While the argument rages about whether natural gas will be a "bridge" to a low-carbon future, natural gas will cut US carbon emissions by at least 300 million tons in 2012 alone. How much is 300 million tons? It is about equal to the entire annual carbon emissions of Pennsylvania or an amount little less than 1% of annual global emissions. It's a lot.
Here is how natural gas produces at least a 300 million ton reduction in US 2012 carbon emissions.
Each percentage point in the decline of coal's electricity generation market share cuts carbon emissions by about 45 million tons. Coal's 14 percentage point market share decline from 52% in 2000 to 38% in 2012 (the EIA 2012 forecast) means that emissions in 2012 from coal will be about 630 million tons lower this year than if coal still provided 52% of our electricity.
Indeed, coal's market share will decline 4 percentage points this year, dropping from 42% in 2011 to 38% in 2012, according to EIA data. Just that 4 percentage points 2012 market share decline for coal will drop carbon emissions by 180 million tons.
While coal's market share fell 14 percentage points from 2000 to 2012, natural gas's share rose 13 percentage points, climbing from 16% in 2000 to 29% this year. Natural gas is displacing coal almost one for one.
Since carbon emissions from gas generation are about half or 50% of the carbon emissions from coal generation, the 14 percentage point decline and 13 percentage point rise in natural gas yields about 300 million tons or more of net carbon reductions.
No single change in the energy marketplace in the last decade has yielded more carbon reductions than the displacement of coal generation by natural gas. For example, though wind's rise to a 3% share of our electric generation is important, wind avoids approximately 135 million tons in carbon emissions in 2012.
The fact that the rise of natural gas has avoided more carbon than any other single change in the marketplace is proving inconvenient to those who bash gas. The rise of gas is also slashing sulfur dioxide, mercury, soot and other emissions that cause hundreds of thousands of illnesses each year. Ignoring these facts betrays our health, environment, and economy.