Carbon Reduction Is Doable, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Jun 1 2012 @ 4:37pm

A reader writes:

The United States has, in fact, been reducing its emissions faster than Europe – just in the period after your linked chart ends.  The International Energy Agency released new data last week that shows energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in the United States have fallen 430m tonnes, or 7.7%, since 2006 (which happens to be the end date for the  to which you linked). This reduction is the largest of any of the countries surveyed, including Europe.

How has the U.S. done this?  Mostly because of coal-to-gas switching for electric generation, which reduces carbon dioxide by half for the same amount of electricity generated.  Why has that happened?  Natural gas production has boomed since 2007 because of new technologies that allow the commercial production of natural gas from shale rock.

As a result, natural gas prices dropped from $13 in 2008 to below $2 this past winter.  Coal prices, meanwhile, have increased, creating a narrowing price dynamic between the fuels that has driven more gas and less coal into electric generation.  More gas and less coal means far less carbon dioxide emissions.

Europe has not seen the same changes in their natural gas market, so the economics for coal-to-gas switching are not there.  And some of its policies lately are downright counterproductive to their climate goals.  France has banned hydraulic fracturing, the technique used to extract natural gas from shale rock, so it is unlikely their natural gas production will increase up any time soon.  And Germany, which has made admirable and much-needed strides in expanding solar power, has banned zero-carbon nuclear in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, and has therefore has had to use more coal-fired generation to meet its energy needs.

None of this lets the U.S. off the hook for refusing to ratify Kyoto and install policies and mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gases.  But the record should be clear: the U.S. is reducing its emissions faster than Europe right now, at the moment its most important.