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No shenanigans here, U.S. carbon emissions are down

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U.S. energy-related carbon emissions are down in 2012 according to the Energy Information Administration:

Now there are several ways to say that carbon emissions are down. A common practice is to use carbon intensity, which is a handy policy metric for measuring carbon emissions against economic output (tons of carbon dioxide emissions to GDP). But a lot of the time carbon intensity can be used to distort just how much carbon emissions have gone up or down. Because it is a ratio, as long as GDP grows faster than carbon emissions, you will have a favorable outcome (assuming you desire lower carbon emissions).

But there is no fudging with the latest stats – both carbon intensity (above) and total carbon emissions are down:

I bring this up not to poo-poo carbon intensity – it is a decent policy metric and handy for comparing economies with each other, especially developing versus developed economies – but it is easy to selectively choose carbon intensity when it is most convenient. You can see this if you look at 1997. I could tell you that carbon intensity is down and therefore my policies are working just fine, but a look at the total energy-related carbon emissions would tell a different story.

David Wogan About the Author: An engineer and policy researcher who writes about energy, technology, and policy - and everything in between. Based in Austin, Texas. Comments? Follow on Twitter @davidwogan.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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