Collectively, the U.S. and China account for over one-third of the world’s climate-disrupting gas emissions. So when the two countries engaged in a mutual commitment to significantly reduce emissions earlier this month, skeptics naturally wondered whether the stated goals are actually attainable. The U.S., for example, vowed to reduce emissions by 26-28 percent compared to 2005 levels by 2025, as part of a long-term goal of achieving an 80 percent reduction by 2050. China pledged to peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 or earlier. The two countries also agreed to joint goals, such as expanding research on clean energy and promoting the trade of green goods. (Source: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/11/11/fact-sheet-us-china-joint-announcement-climate-change-and-clean-energy-c).
While the objectives of the U.S.-China agreement are certainly ambitious, a review of the American energy economy over the past few years reveals promising trends. Beginning with the oil crises of the 1970s, energy news was dismal for decades, with consumption steadily increasing. (Source: http://www.nrdc.org/energy/energy-environment-report/files/energy-environment-report-2013.pdf). Energy use finally peaked in 2007 and has since been on a downward trend. Electricity use has been growing at a slower rate than the population since 2000. Considering society’s ever-increasing reliance on consumer electronics, this statistic is impressive. Oil consumption is also down 12 percent from its peak in 2005. While consumption is decreasing, renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, and geothermal energy, are becoming more prevalent. Over one-eighth of the country’s energy supply now comes from such sources. (Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/24/opinion/good-news-on-energy.html?emc=eta1&_r=0).
Improvements in energy efficiency are the driving factor behind the downward trend of energy consumption. One study estimated that without such improvements, the country’s energy requirements would have tripled since 1970. In reality, they have only increased by one-fifth of that amount: the U.S. has reduced its energy needs by 70 percent since 1973. (Sources: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/24/opinion/good-news-on-energy.html?emc=eta1&_r=0; http://bipartisanpolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/default/files/files/BPC%2520SEPI%2520Energy%2520Report%25202013%5B1%5D-1.pdf).
As the recent trend of reduced energy consumption and increased use of renewable sources accelerates, society will experience multiple benefits. A cleaner environment will protect public health and the planet, while decreased dependence on foreign oil improves security. On an individual level, improvements in energy efficiency equate to savings for consumers, helping to make energy more affordable for all Americans. The road to achieving the current goal of an 80 percent reduction in emissions by 2050 remains long and will require individuals and businesses to take steps to reduce their energy consumption, such as by retrofitting their homes and buildings with ecofriendly improvements. (Source: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/11/11/fact-sheet-us-china-joint-announcement-climate-change-and-clean-energy-c). Fortunately, the promising trend of the past few years will likely become unstoppable as Americans seek new ways to make energy more reliable, secure, and environmentally responsible.