Monday, February 14, 2011

Carbon Hope?

Data in the Energy Information Administration's February Short-term Energy Outlook creates a flicker of hope on Valentine's Day that the world will be able to stabilize carbon concentrations below 500 ppm.  I am afraid 450 ppm seems beyond humanity's power of reason and love, though not beyond even our existing technology.

The EIA data projects that 2012 carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use in the USA will remain below the levels seen since 1999 and 4.3% below 2005 totals. That is not back to 1990 levels or let alone below 1990 levels as the Kyoto Treaty required.  Yet, US recent performance in bending the emission totals downward is actually better than quite a few nations (Oh Canada for example) but not among the world's leaders on controlling carbon pollution. 

The economic downturn is only part of the explanation but not the major reason by any means.  US 2010 GDP was bigger than US 2007 GDP.  And US GDP is projected to grow in the 3 percent plus range in 2011 and 2012 but emissions are not likely to be greater than 1999 when our economy was much smaller. 

Fundamental low-carbon changes are scaling and bending the emission curve.  The hopeful changes include:

1. Natural gas increasing from 12% of electricity generation in 1990 to 16% in 2000 and 24% in 2010;
2. Coal generation declining from 52% of electricity in 2000 to 45% in 2010;
3. Increasing energy efficiency in appliances, buildings, vehicles, motors and more;
4. A real American wind industry that now provides 20% of Iowa's total electricity and 7% of Texas's and performing better than the Texas coal and gas plants during the February 2nd rolling blackouts;
5. Solar power beginning to scale in the USA, with more than 1,000 megawatts installed here in 2010 and 16,000 megawatts built around the world in one breakout year.

These numbers head in the right direction.  They create fragile hope that the USA and the world can avoid concentrations of heat trapping gas that the world's leading national academies of science have all warned would cause dangerous, expensive climatic changes.  Happy Valentine's Day.  Love mother earth too.

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