Transportation Is Now the Biggest Source of US CO2 Emissions

©. Climate Central

But electric cars will save us, right? Think again.

For years on TreeHugger we have written that, while green building is important, how you get to your green building is even more so. Now, for the first time in decades, more carbon dioxide is being generated by transportation than is produced by generating electric power. How you get there matters more than ever.

The CO2 from electricity generation is down for a number of reasons; the biggest is the shift from coal to natural gas, which produces less CO2 per unit of energy generated. Also, heating takes more energy than cooling, and the weather has been getting warmer. According to the EIA, "Heating degree days in 2016 were the second fewest of any year since at least 1949, consistent with relatively warmer winter months." And of course, there has been a bit more renewable power.

Meanwhile, the CO2 from transportation goes up because gas is cheap, people are driving more and they are buying more SUVs and pickup trucks. So the good news is that as we switch to electric cars, things will get better, right? As Sami has noted, Electric cars are greener than gas, literally everywhere, even where the electricity comes from coal. Climate Central tells us that "a typical gasoline-powered passenger car emits 20 pounds of carbon dioxide for each gallon of gas burned, or about a pound for each mile traveled, and both electric and hybrid vehicles can cut back on those emissions."

And then you find out that the car manufacturers are working hard to roll back CAFE rules so that they can sell more big SUVs and pickups. According to Influence Map, a site that studies lobbying:


© Influence Map

The pattern of lobbying suggests an opportunistic effort from US auto lobby groups, particularly the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM), to sway the regulatory regime on behalf of members GM, Ford, Toyota, FCA and others. This lobbying activity by the AAM contrasts significantly with the top line statements from many of these member companies on climate change.

They are also talking out of both sides of their mouths, as the table below shows, promising to reduce CO2 emissions and make more efficient cars (and more electric cars) while trying to roll back fuel efficiency and emission standards. So it will likely be some time before that graph flips back.

top five carmakers assessed

Influence Map/Screen capture