“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,” AP reported. “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.”
That's right; those “leading climate scientists” didn't see it coming, because it didn't come from government.
“A frenzy of shale gas drilling in the Northeast's Marcellus Shale and in Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana has caused the wholesale price of natural gas to plummet from $7 or $8 per unit to about $3 over the past four years, making it cheaper to burn than coal for a given amount of energy produced,” AP explains. “As a result, utilities are relying more than ever on gas-fired generating plants.”
“Coal and energy use are still growing rapidly in other countries, particularly China, and CO2 levels globally are rising, not falling,” AP says. “The International Energy Agency said the U.S. has cut carbon dioxide emissions more than any other country over the last six years… China's emissions were estimated to be about 9 billion tons in 2011, accounting for about 29 percent of the global total. The U.S. accounted for approximately 16 percent.”
But of course, natural gas isn't an acceptable solution to true believers — even though it clearly works.
Roger Pielke Jr., a climate expert at the University of Colorado, told AP that “Natural gas is not a long-term solution to the CO2 problem.”
And the Sierra Club once embraced natural gas as a good alternative to coal. Not anymore. Executive Director Michael Brune told National Journal in April, “We're going to be preventing new gas plants from being built wherever we can... It would be the height of irony if we decrease our reliance on coal and rather than jumping to clean energy, we replace one dirty fuel with another.”
This is an example of the principle that “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” In other words, a good solution isn't enough because it's not a perfect solution.
But on this issue, there is no perfect solution. So-called “clean energy” sources have proven to be stubbornly unreliable, expensive and in some cases, mostly fictitious (cellulosic ethanol, for example).
The cost of natural gas is likely to remain low; we just keep finding more and more of it. And that's a good thing, even if it's not perfect.