A cure for global warming: Economic meltdown

Just what the climate change doctor ordered: A nasty recession

Published September 21, 2009 9:58PM (EDT)

The global recession has a silver lining! The Financial Times has managed to get a look at an excerpt from the International Energy Agency's upcoming World Energy Outlook report that claims global CO2 emissions have dropped dramatically this year.

In the first big study of the impact of the recession on climate change, the IEA found that CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels had undergone "a significant decline" this year -- further than in any year in the past 40. The fall will exceed the drop in the 1981 recession that followed the oil crisis.

In addition to cratering industrial output, the IEA says at least three distinct government regulatory initiatives contributed to the decline: "Europe's target to cut emissions by 20 per cent by 2020; U.S. car emission standards; and China's energy efficiency policies."

The standard conservative argument against pushing for further action restricting emissions is that we don't want impose any new regulations that could depress economic growth during the middle of a sharp downturn. But there's another way to look at it: We face an enormous opportunity. Emissions are in decline. If we take aggressive action now to promote renewable energy, energy efficiency, and conservation, in combination with tough new regulations, we might be able to turn a temporary decline into something more permanent.

Or, we could just wait for the next catastrophic oil shock. Which sounds like the more prudent course?

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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