Jan 8, 2020

Despite everything, U.S. emissions dipped in 2019

From the GRIST

Surging natural gas was the biggest reason for coal's demise. Gas comes with its own problems for the climate– burning it releases carbon, and leaks release methane — but replacing coal with gas led to a decline in globe-warming gases, Houser said. Renewable energy from hydroelectricity, solar power, and wind turbines, increased 6 percent in 2019. So despite President Donald Trump's vows to resurrect coal, it's still sliding into history.

The same can't be said of gas-powered cars and gas-fired furnaces — for the moment, those look locked in.

A chart showing year-on-year changes in U.S. GHG emissions by sector for 2017–19. In 2019, the power sector saw its emissions decrease by 166 million metric tons, relative to 2018.Clayton Aldern / Grist

Cleaning up the electrical grid is a great first step to cleaning up other sectors. With enough low-carbon electricity, more people could drive electric cars and ride electric trains. Builders could start installing electric heat pumps rather than gas furnaces in houses. "But that's not going to happen on its own," Hauser said.

Nudging people toward clean electricity requires policy: Efficiency standards, building codes, incentives, and taxes. Some state and local governments are making these changes, but at the federal level, the Trump administration is doing its best to stop them. As a result, the country's energy use seems to have its own laws of motion. It takes a lot of work to change direction, but it's relatively easy to let things keep running as normal. You can see that in coal's continued slide, as well as in the status quo in emissions from factories, cars, and buildings.