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INTERACTIVE: Energy Intensity and Carbon Intensity by the Numbers

February 19, 2016 - 11:53am


Editor’s note: This is the third of three interactive graphics designed to help you understand United States’ energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. Check out the first two here and here.

Recently we took a look at how each state stacks up to international carbon emissions. The results were telling: Our overall per capita CO2 emissions are much higher than the global average. But then we looked at how our CO2 emissions have changed over the last 13 years and found that the U.S. has reduced CO2 emissions more than any other country on Earth. It’s not even close.

So if carbon pollution is down across our country, what does that mean about our energy consumption? What about our economy? How might these three factors relate to one another?

In the graphic above, we can see that 49 out of 50 states and the District of Columbia have made significant reductions in energy-related per capita carbon dioxide emissions since 2000. Some might worry, however, that a reduction in carbon emissions could be due to a slowing economy, as businesses and individuals tighten their belts. This could cause manufacturing and industry to close down, resulting in less energy usage as liquid assets contract. Is it simply that we’re using less energy? Is our economy contracting?

As it happens, this is not exactly the case. While energy consumption has decreased overall since 2000, gross domestic product (GDP) has increased in 49 out of 50 states. The relationship between our energy consumption and GDP is something called “energy intensity.”

Energy intensity is measured by dividing our total energy consumed by our GDP. When we click over to the “Energy Intensity” tab in the graphic above, we can see how energy intensity has changed since 2000. We see good news here. In every state, we use less energy to earn a dollar than we did in the year 2000.

While energy consumption is down overall, there are still 20 states that saw an increase in energy consumption since the year 2000. We should expect to see decreases in 30 states for their reduction in energy consumption -- but we surprisingly see a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions in 49 out of 50 states! That means that 19 states increased their energy consumption while still decreasing their CO2 emissions. What’s going on here?

Our energy consumption is getting more and more efficient, so we’re producing less carbon pollution per BTU consumed. While our carbon pollution has decreased, our GDP has increased -- lowering something that we call our “carbon intensity.”

Carbon intensity is the measure of CO2 produced per dollar of GDP. In other words, it's a measure of how much CO2 we emit when we generate one dollar in our economy. A rapidly decreasing carbon intensity is good news for our environment and our economy. It means that energy consumption is growing increasingly efficient and that more of us are doing jobs that don’t require us to burn fossil fuels. Take a look at the third tab to explore how carbon intensity has changed in recent years.

Overall, we have a lot of good news here. Our GDP is up, our energy consumption is decreasing and happening much more efficiently, our carbon pollution is way down and our economy is less and less reliant on energy and fossil fuels to grow. Explore the graphic above to see how these trends have developed and improved over the last 13 years.

This information, and much more, is available in the recent EIA report “Energy-Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions at the State Level, 2000-2013”.