Several people have pointed out the remarkable fact that carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion have fallen almost to 1995 levels. As the Institute for Energy Research noted,
The Energy information Administration reports that energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in the United States are 2.4 percent less in 2011 than they were in 2010, and 9.1 percent less than in 2007 when they hit their peak level. Why are carbon dioxide emissions on a downward trend?
IER identifies the main hypotheses for this reduction: economic recession reduces energy use, high oil prices reduce petroleum consumption, switching from coal to natural gas for electricity generation, and some switching to renewables for electricity generation.
At The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal charts out the changes over time in the share of electricity generation coming from coal, natural gas, and petroleum. His main point is the dramatic pace of change in the past two years in the switch from coal to natural gas, a pace not usually seen in electricity generation. Ron Bailey at Reason points to the role that fracking has played in the drastic reduction of the absolute and the relative price of natural gas (and, as IER noted, EPA regulations increase the relative price of coal, exacerbating the price effect underlying the switch). Merrill Matthews at Investor’s Business Daily also attributed the reduction to the increase in fracking. When an energy source that’s got half the carbon emissions effect also gets cheaper in absolute terms as well as relative to coal, economic and environmental benefits are aligned (I will defer to Mike and his earlier posts on the environmental impacts of fracking itself.
Perhaps Walter Russell Mead is correct, and we’re heading toward a new American century with unanticipated energy abundance in the US, Canada, and offshore of Brazil.