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.


  1. The US economy wasn't so much decarbonized as it was Obamasized.

  2. It's OK. 2010 projections are based on forecast economic growth. Since actual growth has been reliably less than forecast, there is nothing to worry about.

    In fact, if we get a really devastating depression, our decarbonization should be magnificent!

  3. -2-Gerard

    The 2010 GDP data is based on annualized values for 1st and 2nd Qs. If GDP goes down so too will CO2. It is the carbon efficiency of GDP that matters, not absolute level of GDP.

  4. US EIA Projections
    In 2005 they projected the cost of Central Appalachian coal to be $30/ton in 2010
    In 2006 they projected the cost of Central Appalacian coal would be $40/ton in 2010
    In 2007 EIA changed the units to price per MBTU, projecting average mine mouth price of Appalachian coal to remain below $2/MBtu until 2030.
    In 2008 EIA again forecast declining Appalachian coal prices.
    In 2009 EIA acknowledged that there had been a 'temporary' run up in coal prices but that they would peak at $2.16/MBtu in 2010 and then start falling again.
    In early 2010 EIA projected Central Appalachian coal prices had peaked and would drop 1/2% per year thru 2035.
    The price of Central Appalachian coal in mid 2010 stands at $67/ton or $2.57/MBtu mine mouth price. US EIA has been wrong 5 years in a row and is projecting the price of coal to drop in 2011.

    Sorry Roger, but using an EIA forecast to prove anything is silly;)

  5. 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.

    Why would "a radical new direction" be needed? What would "decarbonization" accomplish - besides decreasing the CO2 in the atmos?

  6. Watch out for falling acorns.

  7. Hey, who remembers the famous speech by a certain President about how under his enlightened leadership the seas would stop rising, the Earth would cool, the air would clear, etc.?
    Hubris, thy name is Obama.

  8. -8-FF&S

    Like you the GWPF tries to make this political:


    It really has nothing to do with Bush or Obama. Decarbonization rates are not affected by who is in the White House, but rather, by technology.

  9. -9- Roger

    I rather suspect that was FFS's point (i.e., President Cnut, etc, etc).

    Of course, technology is important, but economics is, too.

    Harrywr2 takes every opportunity to talk about coal prices. I wonder how the EIA makes its projections. Perhaps they're assuming some decarbonization X factor that never appears? Harrywr2, do you have a theory?

  10. -10-Matt

    Perhaps so ... I agree, economics is also important.

  11. It seems to me that the only thing this metric proves is that when Dim economic folly reduces us to wearing rags and subsisting on rice, we still use our air conditioning and heating to maintain a relative degree of comfort.

    The so-called "Progressives" have destroyed economic growth and have made utility usage a larger portion of total consumption, thereby "recarbonizing" (to use Roger's term) our economy. No surprise there.

  12. The difficulty with decarbonization is that the only feasible way to do it is with nukes, and current regulatory environment makes building one a 20-year proposition (at least). Wind and solar are laughable -- or would be, if they were not such environmental horrors -- and hydro is just about saturated (if I recall, we now have one turbine for every 11 feet of drop on the Columbia River, for example).

    Conservation is great, but better refrigerators by themselves won't cut electricity use noticeably, particularly when the current fad is electric cars.

    So the only way to generate more electricity is with coal or gas. That seems to be just a hard fact. Luckily, the CAGW hypothesis seems to be further disconfirmed by every new chunk of evidence that turns up.

  13. Talking about conservation, this is interesting:


    Grantham institute have done a recalculation and reckon on 30% saving in the UK from very basic efficiency measures. Says government numbers too simplistic.

  14. An update on US CO2 emissions for 2010


    "HOUSTON, Aug 27 (Reuters) - U.S. coal use fell 3 percent this week from the week before and was 7 percent below consumption in the same week last year, Genscape said Friday.

    In the populous East, coal consumption for the week ended Thursday fell 6 percent from the previous week and was 9 percent under the amount burned in the same week last year."

    EIA forecast are about as reliable as weather forecasts.

  15. The financial barometer, and the manipulators behind it, tell quite a story: http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/blogs/beltway-confidential/good-news-layoffs-100618479.html#ixzz0wVDToAPs

    “Voluntary” trading of greenhouse gas emissions on CCX has all but dried up and prices have plunged from a high of over $7 per ton in 2008 to just 10 cents now, making recent stock market losses look rosy by comparison. Not exactly what Sandor, who once predicted a $10 trillion worldwide carbon market, expected would happen.

