The first preliminary numbers are out for U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide from energy use in 2009 and they are astounding. U.S. emissions of the leading global warming pollutant declined by an unprecedented 6.7 percent between 2008 and 2009. Going back to 2007, when the current recession began, emissions are down by nearly 10 percent.
In other words, the U.S. emitted less carbon dioxide to the atmosphere last year than we did in 1996 when Bill Clinton was president and the World Wide Web was new.
Before celebrating too much, it's worth acknowledging that, yes, the economic recession is the number one cause of the decline. When factories aren't running, the demand for energy goes down and so do emissions.
But it is untrue that global warming pollution and economic growth move in lockstep. It is possible to grow the economy while producing less pollution. Specifically:
The big issue moving forward is how to ensure that when America's economy starts growing again, our impact on the global climate does not. Investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency can provide power for our economy, and can even provide a source of jobs to get America growing again.