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Bending the Curve

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One of my favorite charts (and you know you're a bit of a nerd when you can say you have a "favorite chart") is one we included in our 2011 report, The Way Forward on Global Warming, which we produced with Environment America Research & Policy Center. That chart showed the evolution of the U.S. Department of Energy's projections of carbon dioxide emissions over the last seven years.

It tells the story of a continued evolution toward a clean energy economy in the United States. In 2004, the future looked to be one of a new coal plant on every corner, a huge SUV in every garage, and a continuation of our historic energy-wasting ways. More recently, however, the picture has looked brighter, as policies that encourage energy efficiency and renewable energy and discourage coal have begun to take hold.

Last week, the Department of Energy issued a preview of its new projections for 2012, and the picture looks better than ever. If the DoE's projections are to be believed, carbon dioxide emissions in the United States effectively peaked in 2007 and will not surpass the 2007 emission level until at least 2035, even if we do nothing else to curb global warming but implement the policies we already have in place. (See below.)

This is great news, but of course, just keeping emissions stable at today's levels is not enough. The U.S. and the world need to be reducing emissions dramatically, starting right now, to prevent the worst impacts of global warming.

Achieving those emission reductions will still not be easy, but we will be starting from a much better position than we'd imagined seven or eight years ago.