Commentary Magazine


The Free Market Is Crushing CO2 Emissions

Anti-CO2 activists may have to find something else to give their lives meaning. The AP reports that “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.”

So if you’ve been championing government action as the last best hope to save humankind from the big broil, you too should find a hobby: “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.”

Finally, if you think the problem has been America’s uncooperative attitude regarding international treaties, you’re wrong: “the shift from coal to gas has helped bring the U.S. closer to meeting some of the greenhouse gas targets in the 1997 Kyoto treaty on global warming, which the United States never ratified.”

It’s an amazing story, really. How did it happen? Shale gas and fracking: “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.”

Whether or not you think anthropogenic global warming is a real problem, it’s hard to overstate the significance of this. For years, the Inconvenient Truthers have been telling us the sky will fall unless Big Government comes in to regulate emissions on a global scale. Federally backed “green-energy” companies like Solyndra have gone bust on the taxpayer’s dime trying to combat CO2. The free market is now under perpetual attack, as a human-killing, planet-destroying profit monster that can only be fought back by a new regulatory regime. Hydraulic fracturing (the practice of freeing underground natural gas by using a mix of pressurized fluid containing water, sand, and chemicals) has come under fire from environmentalists as the energy-evil du jour. And, of course, in the supposedly “post-American” world, we are told the United States can no longer afford to look down on international agreements that would hold the behavior of Americans to the standard of some mediating body like the UN. All of it, nonsense.

No government or bureaucracy can centrally plan to accomplish what the self-interested nodes of a free-market system can. The U.S. brought down CO2 emissions without help from Washington or the United Nations. We can always raise them again by killing free-market innovation on the advice of environmentalists.

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