A funny thing happened on the way to the global warming apocalypse. First, temperatures stopped rising, defying the projections of supposed environmental experts. Then, increased oil-and-gas drilling, opposed by climate change true believers, helped reduce U.S. production of carbon dioxide emissions.
While environmental alarmists should express relief in being proven wrong, we doubt they'll take that tack. Even some global warming proponents now acknowledge that warming trends stalled beginning in the late 1990s, in spite of increased carbon dioxide emissions. The cause-and-effect link argued by climate-change believers has come under question.
New data shows the revolution created by hydraulic fracturing techniques is paying dividends for those who want to reduce emissions. Thanks to increased natural gas production and associated lower prices, power plants are shifting from coal to cleaner-burning gas. As a result, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions declined 12 percent from 2005 to 2012, according to the Energy Information Administration, which also reports that national emissions are at their lowest point since 1994.
This will actually upset some environmentalists. The decline of carbon dioxide emissions wasn't supposed to happen this way.
The Kyoto Protocol, a late-1990s international treaty to restrain greenhouse gas emissions, was supposed to be the cure-all for global warming — and, as it so happened, a handy cudgel to bludgeon U.S. businesses and lifestyles that many left-wing groups disliked anyway. The agreement called for industrial nations to cut emissions below 1990 levels by 2012, which would have required draconian changes in the everyday lives of most Americans. That's one of the many reasons the United States never ratified the agreement (the U.S. Senate even voted 95-0 to prevent Kyoto ratification).
Since then energy producers, including those based in Oklahoma, have unleashed a torrent of new production thanks to hydraulic fracturing. U.S. oil production increased by more than 800,000 barrels per day last year. The International Energy Agency projects the United States will overtake Saudi Arabia as the world's leading oil producer by about 2017 and become an energy independent, net oil exporter by 2030. Increased oil-and-gas production is credited with shifting power generation to natural gas and lowering U.S. carbon emissions.
The Kyoto Protocol's restrictions notably exempted China and other “developing” countries. So China ratified the protocol in 2002 even as it ramped up economic activity. From 2005 to 2011, the Energy Department reports, U.S. annual emissions declined 509 million metric tons; China's increased by 3.2 billion metric tons.
In short, overall global carbon emissions have increased 15 percent from 2005 to 2011, thanks mostly to countries such as China that ratified the Kyoto Protocol. This presents a quandary for global warming true believers. Temperatures aren't rising, which suggests they were wrong about global warming's cause. And even if they are right about the link between carbon emissions and warming, they were wrong about the best way to reduce emissions.
Instead of a heavy-handed treaty designed to drag modern society back to the horse-and-buggy days, it's now clear environmentalists should have been promoting increased energy production. Even so, here's some good news for environmentalists worried about the environmental impact of carbon emissions: The Chinese government recently awarded Royal Dutch Shell a contract to work with China National Petroleum Corp. to drill wells — and introduce hydraulic fracturing technology to that country.
Production techniques that indirectly reduced carbon emissions in the United States can indirectly reduce them in China.