If you had asked me this morning, I would have told you that the US almost certainly was continuing to increase its greenhouse gas emissions over time. But it turns out, I would have been wrong. We have actually managed to decrease emissions 12% from peak– and that’s total emissions, not per capita or adjusted for GDP.
Turns out, even with very little meaningful policy supports, the transition from coal has been meaningful and fairly dramatic. But we have continued to expand emissions from natural gas, which are quite considerable, and have made only a little bit of progress in transportation.
Transportation emissions are particularly disappointing. We have done quite a bit, seemingly, on EPA standards for car emissions and increasing mileage, as well as introduced major technologies such as hybrid and electric vehicles. I’m not sure how much of this is due to increased vehicles-miles-traveled or the shift away from coupes and sedans to heavier vehicles like SUVs and other light trucks.
The path forward for rich nations like the US on emissions is clear though– continue to phase out coal and start to reduce reliance on natural gas through the use of true renewables and clean energy, make big investments in increasing industrial technology breakthroughs, and reduce dependence on cars.
This is the low hanging fruit we need to start working on right now, because even doing all of that will not be enough by the end of this century– but it might buy us the time to get that far.