The upside to an economic downturn? A decline in emissions

Carbon dioxide emissions resulting from energy production declined in the US in 2011, according to the US Energy Department. A battered economy and high fuel prices may account for the drop in emissions.

M. Spencer Green/AP/File
This February 2012 file photo shows Midwest Generation's Crawford Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant, in Chicago. The Energy Department measured a 2.4 percent drop in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions last year, most of it due to the slower economy than any “green” measures, according to Consumer Energy Report.
US Energy Information Administration
This chart shows the total carbon dioxide emissions from energy consumption in the US since 2000.

The United State Energy Department announced this week that carbon dioxide emissions resulting from energy production declined in the country in 2011, the third time in four years and fourth time in six years that this has been the case.

Unfortunately, the good news comes shrouded in its main source: the slowing down of the U.S. economy since the global recession began in 2008 and skyrocketing fuel prices in 2011, both factors that lead to less energy consumption by financial necessity.

The Energy Department measured a 2.4 percent drop in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions last year, most of it due to the slower economy than any “green” measures, though the department’s report did note that energy produced via natural gas increased by 3 percent, while energy produced from coal decreased by 6 percent.

“Natural gas has approximately one-half the carbon of coal. Power generation from renewable sources also continued to rise, mostly because of record-breaking supplies of hydroelectricity and increasing generation from wind, solar and other renewable sources,” said the Energy Department report.

It is also worth noting that last year’s drop came during a period of economic growth in the United States, with gross domestic product rising by 1.8 percent. A milder-than-usual winter in many parts of the country in 2011 was also a factor.

“Because the decline in CO2 emissions occurred in a growing economy, the carbon intensity of the economy fell,” the report continues. “This was mainly a result of using less energy or, in some cases, using less carbon-intensive energy, to achieve the same economic output.”

With a total measured carbon dioxide output of 5.47 billion metric tons in the United States last year, the country still has a long road ahead of it as it works to reduce its environmental footprint.

Source: U.S. Energy Related Carbon Emissions Declined in 4 of Last 6 years

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