My climate confession: I was pessimistic until I saw this graph


Recently, I’ve begun to question whether we can solve the climate crisis.

Deep down in my darkest thoughts, from everything I know, have read, and have been told by the scientists at EDF about the growing threat, and from witnessing the unrelenting stream of dopey climate denialism in Washington, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to maintain hope. The fear that we won’t avert climate catastrophe has taken hold. And I shudder at what that will mean.

It’s a terrible and sobering notion, maybe one you’ve shared in recent years.

As a parent of a 9-year old and a 7-year old—two sweet, beautiful children who mean everything to me—I often ask what more can I do? How are we going to fix this problem? And what kind of world am I going to leave to my kids?

Then, about a month ago, in a meeting to discuss EDF’s climate strategy, a colleague of mine presented this graphic:

I had an instant reaction. This chart tells a powerful story. Over the last few years, our work really has made a difference. We have reduced America’s carbon emissions. We have altered the course of history.

For the first time in a long time I began again to feel a sense of hope…to see a path forward.

This is a serious moment. The fight to avoid climate calamity confronts us with sobering realities. While we have made progress, we have a tremendous amount of work to do. And very little time in which to do it.

This year, that starts with mounting an all-out defense of the Environmental Protection Agency’s plans to establish the first national carbon pollution limits on American power plants, the largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S.

Most Americans are outraged to learn that there are currently no national climate pollution limits on fossil-fuel-fired power plants. None.

If we have any hope of averting climate catastrophe, that has to change. And that starts with all of us who care about protecting nature and fighting for a safer climate future speaking out to support the strongest possible power plant rules.

Then, we must stand together against the dirty energy lobby and defend the EPA from reactionaries in Congress who still deny the reality of climate change. Nothing is more important.

There is still hope, but we must engage and work constructively with our members and partners on these important solutions. With determination and resolve, if we stand together, we can still solve the climate crisis.

Sam Parry

Sam Parry

Brings his activist voice to the blog.

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I think that downturn in emissions was caused by the recession more than anything else.

And given the 40 year lag in climate effects, I think we're pretty much screwed. But perhaps your kids will come up with a miraculous solution no one's thought of yet. I sure hope so.

Thanks for your comment, E. Yes, the economic recession played a role. But, emissions have remained flat even as the economy has started to grow again. Several other factors have helped: 1) transition away from coal to natural gas (yes, with its pitfalls), 2) energy efficiency standards in the country have soared, 3) increase use of renewables, 4) states like California are reducing their emissions through smart statewide policies, etc.

As for my kids inventing new technologies/solutions -- believe me, I'm working with them on their science. My daughter loves the new Cosmos show.

Is it a joke ? This is mainly due to shale gas which pollutes fresh water and deep water aquiferes. Once fracking will stop, which means in a couple of years, you guys will be in big trouble...

Not sure what you mean by you guys? You live on this planet, too, right?

No doubt the transition to natural gas has played a big role. But, so has energy efficiency and renewables. In 2008, wind and solar represented about 0.87% of our energy generation. Last year, it was 2.34%. Okay, that's not enough to solve the problem. But if we can double wind and solar every five years (not likely, but just for argument's sake), it would be 75% by around 2040. Just to be clear, I'm not predicting that. But, there is analysis out there suggested that we have technologies today to achieve that kind of transition at least in the energy sector with the right policies.

Please add a link to a larger version of that graphic, it's unreadable at that resolution.

Source graph for 2005 predicted path, 2020 predicted reduction goal, and revised 2014 predicted level off lines? Are these lines or base graphs available at DOE, without the gree policy fight interpretation?

Hi Jim -- thanks for the questions. Here are the sources for the graph.

The 2005 forecast source is: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2005

The 2014 forecast is: Annual Energy Outlook 2014 Early Release, Table 18

Historic emissions are: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Energy Monthly;

Also, for most recent (2013) data: U.S. Energy Information Administration update at

Let me know if you have follow up questions.


I can empathize with how you feel. The graph would give me hope also if I knew it came from a reputable source.

I provided sources in my comment to Jim above. All are from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Energy. Hope it helps. And thanks for the comment