Chart of the Day: Total US Carbon Emissions, 1990-2018

Here’s some bad news for folks concerned about climate change: national greenhouse has emissions have gone up markedly over the last year. In a New York Times article today, Brad Plumer has a story about the 3% uptick over the last year.

Here’s the chart:

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According to Plumer, there are a few reasons for the increase. One of them is an increase in industrial activity, but the other has to do with transportation trends.

Here’s the relevant bit:

Since 2011, the federal government has been steadily ratcheting up fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks, although the Trump administration has proposed to halt the toughening of those standards after 2021.

There are signs that those standards have been effective. In the first nine months of 2018, Americans drove slightly more miles in passenger vehicles than they did over that span the previous year, yet gasoline use dropped by 0.1 percent, thanks in part to fuel-efficient vehicles and electric cars.

But, as America’s economy expanded last year, trucking and air travel also grew rapidly, leading to a 3 percent increase in diesel and jet fuel use and spurring an overall rise in transportation emissions for the year. Air travel and freight have also attracted less attention from policymakers to date and are considered much more difficult to electrify or decarbonize.

Needless to say, the increase is terrible news for the climate. To have a stable environment, our planet needs to be drastically cutting back on CO2 emissions. Instead we’re heading in the other direction.

6 thoughts on “Chart of the Day: Total US Carbon Emissions, 1990-2018

  1. Monte Castleman

    One thing that’s going on is consumers want something along the lines of station wagons or minivans in terms of fuel efficiency, handling, and capability. But they want something that looks like an SUV. So it seems half our vehicle fleet is crossovers- basically cars that look like SUVs. Even the new Explorers and Blazers are crossovers. So real truck basked (and fuel gulping) SUVs have disappeared and the markets gotten pretty good at making car based crossovers fuel efficient by putting in under-powered engines and making them as aerodynamic as possible- that’s why they all basically look the same.

    I would have bought a small to mid sized traditional SUV for my current vehicle, but now that the FJ Cruiser is out of production there’s simply none for sale. Realizing in that in my 14 years of owning one I never took it off road and no longer need to drive in the snow to get to work I figured I could live with a RAV 4 / CX-5 / CRV type vehicle so I bought a RAV-4.

  2. Cobo R

    With the environment put in the cross hairs of the current manufactured “culture war”. And since environmentalism of any kind is framed as politically polarizing. Its hard to have any optimism.

    Straight pipe pickups and coal rollers are getting more common.
    I now know people who now gleefully throw recyclables into the trash.
    New automobiles and homes are trending larger and require more fuel.
    The current administration is dealing a double whammy, 1st killing off regulations, 2 making the EPA dysfunctional.

    And it seems that all of the energy and focus of the environmental movement is on useless stuff like plastic straw bans that accomplish absolutely nothing, and just piss people off… Properly disposed of straws don’t end up in the ocean! why is this asinine movement this getting so much traction?!…. Almost all of the plastic trash in the ocean is due to poor waste management in Asia… not from Starbucks stores in Minneapolis.
    /end rant

    Anyway…. I’ll just keep doing my best, and continue to get sneered at by people who think I should be doing more, and by people who think I should be doing nothing.

    Can’t win

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

      The first time I saw a “coal roller”, while biking in Western Wisconsin, I could not believe my eyes.

      PS. that is a classic straw man argument.

    2. Monte Castleman

      I’d also throw out plastic bag bans and light bulb bans as irritants. I get that plastic bags cause a litter problem and maybe that’s justification for banning them, but if it was about that why mandate a charge for paper bags? As far as the light bulb ban, something like 3-4% of the electricity use in the U.S. is for residential lighting, electricity is probably the easiest thing to switch to non-carbon sources, they still haven’t made LEDs that can match the dimming performance of incandescents and those that match the spectrum are extremely expensive, and many people would switch voluntarily.

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