18 August 2010

Going the Wrong Way

Last week, the US Department of Energy released preliminary estimates of 2010 US carbon dioxide emissions (h/t Joe Romm).  The data, along with preliminary data on 2010 US GDP allow for a preliminary look at the rate of decarbonization of the US economy (see figure above).  Decarbonization refers a reduction in the ratio of carbon dioxide emissions to GDP.

As readers of this blog know -- and readers of my book will learn -- to stabilize carbon dioxide concentrations at a low level (e.g., 450 ppm)  requires global annual rates of decarbonization of greater than 5%.

The preliminary 2010 US data indicates that the United States in in fact not decarbonizing but recarbonizing (and to emphasize, it is preliminary).  You can see this in the figure above.  The Department of Energy provides an explanation (and see this post from earlier today):
Forecast economic growth combined with increased use of coal and natural gas is expected to contribute to increases in fossil-fuel CO2 emissions of 3.4 percent  in 2010 (U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions Growth Chart).  Projected coal-related CO2 emissions increase by 6.0 percent in 2010 primarily a result of increased electricity sector coal usage. Higher natural gas consumption in the industrial and electric power sectors is expected to lead to a 3.9-percent increase in CO2 emissions from natural gas.
With coal and natural gas consumption increasing at a rate faster than economic growth, the result is a recarbonization of the economy.  Hopes that the economic downturn or various stimulus investments have lead to an acceleration of decarbonization were always dubious, that should now be fairly certain (for an earlier discussion see this post).

If this data does not indicate to advocates of action on climate change that a radical new direction is needed, then I'm not sure what would.