U.S. Carbon Intensity Down, Overall CO2 Growth Slows: State of Green Business 2008, Pt. 2

In the second installation on the State of Green Business 2008 report from GreenBiz.com, I’d like to bring our attention to an interesting recent trend – a drop in national carbon intensity and slower growth of overall CO2 emissions. This is great news, right? Let’s break out the locally-grown wine and celebrate! But wait….to what can we attribute these recent trends? And is “slow growth” just as good as “no growth” in CO2 emissions?

Carbon intensity (measured in CO2 emissions per unit of GDP) has dropped almost 28 percent since 1990. However, “overall emissions rose through 2005…due to economic growth, before their slight decline in 2006.” How slight of a decline are we talking about here? 1.5%. This modest decline is accounted for by a drop in energy consumption, “due in part to favorable weather conditions requiring less heating and cooling,” higher energy prices, and an modest use of renewable energy. Future projections based on steady national economic growth show that overall carbon emissions will continue to rise, albeit at a slower rate, to 34% over 2006 levels by 2030.
This section of the report concludes, “Carbon intensity is misleading…While it represents improvement of sorts, it often obscures the fact that overall carbon emissions need to decrease significantly, not grow more slowly, in order to avoid what a consensus of scientists predict will be the worst impacts of climate change.”
Given that the industrial and commercial sector represent over 50% of total CO2 emissions, it is ever more imperative that we begin to ponder the paradox – is it possible to pursue economic growth while decreasing overall CO2 emissions?

Shannon Arvizu, Ph.D., is a clean tech educator and cutting-edge consultant for the auto industry. You can follow her test drives in the cars of the future at www.misselectric.com.