U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions Are Once Again On The Rise

10 hours ago
Originally published on January 8, 2019 7:21 pm

Carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. are on the rise again after several years of decline, and a booming economy is the cause.

That's according to a report out today from the Rhodium Group, an independent research firm that tracks CO2 emissions in the U.S.

"It appears based on preliminary data that emissions in the U.S. grew by the highest rate since 2010 when we were recovering from the great recession," says Trevor Houser, a partner at Rhodium and an author on the new estimate.

Emissions rose roughly 3.4 percent in 2018, he says.

Emissions were up for the first time since 2015.
Rhodium Group

The big drivers were increased electricity demand and growth in trucking and aviation.

The report underscores an unusual upside to an economic downturn: When the economy shrinks, greenhouse gas emissions also go down. That's what happened in the throes of the financial crisis in 2008 — carbon dioxide emissions plummeted. They've been bouncing up and down since then. But last year, the strong economic growth meant a rise. A cold winter was also a factor, particularly because it led to higher consumption of natural gas and fuel oil in homes for heat.

There were some areas where decisions by government and industry helped to reduce some types of emissions. A record number of coal-fired power plants closed last year. And emissions from passenger automobiles dropped slightly, due to better fuel-economy standards. But it wasn't enough, and Houser wants more aggressive policies to drive drown CO2. That seems unlikely for now. Policies to limit greenhouse gas emissions started under the Obama administration are now being halted and even reversed under President Trump.

"What we've seen is backsliding in federal policy, and we're starting to feel the effects of that now," Houser says.

The report means the U.S. is less likely to meet its reduction targets under the global Paris climate agreement, according to Andrew Light, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute. When the U.S. signed on to the agreement in 2015, then-President Obama promised a 26-28 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2025.

There's still time to catch up, Light says. "If we do get back on track in the United States toward having an energy policy that's consistent with the threat of climate change then we can turn these things around," he says.

Stock markets have faltered in recent months, indicating the U.S. might be headed toward another recession. That could cause emissions to drop, but Houser says it would not be productive.

"A short-term emissions decline as a result of a recession is not something anyone's cheering for," he says. "We do the best on this issue when the economy is thriving, and there are policies in place that can channel investment into clean energy technologies."

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The lineup for this summer's Coachella festival is making fans of K-pop and J-pop smile. Korean and Japanese pop music groups feature prominently. Many people have heard about K-pop, the Korean boy band BTS. They topped the U.S. charts last summer. Many fewer people know the blueprints for the genre mostly came from Japan. A group there called SMAP played a big role in shaping the pop idol landscape across Asia. SMAP broke up but remains a huge influence. Naomi Gingold reports.

NAOMI GINGOLD, BYLINE: This has to start with a bit of a confession. I'm kind of a Japanese teeny-bopper. When I was 16, living in the Japanese countryside as an exchange student, I fell in love with the boy band SMAP. And like most of Japan, I never fell out of love with them.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOZORA NO MUKOU")

SMAP: (Singing in Japanese).

GINGOLD: SMAP, Sports Music Assemble People, debuted in 1991. They came from Johnny's Entertainment, this male pop idol factory in Japan. But unlike most Johnny's groups, when SMAP came out, they were kind of a flop.

RYOKO OSANAI: (Speaking Japanese).

GINGOLD: So SMAP's manager took a new approach, says Ryoko Osanai, a reporter who's covered SMAP extensively.

OSANAI: (Through interpreter) She started putting SMAP on comedy variety shows. It was a first for pop idols, and it was really popular.

GINGOLD: Now, to anyone familiar with pop groups in Asia now, this seems typical. But in the '90s, pop idols were too cool for this. SMAP's popularity on these shows, though, changed the game for everybody.

OSANAI: (Through interpreter) After SMAP, idols all started being on variety shows. They had to be able to do comedy, act, sing, dance.

GINGOLD: In the mid-'90s, SMAP upped the ante again.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LA LA LA LOVE SONG")

TOSHINOBU KUBOTA: (Singing in Japanese).

GINGOLD: One member, Takuya Kimura, starred in a TV drama called "Long Vacation" that exploded in Japan and across Asia. Overnight, he became Japan's No. 1 star, and the show's success cemented the superstar acting careers of all group five members.

FABIENNE DARLING-WOLF: "Long Vacation" really kind of sparked a wave of Japanese transcultural influence, and SMAP became associated with that wave.

GINGOLD: Fabienne Darling-Wolf is a professor of global media at Temple University in Philadelphia. Today, we talk about the Korean wave. But back then, it was the Japanese wave.

DARLING-WOLF: Before K-pop, there was J-pop. (Laughter) I mean, it's a format, right? And the format was developed in Japan.

GINGOLD: How agencies are run, what activities idols do. The same year as "Long Vacation" debuted, SMAP got their own TV variety show on Monday nights. Now, the truth is they weren't particularly good singers or even dancers. But they did have big hits.

(SOUNDBITE OF SMAP SONG, "SEKAI NI HITOTSU DAKE NO HANA")

GINGOLD: And this song became particularly important. It's called "One And Only Flower In The World." The lyrics basically say you are the only one of you. You are special. It's OK to be you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEKAI NI HITOTSU DAKE NO HANA")

SMAP: (Singing in Japanese).

GINGOLD: It was a megahit and later kind of became a rallying cry of Japanese pride. So in 2016, when rumors started that SMAP might be splitting up after 25 years, it created this earthquake of tabloid gossip and fan pandemonium. Then, one Monday night, SMAP came on their show in black suits, bowed deeply and apologized...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SMAPXSMAP")

UNIDENTIFIED SMAP MEMBER: (Speaking Japanese).

GINGOLD: ...And said they were continuing. Twitter crashed in Japan. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he was glad the group was staying together. Then, half a year later, SMAP said they would be calling it quits. Fans took out full-page newspaper ads, signed online petitions. And today, they still call for them to return because although individual SMAP members are still active, something in Japan is missing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LION HEART")

SMAP: (Singing in Japanese).

GINGOLD: The institution of SMAP may not be there, but the way they helped shape Japanese and Asian pop culture writ large is everywhere. And because this is my story, we're going out on my favorite song, "Lion Heart."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LION HEART")

SMAP: (Singing in Japanese).

GINGOLD: For NPR News, I'm Naomi Gingold in Tokyo.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LION HEART")

SMAP: (Singing in Japanese).

CORNISH: And this story came to us from the podcast Not The Hello Kitty Show.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LION HEART")

SMAP: (Singing in Japanese). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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