U.S. CO2 Emissions and the Dash to Gas

There was an excellent AP Impact article a few months ago that focused on the substantial drop in carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, and the reasons why, that would make an excellent reading for a climate change or energy course.

Among the key points in the article:

  1. U..S. carbon dioxide emissions associated with energy generation (98% of total CO2 emissions) have fallen to their lowest levels in 20 years, at 5.2 billion metric tons;
  2. The primary reason for the decline in U.S. emissions is the plummeting price of natural gas, which has dropped from approximately $8 per thousand cubic feet to $2-3 over the past four years;
  3. While coal was used to produce half of all the electricity generated in the United States, it fell to 34% of the mix in March 2012;
    1. Power companies plan to retire 175 coal-fired power plants over the next five years
  4. It is unclear if the future of U.S. emissions will be as rosy; should natural gas prices tick up (which they may a bit in 2013, and more in 8 years hereafter), should coal prices fall, or if the economy takes off;
  5. China’s share of carbon dioxide emissions in 2011 rose to 29% in 2011, whereas the U.S. accounted for approximately 16%;
  6. One serious downside of the dash to natural gas in the United States is that “installation of new renewable energy facilities has now all but dried up.

Among the discussion questions that might be pertinent to this piece:

  1. What government intervention, if any, would be appropriate given the alleged crowding out of renewable energy projects by natural gas?
  2. Do the alleged methane emissions associated with natural gas extraction obviate the benefits of natural gas in terms of the shift from coal-fired power plants;
  3. Will natural gas help us avoid climate change as a “bridge fuel,” or result in carbon lock-in?

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