Here’s the good news, such as it is, for the climate: American coal consumption plunged last year, reaching its lowest level since 1975, as electrical utilities switched to cheaper natural gas and renewables. Over the past decade and a half, coal’s collapse has saved tens of thousands of lives nationwide, according to new research, and cut national greenhouse-gas emissions by more than 10 percent.
The bad news is almost everything else. Outside of the power sector, the country’s planet-warming pollution continued to grow last year. Almost three decades after climate change first became a political issue, the American economy remains a continent-size machine that guzzles fossil fuels and excretes money.
Those are the major takeaways from an estimate of the United States’ 2019 greenhouse-gas emissions, published today by the Rhodium Group, a private energy-research firm. Last year, American greenhouse-gas pollution fell by 2.1 percent, driven almost entirely by coal’s decline and a plodding economy. While that overall decrease is nominally good—especially compared with 2018, when American emissions actually increased overall—it is not happening fast enough.
“We see nothing currently planned at the federal or the state level that is going to put the U.S. on track for the Paris Agreement target,” Trevor Houser, an author of the report and a partner at the Rhodium Group, told me. “It is still possible to reduce emissions fast enough to meet that target, but it would require a rapid and ambitious change in federal climate policy.”