2008 Environmental Index Debunks Myth that U.S. Lags Europe in Environmental Performance

San Francisco – The Pacific Research Institute (PRI) and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) today released the 2008 Index of Leading Environmental Indicators, an annual report highlighting the significant environmental developments and milestones in the United States and worldwide. The 2008 edition debunks the widely held perception that the U.S. lags Europe and other leading nations in environmental performance.

“To borrow the blunt language of the Millennials, ‘Does the United States suck on the environment?’ The resounding answer is no,” said Steven F. Hayward, author of the Index, and a senior fellow at PRI and the F.K. Weyerhaeuser Fellow at AEI. “The U.S. remains the world’s environmental leader, and will likely be so in the future.” In the case of greenhouse gas emissions, for example, between 1997 and 2004, the last year in which comparative data are available, emissions from Kyoto Protocol participants increased 21.1 percent, while emissions from the U.S. increased 6.6 percent. Moreover, greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. fell by 1.5 percent in 2006 — the first time in a non-recessionary year. Dr. Hayward believes that the U.S. will likely be the only industrialized nation where GHG emissions fell in 2006.

80% reduction in CO2 emissions means no hot water for Americans, living standards similar to Haitians and Somalians

The 2008 Index also provides new analysis in practical terms on the widespread call for an 80 percent reduction in C02 emissions in the United States by the year 2050. “The enthusiasm for this target is often justified on the general grounds that national policy should set an ambitious goal,” Dr. Hayward, said. “Our analysis shows the stark unreality of what this goal means for the lifestyles of Americans. In the absence of some truly revolutionary breakthroughs in energy technology that are wholly speculative at this point, achieving the 80 percent target will mean no hot water, no refrigerators, and no air conditioning, never mind flat screen TVs.”

  • The United States last emitted CO2 at this level in the year 1910, when the population was only 92 million. By 2050, the United States will have 420 million people, requiring a per-capita emissions rate not seen in the nation since 1875.
  • To achieve the 80-percent reduction target in 2050, the U.S. per-capita emissions will have to be less than 2.5 tons (down from approximately 20 tons today). The only nations today that have GHG emissions that low are desperately poor nations, such as Haiti and Somalia. Even France and Switzerland, the two industrialized nations with the lowest use of fossil-fuel energy sources, emit about 6.5 tons of C02 per capita.
  • Automobile fuel consumption will have to fall by more than 80 percent. Unless gasoline can be replaced with carbon-free fuel, American drivers will have to switch to high-mileage cars (likely small and lightweight cars) and cut their amount of driving by more than half.
  • Unless there is a genuine breakthrough in carbon-free electricity, households will not be able to use enough electricity to run a hot-water heater without exceeding the 2.5 tons per-capita emissions ceiling. Forget flat-screen TVs, air conditioning, and refrigerators.

“The 80 percent reduction target is unrealistic at any price, akin to King Canute commanding the tides, or the equivalent of John F. Kennedy pledging the nation in 1961 to land a man on Mars by the year 1970,” Dr. Hayward said.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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