According to the latest figures from the Energy Information Administration, US petroleum consumption remained essentially flat for the fourth consecutive year in 2007. If anything, our appetite for oil is shrinking—throttled, no doubt, by higher prices. Take a look at the first column of numbers, below, especially towards the bottom.
These are preliminary figures, of course. I imagine that we’ll get the final, official statistics in a year or so. Still, this is half-decent news for the climate. Total energy-related emissions went up a bit, but (according to EIA) mostly because of weather: nationwide, 2007 had a hot summer and a cold winter, compared with the previous year. But the trends in coal and natural gas have been pretty flat for the last few years, and it looks like petroleum’s joining the party.
Seen from another angle, though—gosh, that’s an awful lot of CO2 from fossil fuels. And with simultaneous price increases for oil, coal, and gas, that’s a lot of impact on our pocketbooks, let alone the climate. Sure, higher prices in 2008, coupled with a jittery economy, are probably spurring some additional conservation even as you read this. But it’s going to take a lot more than anxious energy markets to achieve real emissions reductions over the long haul.
I’ll take the good news where I can find it, though—and for emissions from petroleum, the news isn’t all that bad, especially if it recent trends convince our policymakers that, yes, in fact, our habits around oil consumption can change.