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U.S. carbon emissions lowest in two decades

Despite an increase in GDP and population, the US has seen a reduction in carbon emissions, bringing us to the lowest levels since the 1990’s


The world might not be quite as screwed as many would believe.

Five of the seven past years have seen a decline in carbon emissions in the US, with this past year seeing a drop of nearly four percent, bringing us to the lowest carbon emission levels since 1994. This, curiously, is despite a GDP increase of 2.8 percent in 2012 and population growth of 0.7 percent. The decline in emissions can be attributed to a decrease in energy usage and move towards other energy sources such as natural gas.

Half of the decline in energy usage can be attributed to the residential sector; due to an unusually warm first quarter of the year, people used less energy heating their homes. By the end of March, the cumulative heating degree days (a measure for the energy demand in heating a building) was 19 percent lower than the 10-year average.

In addition, electricity demands in the residential sector dropped as well, and electricity system losses are down by 4.8 percent. Electricity related carbon emissions have been in decline since 2007, and are currently at late 90’s levels. Carbon emissions from direct, non-electricity related sources, are actually on par with pre-1990’s levels.

One reason for this decline in electricity-related emissions is because we’ve had a significant change in our fuel-sources. Coal power has seen a decline of 215.2 billion kWh over the past year, while natural gas is up by 211.8 billion kWh.



Source: US Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review (September 2013), table 12.1


There’s more good news: Despite cars covering roughly the same number of miles as in 2011, the introduction of more fuel-efficient cars means we saw a decline in transportation energy consumption as well. After the residential sector, the transportation industry is responsible for the largest component of the emission decline (22 percent). With the exception of the month of February, automotive emissions were lower than any of the previous five years.

Source Energy Information Administration

David F.
A grad student in experimental physics, David is fascinated by science, space and technology. When not buried in lecture books, he enjoys movies, gaming and mountainbiking

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