“Market forces, not government action, made this happen,” writes Professor Mark Perry. I’m still skeptical that carbon emissions are anything like the environmental threat some alarmists have told us they are, but for what it’s worth, thanks to advancements in the energy sector made possible by fracking (among other things) US carbon emissions are at a 20 year low.
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.
Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, said the shift away from coal is reason for “cautious optimism” about potential ways to deal with climate change. He said it demonstrates that “ultimately people follow their wallets” on global warming.
“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.
That last is bunk. The public cares about cheap more than they care about clean. Which isn’t to say that coal and other fossil fuel energies were as dirty as some made them out to be. Only that I don’t believe Americans were ever won over by the arguments of the global warming alarmists, and the rise of natural gas as a cleaner alternative to coal has more to do with economics than environmental politics.
“[T]here has hardly ever been a time in the conduct of human affairs when cheapness didn’t triumph,” wrote Bill Bryson in his excellent At Home.
This is true in energy the same as anywhere else.