Why our transportation investment choices are critical: we’re just as oil dependent as in 2010 or 1970

Transportation in the US is just as dependent on petroleum as it was in 2010, or 1970. Its energy consumption and carbon emissions are only rising.

This has led to a fateful intersection (as Umair Irfan reported this year): In the US, in 2016, for the first time in decades, transportation emissions were higher than electricity emissions.

eia emissions by sector 2016(EIA)

This is largely reflective of the broader world’s efforts to constrain carbon emissions: Most of the successes have come in electricity. Transportation is a huge, looming, and almost entirely unsolved climate problem.

(President Trump, it’s worth noting, is busy trying to reverse what small progress the US has made on it recently.)

Watch for advocates, activists, and policymakers at the state and city level (the feds are useless right now) to begin taking transportation more seriously as part of the climate fight — to start pushing policies that can be as effective as renewable portfolio standards have been in the power sector.

Bonus state charts

LLNL periodically makes spaghetti charts for US states, most recently in 2014. Just for fun, let’s look at a study in contrasts.

Here’s West Virginia:

llnl energy spaghetti, WV, 2014(LLNL)

Not much of anything else, but a lot of coal!

Here’s California:

llnl energy spaghetti, CA, 2014(LLNL)

Almost no coal, lots of natural gas, and lots of oil. On the way to its ambitious carbon goals, California is going to see its carbon fight become a transportation fight.