologies…
U.S. Carbon Emissions Down 7 Percent in Four Years: Even Bigger Drops Coming (Earth Policy Institute)