Stanford study shows carbon emissions nearing pre-pandemic levels as economy rebounds

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ByDavid Louie KGO logo
Thursday, November 4, 2021
Carbon emissions nearing pre-pandemic levels, study shows
Stanford's annual emissions study shows we're fast returning to pre-pandemic carbon levels as the economy rebounds.

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- Fewer cars on the roads and fewer planes in the skies during the pandemic helped reduce carbon emissions. However, Stanford's annual emissions study shows we're fast returning to pre-pandemic levels.

We're back on the move, commuting and traveling. As the economy rebounds, so is the level of carbon emissions. Stanford researchers say it's up nearly five percent from last year and close to pre-pandemic levels.

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"When you park a car in a driveway or mothball a plane or steel plant, as soon as that infrastructure comes back into service, it's the same polluting infrastructure that was there before," said Prof. Rob Jackson Ph.D., chair of the Stanford Global Carbon Project.

Economic growth doesn't have to mean more carbon emissions. Before the pandemic, he points out the U.S., Japan and Mexico were reducing emissions.

"There are lots of countries, too, where emissions have decreased over the last decade, but economies grew, so I don't think there's a tight coupling between economic growth and emissions," Jackson said.

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However, China could be a major exception. Due to tight power supplies, coal mining and coal burning have increased to ramp up manufacturing.

Nationally and in California, EV sales are breaking records. However, electric vehicles represent only about 10 or 11 percent of the market. And it will take years before today's gas-powered vehicles go out of service.

"When we clean up the power sector, when we clean up the transportation sector, we don't just solve the climate problem. We save lives and make our air cleaner and healthier to breathe," Jackson said.

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Even with ambitious pledges being made at GOP26 in Scotland, progress can be difficult in Washington.

"The clean energy bill is mired in Congress, and we haven't done much for clean energy," noted Jackson.

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