Source Newsroom: University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
Numbers are misleading, researchers say
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Newswise — FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Climate experts associated with the University of Arkansas Office of Sustainability say that statistics released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration about carbon dioxide emissions are misleading. The federal agency announced that U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions for the first quarter of 2012 had been reduced to levels not seen since 1992. The agency reported that emissions were down 8 percent from first quarter of 2011.
The agency attributed the lower emission levels to a combination of atmospheric, consumptive and technological patterns, such as a decline in coal combustion due to milder weather, reduced gasoline consumption and – according to the report’s authors – the low cost of energy generation by natural gas.
Although carbon dioxide emissions due to U.S. coal production are down – 18 percent in first quarter of 2012 – emissions in general are not on a downward trend, said Steve Boss, professor of geosciences and director of the university’s environmental dynamics program. The statistics reported by the federal agency reflect a short-term decline due to the economic recession.
“Small reductions are seen globally throughout the recession,” Boss said. “It would be nice to believe we were on a long-term trajectory to reduced emissions, but we aren’t, not in the U.S. or worldwide.”
Boss said the 2012 numbers are artifacts of the stalled economy, which was implied in the statement, “reduced demand for gasoline.”
“The major drop occurred during late 2008 and 2009 when the U.S. and global economy crashed,” Boss said. “You can see emissions data for all nations on the EIA site. There are similar declines in CO2 emissions, which is a sign of limited industrial output and struggling economies worldwide.”
David Stahle, Distinguished Professor of geosciences and prominent dendrochronologist, agreed with Boss’ assessment of the federal agency’s statistics. Despite the short-term reductions, Stahle said, global levels of emissions are at a record high. The statistics, he said, also do not refer to greenhouse gas emissions other than carbon dioxide.
“Emissions are led by China, the United States, India, the Russian Federation and the European Union,” Stahle said. “This is true despite the fact that carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. from energy use have declined.”
To support this position, Stahle refers to a December 2011 climate change report published in Nature, which stated that there have been record emissions since the small decline during the 2008 recession. In December of 2012, the magazine published an updated report by the same research group, which stated that 2012 emissions were the highest ever measured.
The report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration can be found at http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=7350. The Nature article can be found at http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v2/n1/full/nclimate1332.html.