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Greenhouse gas emissions fall: Good news and bad news

The good news is that in 2019 U.S. greenhouse gas emissions dropped by 2.1 percent. This drop reflects an 18 percent fall in emissions from coal-fired electric power plants. However, the U.S. didn’t stop producing electricity. Instead, many electric power generation plants switched to natural gas. Increased emissions in gas-driven electric power production helped offset some of the coal-related reductions.

Total U.S greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 were also below 2005 levels by about 12 percent. While this represents progress, it still does not get the U.S. to the target of a 17 percent reduction by 2020, as agreed to in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord. The 28 percent reduction in emissions that the U.S. undertook in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement is still a long way off. Granted, we are in the process of walking back that promise, but that lofty goal for 2025 seems mostly unattainable.

So, the good news is that emission reductions moved us in the right direction. The bad news is that they fall short of what is needed to limit global warming to 2 degrees C. As written before in this column, we know what we need to do, but the political will to implement change is lacking. A hot planet is on its way.

Tension in the economy

The tensions between climate-related policy change and economic well-being are real. One of the reasons for the 2019 greenhouse gas emissions reduction was a general slow-down in the economy during the first three quarters of 2019 (as compared to 2018). We know from recent experience that significant annual reductions in emissions are possible, but they come at a price.

U.S greenhouse gas emissions fell by 6 percent in 2009 during the great recession. However, goals set for emission reductions will never become a reality if we must depend on pervasive economic hardship as acceptable collateral damage. Smaller, but consistent, annual reductions represent the only politically feasible way forward. This objective, of course, requires consistent long-term policy based on sound scientific analysis. 

Recent rollbacks in environmental protection, policy decisions based on ignoring climate change science, and active opposition to international cooperation show the extent of the current political barriers to workable long-term plans. 

Hot Earth

I have argued before that the Paris Agreement goals are achievable in principle, but we must consider political reality. To date, there is much good intent within some countries and within the international community. However, good intentions alone will not forestall the future. Changes in the climate and environment are coming quicker than initially predicted. A warmer planet is on its way. 

We should not stop working to create a sustainable balance between humankind and the planet Earth. Neither should we blindly assume that we can completely prevent the ongoing changes in our environment. The consequences of a warmer world require policy considerations at all levels of government. Effective government policy won’t happen unless a majority of voters place climate change as a high priority.


Embrace a Hot Earth (Source: ArcheanWeb) – Also:


U.S. greenhouse gas emissions fell slightly in 2019 (By Steven Mufson – Washington Post) – Also:

Emissions Fell in 2009, Showing Impact Of Recession (By JOHN M. BRODER – The New York Times) – Also:

Feature Image: Power_plant_seen_from_U.S._Highway_30_just_west_of_Kemmerer, Wyoming (Matthew Trump) – (Modified) – This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license –

William House
William is an earth scientist and writer with an interest in providing the science "backstory" for breaking environmental, earth science, and climate change news.