Earth News Journal 27: U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions

According to a recent report conducted by the United States Energy Information Administration (EIA), US carbon dioxide emissions dropped 3.8% in 2012, leaving some climate experts cautiously relieved.

The decline is the second largest on record since 1990, surpassed only by the 7.1% drop in 2009, a decline largely associated with the onset of the 2008 recession. Carbon dioxide emissions have gradually receded for five of the last seven years, while emissions are down 12% from 2007 levels, according to the EIA report.

This commendable percentage coincided with a decrease in the amount of million-metric tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from 2011 to 2012, despite a surge in the population and an increase in gross domestic product (GDP), which is generally linked to higher levels of consumption and industrial pollution.

Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State University, believes this trend of reduced carbon dioxide emissions is a small victory in the battle to reduce international global warming disasters. Nonetheless, says Mann, “This alone will not lead us toward the dramatic carbon reductions necessary to avoid dangerous climate change.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) continues to examine the causes and effects of global climate change, delving back in time to study consequences of greenhouse gas use and abuse during the Industrial Revolution. Over the past few centuries, greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere have “steadily increased,” leading to a 40% increase in carbon dioxide since the year 1750 and the highest reported levels of carbon dioxide in the last 800,000 years, with a 390.5 ppm carbon dioxide level in 2011. As a result, the Earth’s average temperature has increased by 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit from 1901 to 2012 – and human activities, including industrial productivity, logging, and power generation, are “extremely likely” to be the catalyst in this surge of temperature.

Fortunately, the Obama Administration has recently enacted standards through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that strive to improve fuel efficiency, in an attempt to minimize future human impacts on the state of the environment. Increasing the nation’s fuel economy to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 would help to reduce the American contribution to carbon dioxide emissions. The EPA believes this program would reduce emissions by 6 billion metric tons over the course of its lifetime, a significant push in the right direction, towards a healthier planet.

Reflection

Being mindful of our daily carbon dioxide usage is one of the key factors in the national effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Coal-burning power plants and industrial zones are critical contributors to the nation’s carbon dioxide release, but recognizing the power of the individual to make an impact on the environment is crucial, as well. With nearly 314 million citizens, the United States is a highly influential player in the global chess board. If every person consumed less energy each day – perhaps by walking instead of driving, venturing out of the house only once a day – I believe we would be able to make a difference in greenhouse gas emissions. We would be able to help save the Earth, one energy-efficient light-bulb at a time. Living and acting with the mentality that ‘Well, my consumption as just one person doesn’t really matter’ endangers the entire population. Because if we all thought like this (narrow-minded and selflessly concerned), our energy consumption would only magnify. As Americans, we must mindfully consider every action in terms of reaction – how will this energy consumption affect my fellow citizen? Through this method of sustainability, we can curb our carbon dioxide emissions even further as a country and protect our Earth from continued disruption. 

Thompson, Andrea. “US Carbon Dioxide Emissions Drop 3.8 Percent.” Planet Earth. N.p., 22 Oct. 2013. Web. 3 Jan. 2014.

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