Last year, humanity’s output of carbon dioxide rose by 3
percent, reaching a rate of 2.4 million pounds per second. There is
an angle to this datum to annoy just about everyone.
Suppose you’re a conservative who doesn’t believe in all that
global-warmist ;malarkey. You’ve read
about ;Climategate ;scientists trying to “hide the
decline,” you don’t trust computer models and you think Michael
Mann’s “hockey stick” is a fraud. You’re not convinced the planet
is ;warming, ;doubt people have anything to do with it, and
frankly don’t care much if they do.
So, OK. ;For argument’s sake, let’s take global warming off
the table. You still should care about CO2 emissions for another
reason: ocean acidification. The oceans absorb a quarter to a third
of the carbon dioxide humans release into the atmosphere, because
carbon dioxide is soluble in water (hence, carbonated beverages).
The CO2 reacts with seawater to form carbonic acid. ;The more
carbon dioxide in the air, the more acidic the oceans.
The oceans are now roughly 30 percent more acidic than in the
pre-industrial era. And unlike future climate change, the effects
are already apparent. Just head down to the Tidewater area of
Virginia or out to coastal Oregon and talk to the folks who raise
Four years ago the Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery in
Tillamook, Ore., lost millions of oyster larvae. The company found
the problem was, yep, the overly acidic ocean water it was pumping
in. Now it treats the water when the pH balance falls too far. “For
us, the only thing that is correlated with mortality is the CO2
level,” said owner Sue ;Cudd. She was talking to the magazine
Seafood Business, not some Soros-funded outfit cranking
out leftist agitprop. If current trends continue, by century’s end
the oceans could be twice as acidic as they are now. Ocean
acidification matters, says Shallin ;Busch of the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, because of “the fish we eat
and the things we make money off of.”
Before we all put on the sackcloth and ashes, though, note some
good news: America’s carbon-dioxide emissions are actually falling.
In fact, they have not been this low since 1992. And while no
single factor can account for the entire shift, much of the credit
goes to something environmentalists often detest: hydraulic
fracturing, or ;fracking.
Among power sources, the worst source of CO2 emissions by far is
coal. Natural gas generates half the CO2 per kilowatt-hour, and in
the past few years natural gas has displaced coal to a remarkable
degree. This year gas-fired electricity generation equaled
coal-fired generation for the first time. According to the Energy
Information Administration, that trend will continue as shale gas
production rises from 5 trillion cubic feet in 2010 to more than 13
trillion cubic feet in 2035. ; ;Fracking ;made this
possible—by opening up the Marcellus shale deposit in Pennsylvania
and many others. Twelve years ago, shale gas made up 2 percent of
the U.S. supply. It now makes up 37 percent.
All of that was achieved without government direction—and in the
face of considerable environmental resistance. Now the world’s
worst CO2 emitter, China—which gets 80 percent of its electricity
from coal—has taken up ;fracking ;too. China’s natural-gas
reserves are 50 percent bigger than America’s. If climate change is
the worst danger facing the planet, as some environmentalists
contend, then Chinese ;fracking ;should be good news.
But most environmentalists hate ;fracking. Instead, they
have placed their bets on other horses—many of which have come up
lame (see: ;Solyndra, Evergreen Solar, A123 Systems, et al.).
And even green-energy pursuits insulated from market forces pack a
remarkably weak punch. The Navy has just built a 10-acre
solar-panel field at its Norfolk Naval Station, at a cost of $21
million in Obama stimulus money. It can power all of 200 homes—a
mere 2 percent of the naval station’s power needs. An audit says
the money saved on utility bills will recoup the project’s costs in
roughly 447 years (not a typo).
This is part of a bigger pattern going back decades, in which
environmentalists and politicians have backed loser after
loser—from the Synthetic Fuels Corporation of the 1970s to the
Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles in the 1990s. That
record of failure flows from two misapprehensions: (1) the belief
that government central planners can
simply ;legislate ;scientific progress, and (2) the
suspicion that ostensibly soulless and rapacious energy companies
would rather leave huge profits on the table than explore an
unfamiliar energy source simply because it might be good for the
Meanwhile, the unplanned disruptive innovation
of ;fracking ;has done what all those flops could not:
reverse America’s CO2 emission trends. It one day might reverse the
world’s. That story should increase another natural resource that
is in woefully scarce supply in certain circles: humility.