There is no denying the so-called “Great Recession” has not been kind to state budgets, federal budgets, many businesses, international markets, prospective student-loan recipients, job seekers, and countless others. But, according to the Department of Energy and numerous environmental organizations, it has been kind to something: the planet.
"Recession Special: Cleaner Air" in Saturday’s New York Times cites analysis by the US Department of Energy and several environmental research groups that the economic downturn has led to a marked decrease in carbon emissions throughout the United States. Efforts to cut costs through energy efficient appliances, lighting, and building systems are “all justified as saving money over their lifetimes [and] also save carbon.”
The efficiency push has also led to cleaner power generation. A smaller, more service-based economy has created less demand for electricity, causing utilities to use the most cost-effective means of power generation: more efficient, lower-emitting plants. A legislative and industry push for cleaner technology in coal plants, as well as lower natural gas prices and subsidies for renewable energy have also led to decreased emissions and a shift in the energy economy that experts hope signals long-term change.
While the piece acknowledges that its scope is limited (U.S. emissions are down, but global trends may prove to be different), the good news is that U.S. businesses, utilities, and individuals are taking advantage of the financial benefits of energy efficiency in a tough economy. And reducing carbon emissions. If there is a silver lining in “The Great Recession,” a cleaner energy economy just might be it.