NRO contributor and Manhattan Institute senior fellow Robert Bryce had a terrific op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this week. The most important passage is the following:
The carbon-dioxide issue is not about the United States anymore. Sure, the U.S. is the world’s second-largest energy consumer. But over the past decade, carbon-dioxide emissions in the U.S. fell by 1.7%. And according to the International Energy Agency, the U.S. is now cutting carbon emissions faster than Europe, even though the European Union has instituted an elaborate carbon-trading/pricing scheme. Why? The U.S. is producing vast quantities of cheap natural gas from shale, which is displacing higher-carbon coal.
Meanwhile, China’s emissions jumped by 123% over the past decade and now exceed those of the U.S. by more than two billion tons per year. Africa’s carbon-dioxide emissions jumped by 30%, Asia’s by 44%, and the Middle East’s by a whopping 57%. Put another way, over the past decade, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions—about 6.1 billion tons per year—could have gone to zero and yet global emissions still would have gone up.
Incremental improvements in the efficiency of coal-fired plants in emerging Asia will likely have a much bigger impact on the climate than a politically imaginable U.S. carbon-pricing system.
Bryce also reported an intriguing finding from scientist Tom Wigley:
In September, Tom Wigley of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder published a report that determined “switching from coal to natural gas would do little for global climate.” Mr. Wigley found that the particulates put into the atmosphere by coal-fired power plants, “although detrimental to the environment, cool the planet by blocking incoming sunlight.”
If Mr. Wigley’s right, then using sources that emit no particulates, like nuclear and natural gas, will not make a major difference in averting near-term changes in the climate caused by carbon dioxide. But then—and here’s the part that most media outlets failed to discuss when reporting on the Wigley study—widespread use of renewables such as wind and solar won’t help much, either.
I suspect that I am more alarmed by the prospect of rapid climate change than Bryce, or for that matter than Jim Manzi. But I find Bryce’s realism and attention to detail to be an important corrective to the mainstream conversation about our environmental future.