United States Headed for Massive Decline in Carbon Emissions

With U.S. carbon emissions dropping 9 percent in two years, the nation has ended a century of rising carbon emissions and entered a new energy era.

| October 16, 2009

Coal-fired power plant

In July, the Sierra Club — coordinator of the national anti-coal campaign — announced the 100th cancellation of a proposed coal-fired power plant since 2001.


For years now, many members of Congress have insisted that cutting carbon emissions was difficult, if not impossible. It is not.

During the two years since 2007, carbon emissions have dropped 9 percent. While part of this drop is from the recession, part of it is also from efficiency gains and from replacing coal with natural gas, wind, solar and geothermal energy.

The United States has ended a century of rising carbon emissions and has now entered a new energy era — one of declining emissions. Peak carbon is now history. What had appeared to be hopelessly difficult is happening at amazing speed.

For a country where oil and coal use have been growing for more than a century, the fall since 2007 is startling. In 2008, oil use dropped 5 percent, coal 1 percent, and carbon emissions by 3 percent. Estimates for 2009, based on U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) data for the first nine months, show oil use down by another 5 percent. Coal is set to fall by 10 percent. Carbon emissions from burning all fossil fuels dropped 9 percent over the two years.

Beyond the cuts already made, there are further massive reductions in the policy pipeline. Prominent among them are stronger automobile fuel-economy standards, higher appliance efficiency standards, and financial incentives supporting the large-scale development of wind, solar and geothermal energy. (See data on the Earth Policy Institute website.)

Efforts to reduce fossil fuel use are under way at every level of government — national, state and city — as well as in corporations, utilities and universities. And millions of climate-conscious, cost-cutting Americans are altering their lifestyles to reduce energy use.

10/28/2009 2:06:08 PM

I was insulted by The Mother Earth News (TMEN) use of a photo of the steam coming from power plant cooling towers (the story - http://tinyurl.com/yheokxo - implies that the photo is of a coal-fired plant but it could also be a nuke but that is immaterial) to illustrate CO2 emissions. As any science-aware person (http://www.petitionproject.org/) knows, the steam (H2O) shown in the photo does not contain CO2. TMEN had to use a photo of steam because a photo of modern smoke stacks would dramatically show nothing that would be editorially useful! Since TMEN apparently assumes its readers are scientifically illiterate, a misleading photo is apparently justified. TMEN's egregious misuse of such a photo illustrates either profound editorial laziness or profound ignorance or an assumption that TMEN readers are idiots or a deliberate intent to mislead its readers into the false belief that one of the cleanest sources of energy (nuclear) is evil or all the above. In fact, if TMEN is worried about CO2 emissions (which, according to geological history, legitimate science, and common sense, does not cause earth's natural climate changes), TMEN should be pushing for nukes. TMEN editors and writers, please stop listening to that buffoon and science midget Al Gore and do your homework!

fran tracy
10/26/2009 6:37:02 PM

If global warming is so true, how come temperatures have been decliining for 10 years? As for a shortage of oil and coal, ther is none. Just let the companies use what we have and stop importing something that is plentiful right here in the US. I do applaud the improvements in energy efficiency and think they should continue on a voluntary path. I hear how we are goin to have a mild winter due to global warming but we have had earlier snows than usually already and it is only October. If global warming is really true, how come all the data that was used to come up with the hypothysis was all destroyed? That shows it was known to be a farce in the beginning so noone could dispute their figures. STOP DESTROYING OUR ECONOMY FOR A FARCE.

jenny rasico
10/26/2009 2:57:59 PM

This article does a wonderful job of painting a hopeful picture.Afterall, the general consiousness of the population makes a big difference in what direction we turn. Yes, we are riding a runaway train, but if we have hope as a whole, then more people will be willing to do the little things in each of their lives that will ultimatly make all the difference. But in the mean time, pack your spf 1000 sunscreen and plant your organic garden in the backyard!

10/26/2009 12:51:15 PM

Rather than reduce personal consumption, we pass laws that will tax us? Until there is a plan to limit urban sprawl and stop the wholesale destruction of green space for profit it wont make any difference. I don't buy into over population neither, unless of course EVERYONE has to drive their personal vehicle . The cost, both in the energy to manufacture and operate these "toys" for the masses needs to be evaluated. Urban planning would go a long way in reducing consumption. Needs for our comfort, such as heating space and water can be done using existing technology from the sun, or in places that it is readily available geothermal (not heat pumps)Speaking of wasting heat, why is heat(from coal, gas,oil) fired plants not captured and used to heat places that need it? When will something be done about the "persistent" contrail issue that has seemed to come about in the decade or so? Something has changed either in our atmosphere or with Jet engines as we never used to have blue sky turn silver when I was a kid. Surly Aircraft have either caused retention of heat and or refection of our suns energy. Do we really need to "feel free to move about the country?" Power brokers <---- literal) no doubt want to keep profits up as it IS their bread and butter. Existing technology exists to retain Co2 and reduce it to a liquid, sure it would be costly and to store it, however IS Co2 at levels it was at say 80,000 years ago? Do we know for sure?

george works
10/26/2009 10:05:46 AM

Yes, we should certainly applaud the progress being made. But CO2 has a half-life in the atmosphere of about 200 years, and the CO2 level is still rising. We aren't doing nearly enough to cause the CO2 level to begin falling, much less to fall to pre-industrial levels. I think there are hot times ahead. As noted, world population is still rising exponentially. It has doubled in my lifetime. This is hardly ever discussed by political leaders, but it is crucial to all our waste and resource problems. One last point: we can lower US CO2 emissions by having China produce our goods and blaming China for those emissions. But this is really "cooking the books" rather than solving the problem.

t brandt
10/18/2009 8:48:30 PM

They try to make it sound so encouraging, BUT: wind & PV generated power costs 2-3x coal/nuclear sources. Energy use is proprortional to economic productivity, so higher prices will mean less useage, therefore, decreased productivity. That means fewer jobs, etc etc. Our CO2 output decreased mostly due to decreased demand as fuel prices soared, and you see what our economy did. =As fossil fuels become depleted, we'll be forced into the alternatives and their high prices & economic depression. =The real problem is not fuel shortages & pollution: it's over-population. Are there going to be too few jobs, or too many people for the available jobs?

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