The Energy Information Association has reported that U.S. carbon dioxide emissions for 2008 dropped significantly compared to the previous year, by the steepest figures in nearly thirty years. Carbon dioxide is the most prevalent of the greenhouse gases, and lessening the amount we put into the atmosphere is crucial in order to slow global warming. 2008’s energy-related CO2 emissions decreased by 5.2 percent, the largest since a 5.3 percent drop in 1982. Among other rates, U.S. Gross Domestic Product crept up by 1.1 percent while energy demand dropped 2.2 percent; this means that the amount of energy needed to grow one unit of GDP dropped by 3.3 percent in 2008.
The EIA broke down total carbon emissions into sections of its contributors. Transportation, industrial, and residential fossil-fuel outputs all declined, while commercial activities such as stores, offices, government buildings, schools, and hospitals increased output by 0.5 percent. The transportation sector has only yielded emission declines twice in the past twenty years: 1991 and 2001, each of about 1.2 percent. Incredibly, last year’s results showed a drop in 5.2 percent, noteworthy since transportation is responsible for thirty percent of U.S. carbon emissions.
The large emission decrease is most likely due to last year’s record high oil prices, which peaked at $147 a barrel in June. Although prices became reasonable again for the remainder of the year, economic downturn helped keep driving to a minimum. Energy-related emissions dropped, but this could be in response to a 17.6 percent increase in non-hydro renewable energy in the same year. Residential carbon reduction may also be due to last year’s cooler summer.
Since 1990 transportation CO2 emissions have climbed 21.1 percent, or about 1.1 percent per year. This drastic change in 2008 emissions shows the potential the U.S. has in reducing its national carbon footprint. The real challenge comes in continuing to decrease fossil-fuel emissions while at the same time being able to improve our economy. A poor economy is not a viable long-term solution to a healthy planet, and we need to be able to keep emissions down while climbing out of recession. Obama’s recent plan to change automobile mile-per-gallon and emission standards by 2016 may be one of the ambitious, fast-acting solutions our country needs.