A recent New York Times op-ed penned by Ralph Cavanagh of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) highlights the decades-long transition into a clean energy economy for the USA. This year’s new EPA rules on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from coal-fired power plants and USA’s agreement with China to reduce emissions have brought our clean energy future into the spotlight.
Cavanagh points to a recent NRDC study on energy usage in the USA; the study shows that usage peaked in 2007 and has fallen consistently since then. The study also shows that economic growth accelerated at a greater rate than energy usage, which means the USA is generating more economic output per unit of energy consumed than previously. Cavanagh attributes our greater productivity to technology advances (i.e., more efficient equipment) and other improvements in energy efficiency. Additionally, electric consumption has not grown at the same pace that the population has (or the proliferation of consumer electronics).
Cavanagh’s piece makes a strong case for how efficiency is working and how it can continue to help us meet our GHG emissions reductions goals. This op-ed is in contrast with one that ran a few months ago on the rebound effect, which raised concern over greater energy usage resulting from efficiency.
When the world’s two largest polluters join in establishing new goals for reducing emissions of climate-disrupting gases, criticism and skepticism are predictable. And there was plenty following the recent agreement between the United States and China to do just that.
Critics warned of a “war on coal,” regulatory overreach and the surrender of American interests to Chinese duplicity. Skeptics wondered whether the goals were even feasible.
In fact, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by more than one-quarter over the next decade, as the United States has agreed to do, is simply another step in a transition to cleaner energy that has been underway for decades.