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US Is Figuring Out Green Growth

America’s energy-related carbon emissions dropped 3.8 percent in 2012 to their lowest level in 18 years. Emissions were down even while the American economy grew; it was the largest drop ever recorded in a non-recession year. The Energy Information Administration reports:

Although GDP increased by 2.8 percent in 20121, energy consumption fell by 2.4 percent (2.4 quadrillion Btu) in that same year—the result was a 5.1 percent decline in energy use per dollar of GDP and this meant emissions were about 282 million metric tons CO2 (MMTCO2) lower.

Much of Europe’s recent emissions decreases have been attributed to its anemic economy. But America’s recent green success has come from its ability to decouple economic growth from energy consumption (and therefore carbon emissions). By reducing the energy and carbon intensity of the economy (the amount of energy consumed and carbon emitted per dollar of GDP), the US has been able to lower emissions of harmful greenhouse gases without the enforced energy asceticism many greens believe is necessary.

As you can see in the following chart, America has been getting more bang for its energy buck for decades. That trend is expected to continue as it continues to transfer away from an industrial economy and into an information economy:

The shale boom also helped to bring emissions down. Natural gas-fired power generation was up 211.8 billion kilowatt hours (kW/h), and was largely responsible for the 215.2 billion kW/h drop in coal-fired generation. Burning natural gas emits roughly half the carbon that burning coal does, so this influx of cheap gas (thanks to fracking) has helped curtail emissions.

This wasn’t a one-off event: energy-related emissions have dropped now for the fifth time in the past seven years. Decoupling growth from emissions and resource consumption is one of the great hopes in sustainable development theory, and America is beginning to prove it. Growth is up, emissions are down, and the future is looking better and better.

[Graph sourced from the EIA’s 2011 Annual Energy Review and 2013 Annual Energy Outlook]

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  • rheddles

    It helps reduce energy consumption as well as employment levels to deindustrialize. Industrializing countries will see energy consumption go up along with employment. So the greens get the double benefit of decreasing energy intensity and reducing jobs.

    • Corlyss

      “It helps reduce energy consumption as well as employment levels to deindustrialize.”

      LOL Yes, but since the unemployed are not dead, they still use energy. How does that impact the overall stats? Does one use 20% less energy when one is unemployed? There must be a way to parse this.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Global Warming is BS. Go here

    and read all the evidence proving Global Warming is the Greatest Scientific Hoax in history, and is costing mankind $1 Billion a day.

    • Corlyss

      I think WRM is hopeless on this issue.
      Perhaps it’s impossible for an academic of his reputation to stray from the party line. It’s a shame really. We need some high-profile people who do not have (R) or (C) behind their names.

      • bruce

        WRM knows that his public sector friends pensions depend on carbon taxes which they hope to sneak past democracy with the feint of saving the world from “Global Warming”

  • Bill_Woods

    “Natural gas-fired power generation was up 211.8 billion kilowatt hours (kW/h), and was largely responsible for the 215.2 billion kW/h …”

    “kW/h” is kilowatts per hour. What you want as a symbol of kilowatt hours is ‘kWh’, ‘kW-h’, or ‘kW·h’.

  • Corlyss

    Not going to stop the Greens from blocking fracking, the XL pipeline, and energy exports. We’ve got to get rid of this administration.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    The US Government and the Obama administration isn’t figuring out anything, they have wasted Hundreds of Billions of taxpayer dollars on Green boondoggles like Solyndra, Alcohol, and electric cars, while at the same time refusing permits for drilling and pipelines. All of the good here is because of private shale oil development on private land, from privately developed shale oil technology which the Government couldn’t stop. Even the Government’s ruthless regulation of coal fired power plants, has only pushed the use of cheap natural gas plants, and sent the coal for export to be burned in foreign power plants where the pollution controls are minimal or non-existent.
    Besides, Global Warming is BS.

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