So much for the idea that American gasoline use topped out in the last decade.
Lower oil prices and the improving economy have sparked an increase in fuel use, road travel and vehicle emissions. It puts an emphatic end to the notion that better fuel economy and fewer active drivers would shrink demand for gasoline in the U.S. from what was thought to be its peak in 2007.
That’s bad news for the climate. Processing crude oil and burning gasoline send huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and are major contributors to global warming. The increase in those emissions comes at an inopportune time. World leaders expect the U.S. to lead the way on emission reductions as negotiations continue toward a global climate treaty in December.
After falling for five straight years, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from gasoline consumption rose 1.4 percent in 2013, followed by a less than 1 percent increase in 2014 to 1.07 billion metric tons, according to the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA). Last year’s total amounted to 83 percent of the CO2 emissions for the nation’s transportation sector, and 28 percent of energy-related emissions.
“When it comes to the climate, every bit matters, and we need to continue to be on a downward trajectory,” said Roland Hwang, director of the energy and transportation program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It’s not as devastating for the environment as it was in the 90s, when we had no carbon constraints in place, but I’m still worried.”