    The biggest losers have been CCX’s two biggest investors — Al Gore’s Generation Investment Management and Goldman Sachs — and President Obama, who helped launch CCX with funding from the Joyce Foundation, where he and presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett once sat on the board of directors.

    When those people couple the word "climate" with policy, following the money.

    It's one of the reasons, when I read intelligent people repeat here and elsewhere the "climate policy" mantra that it strikes me as fingernails scraped across a blackboard. There are many valid reasons to lessen carbon use that get lost in the screeching noise.

  16. Craig 1st said...
    "When those people couple the word "climate" with policy, following the money."

    How about getting carbon credits to build coal fired electricity plants? Climate change must be real, that's why the UN is encouraging developing countries to burn more coal ;)

    "In an ironic twist for Tata, rival Adani Power is building an even larger 4,620 MW plant right next door, part of which won CDM approval in December as the world's first supercritical coal-fired plant, set to get more than 18 million CERs by 2021."

  17. Harrywr2 -- 17

    Back in the US the Crow Tribe can get nowhere with their their adopted "son:" http://billingsgazette.com/news/state-and-regional/montana/article_bda86fae-b099-11df-a4e4-001cc4c002e0.html


    Leaders of the Crow Tribe warned Wednesday that a $7 billion coal-to-liquid fuels plant proposed for the Montana reservation could founder unless the federal government throws more support behind the industry.

    Crow Chairman Cedric Black Eagle said a perceived anti-coal attitude in Washington, D.C., is scaring off potential plant investors.

    A federal tax credit for coal-to-liquids recently expired. Unless the political climate for coal improves, Black Eagle said, the tribe could be forced to suspend its project, which has been billed as a means to pull the rural reservation out of poverty.

    “If the investment community decides for whatever reasons that they won’t invest in the project, then we will put it on hold,“ Black Eagle said.

    The anticipated start of construction for the plant has been pushed back from 2012 to 2013, Black Eagle said.

    The chairman and other tribal leaders stressed that the situation was not yet dire, but needed to be addressed soon given the years it would take to develop the project.

    The expired tax credit would have given companies 50 cents for each gallon sold of liquid fuels derived from coal. No coal-to-liquids plants have been built in the United States.
    ===end quote===

    Obama campaigned at the Crow reservation, and was adopted into the tribe. Now he has a tin ear during the "summer of recovery." IMHO, the advocates of "decarbonization" should promote such projects as it advances the ball.

  18. For those of you that think Energy Efficiency is going to reduce carbon see article below. For every high efficiency light bulb comes a new computer or a couple of high def TV's. Now electric vehicles?
    Are American Homes More Energy Efficient? Not Exactly
    Washington Post (09/30/10) Fahrenthold, David

    The amount of energy that the average American requires at home has changed little since the early 1970s, despite advances in technology that have made many home appliances far more energy efficient. Dishwashers use 45 percent less energy than they did two decades ago, according to industry data. Refrigerators use 51 percent less. However, on a per-capita basis, Americans still require about 70 million British thermal units a year to heat, cool and power their homes, just as they did in 1971. The increased size of American homes is a key reason, along with the desire of consumers to purchase more and more power-sucking gadgets such as flat-screen televisions, computers, and digital video recorders. These trends "have balanced each other out. It's been a wash, basically," says Lowell Ungar of the nonprofit Alliance to Save Energy. Now, some utilities and environmental groups are trying to find ways to end this long period of no change, warning that as the country's population grows, the fight against greenhouse gas emissions will require that every home use much less energy than current levels. The flatlining of at-home energy use "has been a success story," Ungar says, because without increased appliance efficiency, use of power in homes would have shot up. Still, he says, "it's not enough." James Owen of the Edison Electric Institute says utilities hope to reduce greenhouse gases and peak demand on the hottest summer days. Owen says that, in some places, utilities have done this by providing home-energy audits to customers or with programs that help customers replace incandescent light bulbs with high-efficiency compact fluorescents. He adds that in order to pursue these programs, utilities want states to pass "decoupling" laws, which allow utilities to get paid for kilowatts they save as well as ones they sell.