US Carbon Emissions Down in 2011?

So reports Brad Plumer. He explains:

The IEA offers up three reasons for the decline: First, many U.S. power companies have been swapping out coal for somewhat cleaner natural gas, since the latter has become so cheap. That’s helped. The United States also had a mild winter in 2011, which meant less energy was needed for heating. Finally, Americans have been driving less and purchasing more efficient cars of late, which has tempered the country’s oil use. It wasn’t a huge drop. It may prove fleeting. But it was a step toward less carbon.

So, mostly an accident, though a slightly-encouraging one. Which was, of course, canceled out entirely by China–2011 was still the all-time record for carbon emissions. Worldwide, we’re not just doing nothing, we’re accelerating in the wrong direction, releasing more and more every year. Most world leaders have settled on an acceptable increase in overall temperature of 2 degrees Celsius, but it’s slipping out of our grasp.

Brad goes on to detail what will happen if we do nothing, finishing with this tidbit:

North America gets particularly sweaty. And, according to the Met Office, Washington, D.C., would get downright tropical — an extra 13°F or so of heat, on average, by the 2090s. (That’s good news for the approximately zero D.C. residents who walk around saying, “What this city needs is an extra 13°F of heat.”)

This stands out for me because the air conditioning is out in the Monthly offices here in DC and it is uncomfortably hot and muggy already. Another 13 degrees of heat and I’d probably keel over and die.

But stepping back, we should remember that the the 2 degrees C target that everyone has agreed is good is not only slipping out of reach, it’s an extremely risky position itself. It’s one of the many reasons that make covering climate policy so depressing, but it’s important to remember. I’m reminded of the recent New Yorker article about geoengineering to prevent climate change. It’s possible, though dangerous, but the important point is that it’s cheap enough that even a poor country could afford it–like, for example, one about to be swamped by rising sea levels.

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Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper is national correspondent for the Week, and a former web editor for the Washington Monthly.