One of the few good things that happened during the pandemic was when planet heating emissions drastically dropped. We wrote about the subject in this prior post.
Unfortunately, new reports show that these climate-harming emissions have roared back in the United States in 2021.
Going in the Wrong Direction
Conservationists were hoping that the pandemic would prove to be a learning moment in American society to address the climate crisis. Because millions of people were forced to work from home, it drastically decreased the need for car and airplane travel and even slowed down global industrial output. The impact on the environment was so significant that environmental changes were noticeable from pictures that were taken in outer space. It was definitely a moment for us to learn from and an opportunity to spark momentum and motivation to emerge towards a new era less reliant on fossil fuels.
New research, however, shows otherwise as US emissions rose by 6.2% in 2021, compared to numbers in 2020. Sure, the emissions were still 5% down from 2019 levels, but the rise in pollution was greater than last year’s overall economic growth. Experts were expecting a rebound in emissions, but the data reveals that the carbon intensity of the economy is increasing and that we are going in the exact opposite direction of what’s needed.
The 2021 numbers have thrown the US off track in the rate of cuts needed to meet the agreed-upon targets articulated in the Paris climate accords. In that deal, countries must attempt to keep the global temperature rise to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. Scientists warn that the world will face dire impacts beyond that point. Experts also say that we’ve got to come down from the peak, halfway down to zero within the current decade if the US is going to get back on course to keep warming below the 1.5C level.
Travel Continues To Hurt Environment
An increase in cars and trucks traveling on the roads is a big reason for the leap in emissions for 2021. There was a 10% growth in transportation emissions for Americans than the previous year. The optimism generated by the vaccine rollouts led to more travel and increased distribution of goods across the country.
Coal was also a big contributor. Coal is the dirtiest of fossil fuels and it was on a steady decline in the US since 2005. Market conditions made coal uncompetitive, while gas, a less polluting fossil fuel became attractive to utilities as an abundant and cheaper solution.
Even with that, coal still had a 17% increase in use for power generation last year over 2020 numbers. There was also a 6.6% rise in emissions from industrial processes in 2021.
The Need for National Legislation
Climate scientists have been urgently warning us for more than three decades about the dangers of harmful emissions. There has also been a growing amount of disastrous wildfires, floods, and heatwaves affecting the environment but the US still lacks any national legislation to deal with the climate crisis.
At Karmagawa and SaveTheReef we were hoping that the pandemic would wake more people up so that real changes could be done for the environment. We need to find a way to decarbonize our economy and not just rely on individuals to change their behavior. Protecting our planet is a big job and we need organizations, including the government, to care and make real systematic changes so that we can reverse the course we are all headed in.
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What do you think about the increase in US harmful emissions in 2021? What can we do as a society that would make a real difference towards change? Leave a comment below.
(Cover Image: 24Novembers/Shutterstock)