A Positive Effect of the Economic Meltdown

Looks like the U.S.’s dismal economy had some positive fallout after all. At least as far as air quality is concerned.

According to the EPA’s 16th annual US Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report released today, overall emissions during 2009 decreased by 6.1 percent from the previous year. The report attributes this downward trend to “a decrease in fuel and electricity consumption across all US economic sectors.”

Total emissions of the six main greenhouse gases in 2009 were equivalent to 6,633 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. These gases include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride. Not surprisingly, CO2 from fossil fuel combustion continues to be the largest source of the nation’s human activity-related greenhouse gas emissions, representing about 83 percent of total emissions.

But the good news is, that while overall emissions have increased by more than 7.3 percent from 1990 to 2009 (growing at an average annual rate of 0.4 percent), 2009 saw the lowest total annual greenhouse gas emissions since 1995.

The report also attributes the low emissions in part to “a reduction in carbon intensity of fuels used to generate electricity” or “fuel switching.” Apparently the rising price of coal has led many power companies to increase use of the more cheaply available natural gas – a fuel that has its own emissions and water pollution issues (The report does say that natural gas systems were the largest anthropogenic source category of methane emissions in the United States in 2009. Methane emissions from these systems increased 4 percent from 2008 to 2009 due to an increase in production and production wells).

All those efforts to compost our food scraps and plant trees are paying off too. The report says capturing carbon “in forests, trees in urban areas, agricultural soils, and landfilled yard trimmings and food scraps,” together helped offset 15.3 percent of total emissions in 2009.

The takeway: Individual efforts do make a difference and slowing down growth isn’t always a bad idea. Excuse me while I go add that banana peel sitting on my desk to the kitchen compost heap.

This post was originally published by the Earth Island Journal.

Related Stories:

Dairy Companies Hoping to Lower Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The Good Green Blimp

Flashmob Shuts Down BP Gas Station (Video)


Photo from davipt via flickr
Written by Maureen Nandini Mitra, Managing Editor of the Earth Island Journal


Sumit jamadar
Sumit jamadar6 years ago


Doris P.
Doris P6 years ago

As long as there is no talk about biofuels though when we look at alternative forms of energy. Clean energy must never be at the expense of food reserves, which is what is happening with the biofuel industry.
936,075,058 people were undernourished worldwide at the time of this posting.
A lot of this is because lots of our food crop excesses are now not going to hungry people but into producing biofuels.

Lydia Woltjer
Lydia Woltjer6 years ago

This article is good but it may be sending the wrong message about economy and environment being opposite or against each other. This is the common misconception in America. a healthy environment=a good economy in every way. Lets find ways to share this message instead.

Brenda Towers
Brenda Towers6 years ago

Thanks for sharing We must all play our part!

Marianne Good
Past Member 6 years ago

Thanks for sharing

Dana W.
Dana W6 years ago

Too bad it takes an economic disaster to cause positive climate change.

Michael C.
Michael C6 years ago

Conclusion from post below, Michael C

NO MORE MONSANTOLAND, each of us growing a number "something".
From this we barter, give, share, the way things are going, we may be forced to do so.
There will always be new projects, 200,000 new job seekers also need renewable power for their new environmentally sound homes. Seems like there is no end to the possibilities, anyone out there have something in mind, send it, share it. Time is of the essence.
Let us begin to recreate the future, Now!

Michael C.
Michael C6 years ago

I would agree with Mary B. in that advertisers are running amuck, at the behest of the sellers and we seem unable to make intelligent decisions as to what we buy.
Truth be told, the US must create something to the nature of 200,000 jobs each month just to stay even with the increase of eligible workers. Scary isn't it.
Just a thought about borrowing money, they don't borrow, they create it. Now look in your back pocket, I think you will find the IOU with your signature on it.
Remember, you MUST be careful of all emissions released from either end of a politician.
Seeing that emissions can be lowered, maybe we should stop and think, what type of jobs and products will best see us into the years ahead. Currently, there are thousands and hopefully tens of thousands of Americans coming home from WAR. What about them?
I have an idea, a new Manhattan Project, no, not building atomic bombs but something far more peaceful.
A nation-wide campaign to supplant fossil fuel usage by the mass installation of solar electric modules and solar hot water panels, to include further advances in wind power and other forms of renewables. But where do we get the man/woman power for such a great endeavor, yes, from the ranks of the unemployed, the racks of the returning service personnel. Here lies jobs that cannot be sent overseas to China.
While we are at it, victory gardens.
NO MORE MONSANTOLAND, each of us growing a number "something".
From this we barter, give, share, the

Monica D.
Monica D6 years ago

I see a comment below that a lot of US manufacturing has gone offshore, and emissions with that. This has been the case for many western economies for the past few years. I think there is an argument to be made for attributing some offshore CO2 emissions to onshore consumption.

Monica D.
Monica D6 years ago

Climate change is a serious concern. The ideology of endless growth in GDP, combined with the use of fossil fuels (themselves used because of the perceived need for cheap fuel to drive economic growth), has to end. I encourage everyone to look at the CASSE site at http://steadystate.org and sign the petition there.