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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Upside of the downturn?

Economic recessions cause all kinds of personal and public hardship. However, I've noticed a number of articles explaining the upside of the downturn. Michael Dresser of the Baltimore Sun:
The number of traffic deaths in the United States dropped to the lowest level since 1961 last year as skyrocketing gas prices and economic recession cut into the number of miles Americans drove. The estimated 37,313 deaths reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration represent a 9.1 percent decline from the 41,059 fataliities recorded in 2007.

I don't know about you, but I think this is a big deal. It means there are more than 3,700 inhabitants of this country alive today than would have been if the figure had remained flat. It's akin to avoiding a tragedy of 9/11 proportions.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration attributes some of this decline to increased use of seat belts.

Previously, I noted
that the recession had reduced greeenhouse gas emissions. USA Today had a followup report on this claim on April 8:
The worldwide economic slowdown is having an unexpected positive impact in the fight against global warming: Emissions of carbon dioxide are falling, records collected by governments show.

From the United States to Europe to China, the global economic crisis has forced offices to close and factories to cut back. That means less use of fossil fuels such as coal to make energy.
US power plant emissions were apparently down 3% from 2007-2008 while "Carbon dioxide from industrial facilities in 27 European nations in 2008 plummeted 6%, according to Point Carbon's analysis of data published last week by the European Commission."

As I noted in March, however, reduced economic activity does not necessarily mean good news for the environment:
Some experts fear lower emissions may make companies and governments less likely to spend money to cut carbon output. "There's a risk that it will push back needed investment into … cleaner production," [Emilie] Mazzacurati [of Point Carbon] says.
I happened to read this issue of the paper in Portland, where I was giving a talk -- and not blogging.

You can find a brief report of my visit to Lewis and Clark College at Duck of Minerva.

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