EMF Publications

EMF OP 53 U.S. Carbon Emissions, Technological Process, and Economic Growth Since 1870

Occasional Paper

Hillard G. Huntington - Stanford University

Published by
Stanford University, 2004

The long-term U.S. experience emphasizes the importance of controlling for electrification and other major technology transformations when evaluating the growth of carbon emissions at different stages of development. Prior to World War I, carbon emissions grew faster than economic growth by 2.3% per year. As electricity use expanded and steam engines became much larger, carbon emissions began to grow slower than economic growth by 1.6% per year. Adjusting for this technological shift, an expanding economy continues to increase carbon emissions by about 9% for each 10% faster growth. There is little evidence for a decline in this elasticity as the income level rises. These results suggest that the United States today will need to find additional policies to curb carbon emissions if it wishes to prevent any further increase in its per capita emissions and its per capita economy grows by more than 1.8 percent per year.