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Bummer: Carbon Emissions Are Back Up

With the economy sputtering along again (for now), carbon emissions are back up. It's our current Catch-22: Good economic news is bad climate news.

Time to check in on our progress in avoiding global cataclysm.


Back in 2008 and 2009, the economic collapse, combined with relatively high prices for coal and petroleum, made people cut back on energy consumption. That, in turn, meant that global carbon dioxide emissions actually fell. In 2009, they fell by 2 percent. Not a lot, but it was the biggest annual drop in 40 years.

With the economy sputtering along again, carbon emissions are back up. It's our current Catch-22: Good economic news is bad climate news. That's because we use a lot of energy per unit of economic activity and, because we rely heavily on coal, a lot of carbon is emitted per unit of energy used. Carbon and the economic progress are tied together.

We have to decouple economic activity from carbon, and we can. Solar and wind power sources, small though they are right now, are growing. And even though their limitations seem discouraging at the moment (How do we store solar energy overnight? How do we transmit wind power?), there's great potential for technological innovation to solve those problems in ways we can't yet imagine. Energy efficiency measures can also help (we could stop eating red meat, for example).

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