In the midst of an alarming heat wave and drought which are (let's not kid ourselves) almost certainly the result of man-made climate change, there's a bit of good news: The amount of carbon dioxide the United States is sending up into the atmosphere is actually at a 20-year low.
In a little-noticed technical report, the U.S. Energy Information Agency, a part of the Energy Department, said this month that total U.S. CO2 emissions for the first four months of this year fell to about 1992 levels. The Associated Press contacted environmental experts, scientists and utility companies and learned that virtually everyone believes the shift could have major long-term implications for U.S. energy policy.
Here's the chart (but note the units on the y-axis; it's a little less dramatic than it looks):
Conservation efforts, cleaner cars, our economic ennui, and solar and wind power all played a role. The big reason carbon dioxide is down, however, is that power plants are shifting from coal to natural gas, which has become incredibly cheap because we've been mining the hell out of the Marcellus shale. And while natural gas is better in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, the process we use to get it these days, fracking, can release other greenhouse gases such as methane and might also poison our water.
So the upshot: It's good that carbon emissions are down, and this report shows that we can reduce our reliance on coal pretty quickly when there are other economically attractive options, but we certainly haven't saved the planet yet.