Contrary to Popular Opinion, Fossil Fuel Pollution is Going Down

We're producing a lot of fossil fuel energy, but also reducing toxic emissions.

Many concerned about climate change say the alleged culprit is fossil fuels. But, believe it or not,, fossil fuel technology is actually working to reduce output of those substances.

Airborne emissions have been rapidly declining for the past decade. Power plants, which create a great deal of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and carbon dioxide, have been able to reduce their emissions by millions of metric tons each year. Yet energy production in the United States has never been higher. Why is that?

Economist Mark Perry believes that the revolution of natural gas has greatly aided in both reducing emissions and in producing more energy to power growth.

[N]atural gas is replacing coal, not only in the United States but also in China and India, two countries with fast-growing economies that are beginning to use imports of liquefied natural gas for electric power production. It’s a powerful demonstration that the significant benefits of the shale revolution are beginning to reach other countries and that the United States has the know-how and resources to play a major role globally in reducing carbon emissions.

Natural gas produces about 50% less CO2 than other fossil fuels like coal and oil. As more power plants adopt natural gas for their energy needs, emissions will continue to fall.

Many environmental groups and the government have not caught up to the advances of the market yet.

Everyone seems to recognize this except U.S. environmental groups and those politicians who are eagerly courting their endorsement by supporting efforts to ban the production and use of fossil fuels. Environmentalists participating in the keep-it-in-the-ground movement want to replace natural gas with renewable energy sources like solar and wind. That misguided approach would unnecessarily send energy costs soaring, is technologically unfeasible, and far from the most efficient way to achieve environmental progress.

Reducing the carbon footprint and meeting our energy needs are not mutually exclusive. Still, some in the U.S. Senate and in California are calling for a full transition to solar and wind energy. The costs of such a transition would simply be astronomical, and unwise in Perry's assessment.

In the future, wind and solar energy sources may be more competitive with fossil fuels, but for the time being it is best to maximize what we have. Clearly that’s already happening, as there is plenty of energy on the market now, and emissions are at their lowest levels since the 1980s.

Natural gas offers the best of both worlds: climate change advocates win with reduced emissions, and more energy is available to power the economy into the future.

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