Environmentalists were stunned today by reports that CO2 emissions in the United States have plummeted to a 20 year low. Green activists must have been scratching their heads at this news. But we left the Kyoto Treaty! We didn’t pass the expensive and draconian Cap and Tax Bill! How could this be?
And who can blame them for their confusion? After all environmentalists have been told for years by their leaders that government mandates are the only ways to break the United States’ dangerous addiction to carbon.
So what happened? Over the last few years the US has experinced a boom of cheap and clean natural gas energy. What does that mean for the environment? The lesson is so easy to figure that even AP reporters got it right:
“There’s a very clear lesson here. What it shows is that if you make a cleaner energy source cheaper, you will displace dirtier sources,” said Roger Pielke Jr., a climate expert at the University of Colorado.
It’s really just that simple. With the increased development of shale gas deposits in the United States, along with hydraulic fracturing (often known as fracking) technology, the cost of natural gas in the United States has plummeted. This has led the price per unit of energy of gas to fall well below that of coal. In response, US power plants have turned away from coal in a big way. In 2005 coal was responsible for about half of US energy but by March of this year that has fallen to about 34% according to the US Energy Information Agency. Since natural gas is significantly cleaner than coal, that has led to massive improvements in air quality.
One might expect those in the green movement to be jumping for joy at this news. But even this couldn’t turn the perpetual frown of the environmentalists upside down:
“The Sierra Club has serious doubts about the net benefits of natural gas,” said Deborah Nardone, director of the group’s Beyond Natural Gas campaign.
The rest of us can count this as another benefit of America’s ongoing natural gas revolution. When confronted with a problem entrepreneurs will work to find solutions. Not because of government mandates or subsidies, but because of the innovation that drives a free economy. With the the General Assembly approving a process to allow fracking in North Carolina, hopefully we can all look forward to a future for North Carolina that includes both economic growth and cleaner air.