NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 28, 2008

Many environmentalists claim that nothing less than an 80 percent reduction in emissions by the year 2050 will suffice to combat global warming, says Steven Hayward, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.  Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have endorsed it.  John McCain is not far behind, calling for a 65 percent reduction.  These targets would send us back to emissions levels last witnessed when the cotton gin was in daily use.

Begin with the current inventory of carbon dioxide emissions -- CO2 being the principal greenhouse gas generated almost entirely by energy use:

  • In 2006 the United States emitted 5.8 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, or just under 20 tons per capita, according to the Department of Energy.
  • An 80 percent reduction in these emissions from 1990 levels means that the United States cannot emit more than about one billion metric tons of CO2 in 2050.

The United States last emitted one billion metric tons around 1910; but in 1910, the country had 92 million people, and per capita income, in current dollars, was about $6,000.

The daunting task of reaching one billion metric tons of CO2 emissions by 2050 comes into even greater relief when we look at the American economy, sector-by-sector:

  • At the present time, American households emit 1.2 billion tons of CO2 -- 20 percent higher than the entire nation's emissions must be in 2050.
  • To meet the reduction, the average residence in the United States could use no more that 2,500 KwH per year, the average now is about 10,500 KwH.
  • Right now our cars and trucks consume about 180 billion gallons of motor fuel; to meet the 2050 target, consumption of gasoline would have to be limited to about 31 billion gallons.

Source: Steven Hayward, "The Real Cost of Tackling Climate Change," Wall Street Journal, April 28, 2008.

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