President Obama raised a lot of eyebrows here and abroad when he declared in his United Nations climate-change speech: “Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution by more than any other nation on Earth.”
It’s absolutely true — though labeling carbon dioxide a “pollution” is highly disputable. The fact that we have reduced carbon-dioxide emissions more than any other nation is especially remarkable because we as a nation didn’t sign the Kyoto Treaty, pass a carbon-dioxide tax or enact Mr. Obama’s cap-and-trade agenda.
Most Americans are probably surprised by this news because we’ve been scolded nearly every day that America is the major source of all these satanic gases that are burning up the planet. Instead, since 2005, our emissions are down by roughly 10 percent. Not bad.
The issue is how America has reduced its carbon-dioxide footprint, and here is where the real surprise lies.
If you think the answer is that we’ve transitioned to green energy, you are completely wrong.
The game-changer for the United States has been the shale oil and gas revolution over the past six years brought about through new smart drilling technologies. The United States is now the largest natural-gas producer in the world. We have replaced Russia as No. 1. As America has produced more natural gas, we have shifted away from coal. This, according to the Energy Information Administration, accounts for more than 60 percent of the carbon-dioxide emission reductions in the United States. Mr. Obama never mentioned that.
Even more amazing, if we want to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions further, investing in natural gas is a far more efficient strategy than going all in for so-called “green renewable energy” sources. Over the past seven years, the U.S. government has spent tens of billions in tax, regulatory, and spending subsidies to the renewable energy sector. However, wind and solar energy after this avalanche of government support still account for only about 3 percent of electricity production.
By contrast, the shale-gas explosion has been almost entirely devoid of subsidies — in fact, the industry pays billions in state and local severance taxes and federal income taxes — yet its output has exploded, and gas will soon replace coal as the No. 1 source of electricity in America. Natural gas emits only about half the carbon dioxide as coal, even though coal is much cleaner than it once was.
So one would think the environmentalists and the green climate-change marchers in New York would be beating the drum for shale gas and hydraulic fracturing as an environmental godsend. No. The one common theme of the greens these days is they hate fracking — even though it has done more to reduce greenhouse gases than all the government subsidies to wind and solar power combined.
The Sierra Club and other environmental groups, which once saw natural gas as a valuable “bridge” fuel to the future, now denounce this wonder fuel. National Geographic recently denounced natural gas because it “won’t do much to reduce U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions and might even raise them slightly.” How so? Because cheap natural gas “will discourage the use of carbon-free renewable energy.”
Apparently, it isn’t enough to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions. We must erase them entirely from our energy diet by forcing Americans to pay higher electric costs for much more expensive wind and solar power.
This is economically nonsensical. Shale gas has fallen in price by almost two-thirds since the drilling boom began. Wind and solar had a hard time competing with $12 gas, but $4 gas makes these alternatives hopelessly cost-uncompetitive. Also, poll after poll finds that cash-strapped Americans are not willing to pay higher energy costs to fight global warming.
So we should be celebrating fracking and the domestic energy revolution. Instead, the greens now say fracking is evil. Yet an analysis by The Wall Street Journal recently found that the price reductions in natural gas have benefited poor Americans the most by lowering utility costs and home-heating bills.
This resource has also almost overnight become the springboard for more jobs in manufacturing technology, chemicals, steel and transportation. Fracking and horizontal drilling are thus the green gift that just keeps on giving. Shale gas is a wonder fuel because it is clean-burning, abundant, domestically produced and cheap.
It is the recipe for saving the planet — and saving the economy — that Al Gore and his green friends say they have been searching for. The left’s objections to natural gas expose their real aspirations. They aren’t fighting to stop global warming or the rise of the oceans. They’re fighting to stop growth itself. Americans better wake up to that reality, before the greens actually succeed.
Stephen Moore is chief economist at the Heritage Foundation.