Good news from America about climate change, leading the way to success

Summary: Journalists live by the rule “if it bleeds, it leads”, sound business advice which buries important good news. Such as the new data from the EIA about US CO2 emissions. It’s another small step away from CAGW, especially the coal-driven RCP8.5 climate nightmare scenario. It’s one of many such during the past few years — with the potential for even better news in the future.

“This is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning.”
— Speech by Churchill on 10 November 1942 after a key defeat of the Africa Corps by Britain.

U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions in 2015 are 12% below their 2005 levels

US CO2 emissions

“Adjusted for inflation, the economy in 2015 was 15% larger than it was in 2005, but the U.S. energy intensities and carbon intensities have both declined. On a per-dollar of gross domestic product (GDP) basis, in 2015, the United States used 15% less energy per unit of GDP and produced 23% fewer energy-related CO2 emissions per unit of GDP, compared with the energy and emissions per dollar of GDP in 2005.”

The big driver of this change is the shift from coal to natural gas (per the EIA). Coal use peaked in 2008, and declined 32% by 2015 (per the EIA), resulting from the collapse in natural gas prices (fracking!) — predating any effects from the Clean Power Plan.

EIA - Coal to Natural Gas

Wind and solar are also gaining, up 13% and almost 200% respectively from 2012 to 2015 — wind from a small base, and solar from an insignificant base — but both with large potential for the future, along with other technologies still in the nation’s laboratories. More about those tomorrow.

It’s happening around the world, not just in the US

“In 2012, coal provided 40% of the world’s total net electricity generation. By 2040, coal, natural gas, and renewable energy sources provide roughly equal shares (28-29%) of world generation.”
— From the EIA’s International Energy Outlook 2016.

Data from the EIA shows that world coal consumption fell by 98 million short tons (1.2%) in 2012 (the most recent data) following peaking in many nations, both poor and rich. Europe peaked in 2007. Africa peaked in 2008 and Asia in 2011 (or later, data is uncertain). See details about the good news.

The lost jobs of the miners are the cost of a vial economy — free markets in action, creative destruction plus government action to protect the environmental commons. Like the lost jobs in farming and manufacturing during our history. A wealthy society like ours can provide for them, better than we have for those trampled by changes during past generations.

Before we get too excited about the future…

…remember the past. CO2 levels continue to grow at an accelerating rate, decade by decade. Up 1.8% in the 1950s, up 2.8% in the 1960s, up 4.1% in the 1970s, up 4.6% in the 1980s, up 4.2% in the 1990s, and up 5.6% in the first decade of the new century. See the bad news in this graph of CO2 levels measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory (from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center).

Mauna Loa CO2 observations

We will choose in which forecasts of the future we want to live

The shift from coal to renewables and natural gas are the beginnings of good trends, but their effects will be seen only in future decades. The CO2 emission levels forecast in the RCP’s do not differ significantly until after 2030. The four shown in the IPCC’s AR5 have a range of 2% between best and worst by 2020, 5% by 2030, 18% by 2050, and 55% by 2100.

This graph from the RCP Database shows forecasts for the two most severe RCPs. The line of actual CO2 concentrations that we’ll draw on that graph depends on decisions we make as individuals, business people, and citizens.

CO2 forecasts from the RCPs

Also, the RCP’s are representative scenarios showing paths to various levels of climate forcings. Even if the current news continues and CO2 levels rise less than expected, there are other paths to severe warming. Other things might go wrong, such as large releases of methane from the northern tundra or ocean floors.

On the other hand, the dire headlines about climate catastrophes are almost all based on RCP8.5, with its unlikely assumptions of slow tech progress, extremely rapid population growth, and a late 21st century powered by coal (like the late 19thC). All of those assumptions are becoming less likely, year by year.

The bottom line is that we should not believe neither the doomsters of the Left (the End is Nigh, inevitably) nor the Right (we can do nothing). We have the tools to build a prosperous clean world. It will not happen by itself. It will not be easy. But it is possible.

For More Information

See the early release excerpts from the EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2016 and the EIA’s International Energy Outlook 2016 — with their wealth of information.

To see the data and forecasts for the various RCP’s go to the RCP Database. See historical data about atmospheric CO2 at the DoE’s Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center.

Please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information see The keys to understanding climate change, My posts about climate change, and especially these about the rumored coal-driven climate apocalypse…

  1. Is our certain fate a coal-burning climate apocalypse? No!
  2. Manufacturing climate nightmares: misusing science to create horrific predictions.
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6 thoughts on “Good news from America about climate change, leading the way to success

  1. One cannot seriously claim any particular level of declining U.S. energy consumption without taking into account the energy consumed in the outsourcing of manufacturing or the energy consumption resulting from shipping of materials, components, and/or finished products. Nor can one blithely claim reduced energy consumption from shifting from coal to natural gas for power generation, when it is widely known that once all the emissions from production, including fracking, methane leaks, and injection of polluted liquids back into the earth, are included in the calculations, natural gas accounts for as much or more emissions than coal. that is not to say that we should return to coal. But it is to say that even claiming natural gas as a “bridge” strategy leading ultimately to renewables is highly questionable.

