U.S. Carbon Emissions Dip in 2006: Be Careful of the Rhetoric

Thomas Schueneman

Carbon emissions in the United States dipped 1.5% in 2006 over 2005 levels, as reported by the Energy Information Administration on Thursday.

Carbon intensity vs. carbon reduction

Though this is a positive step, due in part to increased energy efficiency and a warmer winter – hmmmm… – total carbon emissions are nonetheless up 15% from 1990 levels. Most scientists suggest that mitigating the most disastrous consequences of climate change will require an 80% reduction in global carbon emissions by 2050.

The Bush Administration would rather we think the EIA report reflects a decline of 4.2%, the largest since 1985, thus validating Bush’s “leadership” in global warming. No doubt something Bush’s team will take out of their briefcases to show off at the upcoming meeting in Bali that starts on Monday.

Therein lay the difference between actual carbon reduction and “carbon intensity” or carbon emissions per unit of economic activity.

It can be instructive to gauge carbon emission as a function of economic activity, but a 15% increase in emissions since 1990 is just that, despite whatever further manipulations of that reality George Bush uses to claim progress in truly dealing with CO2 emissions.

We shouldn’t let the term carbon intensity act merely as a smokescreen to coming to grips with climate change.

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