The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
US Carbon Emissions Hit 20-Year Low, No Thanks to Carbon-Trading Schemes

The Energy Department has just released a report that ought to leave the greens asking: How did we get this so wrong? As the AP reports, the study shows that US carbon emissions have just hit their lowest level in 20 years. How was this reduction achieved? Natural gas:

In a surprising turnaround, the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in the U.S. has fallen dramatically to its lowest level in 20 years, and government officials say the biggest reason is that cheap and plentiful natural gas has led many power plant operators to switch from dirtier-burning coal.

Many of the world’s leading climate scientists didn’t see the drop coming, in large part because it happened as a result of market forces rather than direct government action against carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere.

For years, American greens have pushed carbon-trading as the best way to reduce carbon emissions. Yet now carbon emissions are dropping, thanks not to an intrusive government tax on carbon, but to the brown industry and fracking technologies greens vociferously oppose.

Meanwhile, Europe’s massive carbon-trading scheme has had decidedly mixed results in reducing emissions, and may even be encouraging the production of dangerous pollutants. With this news, the case for America to follow Europe’s lead on carbon has become considerably tougher to make.

Published on August 16, 2012 5:00 pm
  • Alex Weiner

    I’m not sure what the point is here. Emissions are lower because the economy is not doing well (shifting demand), and energy prices are high (lowing quantity sold for given demand curve). Furthermore, emissions heavy production is essentially being outsourced overseas. In a dynamic world saying “X is lower now, therefore those guys are fools for their plan to lower x” is not a very good argument, they could be even lower and that would be even better.

  • http://inthisdimension.com alex scipio

    Dog bites man.

    Green policies aren’t about the environment, Obama isn’t about healthcare, gun control is not about guns.

    Leftist policy is about CONTROL, nothing more, nothing less.

  • teapartydoc

    Chirp, chirp…I can hear crickets. I think this issue is pretty well dead in America. At least outside of the beltway and the faculty lounge.

  • Gene

    Alex, please send us links showing your data that contradicts the DoE data and interpretation of same.

  • Kris

    “Many of the world’s leading climate scientists didn’t see the drop coming, in large part because it happened as a result of market forces rather than direct government action”

    Climate scientists might not have any special expertise in public policy, economics, or any area outside of their narrow field? Imagine that!

    teapartydoc@3: You may not be interested in Washington, but Washington is interested in you. “The President has said that the most important policy he could address in his second term is climate change.”

  • Jim.

    @Kris-

    Most important policy is climate change?

    Where is his laserlike focus on jobs?

  • http://Www.maiamaia.org Sam Nelson

    What is really happening is that higher income families are reducing discretionary electricity withdrawals from the grid in part to do with economic hard times and part to do with a growing conservation ethic. The same is happening with industry with energy efficiency. This has undercut the economics for baseload which is primarily coal energy.
    At the same time higher temperatures are creating more peak demand which is better serviced by gas and renewables. At the sametime wind power has become competitive with coal. Coal powerstations cannot ramp up fast enough for peak load which is why the Indian grid collapsed. Many coal plants are also closing because prolonged drought conditions limit boiler feed water.
    The conservation ethic and civil society have been shown in Europe to be more important than carbon trading. This also drives the economics above, so if you are conservative and don’t like government control it is better to become a green conservative and head off the problem with capitalism.

  • http://Www.maiamaia.org Sam Nelson

    Sweden is a good example of a country that preserved their standard of living and mix of primary industries while driving CO2 much lower per capita than many developing countries. They did this in part by taxing individuals for poor energy decisions rather than industry. This changed individuals general practices which fed through to industry on a cost competitive basis. Now they have heightened energy security, good balance of trade, plus all their other advantages. The US should try to be like Sweden not Europe as a whole which is a mixed bag.

  • Gene

    Sam, on what planet has windpower become competitive with coal? And coal powerstations cannot ramp up quickly? As opposed to what? And where are these plants closing right and left due to water shortages? Sorry, man, you’re going to have to show your work.

  • Bohemond

    “At the same time higher temperatures are creating more peak demand which is better serviced by gas and renewables. At the sametime wind power has become competitive with coal.”

    The view from inside the reality-distortion bubble.

  • OSweet

    Imagine if 20 years ago we had adopted carbon-trading schemes or similar severe-sounding measures. And imagine that said schemes were basically ignored and had absolutely zero effect on behavior. The politicians and environmentalists involved would be looking at today’s lower emissions data and hailing the schemes as a tremendous success!! They’d be congratulating themselves for saving the planet!!

  • wagnert in atlanta

    Not in the least abashed, the proponents of Mann-made global warning set themselves to finding the cloud to the silver lining of reduced CO3 emissions:

    More gas drilling means more methane leakage means more global warming.
    More use of gas means more delay in adoption of truly renewable energy, i.e. unicorn farts.
    Less emphasis will be placed on personal efficiency, such as replacing inefficient refrigerators with holes in the ground, wasteful automobiles with horse omnibuses, etc.

    In other words, the advent of cheap natural gas is much to be deplored, because it will delay the adoption of reforms that will really hurt — and don’t delude yourself; they aren’t looking forward to the reforms.
    They’re looking forward to the hurt. At bottom, they’re sadists, and they won’t be happy till everyone else is miserable.

  • DH

    “In a dynamic world saying ‘X is lower now, therefore those guys are fools for their plan to lower x’ is not a very good argument.”

    Indeed. A better argument is that in a dynamic world of natural climate variation, there is no objective scientific evidence in favor of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. So anyone who cares one way or another about carbon dioxide emissions is foolish.

  • Shelby

    Jim,

    That’s just the point. He promises to do for climate change what he’s done for jobs in America. I for one believe him.

  • Wundring?

    @Sam? Ah haa

  • stas peterson

    The only major industrialized country in the World to meet the terms of the Kyoto Treaty targets DID NOT even approve the treaty

    It is also becoming evident that CO2 emissions as a threat, was vastly over exagerated.

    The targets were to reduce human CO2 emissions to 1990 levels by 2012. The USA has done so, even though the North American continent has not emitted any NET CO2 for many decades.

    Long before there were the Green zanies, and Dr. Lysenko Hansen, we Americans thought that recycling via planting crops, aka agriculture; and also practicing Silviculture, harvesting trees for lumber and paper while also replanting young trees was a sound thing to do.

    We also believed long ago that setting aside land for Wildlife and Parks was good land, flora and fauna management. We hav emore land set aside for willife and Parkland thantheentire are of the13 colonies at the time of the American Revolution. Astounding but true.

    It is this bio-sequestration that makes North America the greated NET CO2 absorber and CO2 sequestrator, even though we are the most industrialized continent in the World too.

    You sometimes see estimates of CO2 emissions but these are only of the 3% that is human emissions. The bureaucrats have not figured out how to get the mighty Oaks and Pines to fillout their forms, despite ineffective threats.

    So these compilations don’t include the amount of CO2 absorbed by growing crops, ranchlands and forests, that represent 97% of the annual CO2 flux.

  • memyselfandi

    could it also be that since the earth is getting cooler that more CO2 remains dissolved in the ocean? a warm glass of pop has more bubbles than a cold