    The U.S. has not taken any serious steps to curtail the carbon emissions for which it is responsible, wherever they occur. Outsourcing emissions results from the complete failure of international economic systems to change the behavior that continues to drive climate chaos beyond the likely tipping point to runaway full destabilization and human extinction.

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    1. Hopeful,

      I don’t understand your comment.

      (1) “One cannot seriously claim any particular level of declining U.S. energy consumption … Nor can one blithely claim reduced energy consumption…”

      Who is claiming this? Nothing in this post says that. I’ve not seen this claim elsewhere.

      (2) “… without taking into account the energy consumed in the outsourcing of manufacturing or the energy consumption resulting from shipping of materials, components, and/or finished products.”

      First, the merchandise trade deficit is tiny — 1% of GDP in 2015.

      Second, US exports have skyrocketed since 1970, as have imports. It would take some serious effort to calculate an “implied energy” trade balance in goods and commodities. Since we tend to import simple merchandise and export complex merchandise, the implied energy balance might be far narrower than simple numbers would suggest. Who knows?

      (3) “when it is widely known that once all the emissions from production, including fracking, methane leaks, and injection of polluted liquids back into the earth, are included in the calculations, natural gas accounts for as much or more emissions than coal.”

      Do you have a cite for that? I’m quite familiar with this subject, and have never heard that (except as wild guessing).

      (4) “But it is to say that even claiming natural gas as a “bridge” strategy leading ultimately to renewables is highly questionable.”

      You have not remotely begun to justify doubting the EIA’s data.

      Burning coal to produce a million BTUs of energy produces an average of 210 pounds of CO2; burning natural gas to do so produces 117 pounds of CO2 (coal produced and CO2 emitted per EIA) — a reduction of 45%! Coal also requires much more energy to mine, refine, and transport (both the fuel and waste products) than the equivalent BTUs in natural gas (bulky solid vs. liquid via pipe).

      (5) “beyond the likely tipping point to runaway full destabilization and human extinction.”

      The Working Group I of the IPCC’s AR5 report says nothing remotely like that. It’s the “gold standard” for seeing the consensus of climate scientists.

      The scary stories you’re reading are based on AR5’s worst case scenario — RCP8.5. It rests upon some unlikely assumptions (as a worst-case scenario should): unusually rapid population growth, a drastic slowdown in tech progress (a new industrial revolution is beginning now), and a late 21st century (like the late 19thC) powered mostly by coal. For details see Manufacturing climate nightmares: misusing science to create horrific predictions.

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  2. Hopeful,

    What climate chaos? Katrina? Many like it in the past, many more to come. California drought? Same comment. Ditto for too much rain, tornadoes, climate caused forest fires, ice-free Arctic, sunny days, cloudy days, etc.

    I have trouble finding any empirical data showing this climate chaos which, given the atmospheric CO2 levels (+30%), should be clearly distinguishable from past climate by now.

    Take Arctic sea ice as an example. It is impossibly unlikely for there to be as much sea ice this year as last year, so there has to be either more or less. The same applies on time scales of decades, 50 year periods, centuries millennia, 10’s of millennia etc. Now, we can agree that the Holocene Optimum was likely warmer than today. From this we can infer that Arctic sea ice extent was lower than today. If this is an indication of climate chaos, I’ve lost track of what chaos means.

    When my wife complained about the state of our house “We need to clean and tidy the house! It’s chaos in here!” as happens with six kids BTW, it took no subtle thinking to know what chaos meant. In fact when chaos is real it’s easy to recognize. It was also easy to recognize the reduction of chaos.

    If reducing CO2 is supposed to reduce climate chaos, what chaos exactly are we reducing and how is that claimed chaos any different from previous chaos, or is that there is no chaos? What would less chaos look like?

    Sorry that I’m so confused, but I have real trouble with this expression “climate chaos”. Over the last 50 years I’ve seen hotter, colder, wetter, drier, stormier, calmer and it doesn’t seem all that chaotic to me.

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    1. Peter and Hopeful,

      Peter states the situation well, although I frame it differently. The IPCC’s 2012 special report and, more recently, AR5 found little evidence of increases in extreme weather other than heat (and perhaps precipitation).

      For details about these trends see this by Professor Botkin, and this Congressional testimony by several climate scientists. As for the California drought, climate scientists have clearly and repeatedly said that such droughts are a normal feature of its climate (details here), with evidence of decade-long — and even century-long — droughts in the past.

      Accept no propaganda!

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