Despite Coal Plants Shutting Down, Carbon Emissions Increased in 2018

credit: Duncan Selby/Alamy

credit: Duncan Selby/Alamy

After 3 years of decline in the US, carbon emissions rose 3.4% according to a new study. This is the biggest increase in over eight years, despite a record-number of coal plants shutting down in 2018.

While coal plants may be retiring, the demand for energy is ever-growing. The U.S. power sector emissions rose by 1.9% last year, and the rising demand for diesel and jet fuel has enabled the transportation sector to be one of the biggest contributions to climate change causing carbon emissions.

Fossil fuels have rapidly declined since 2005, particularly because people are turning to natural gas and renewable energy. While renewable energy usage increasing is a good thing for the climate, natural gas still emits around 50% of the emissions of carbon, meaning it continues to contribute to climate change.

The economic growth of 2018 largely contributed to the increase of carbon emissions. But, according to Trevor Houser, who leads Rhodium Group's Energy and Climate team, economic increase does not have to have detrimental effects to the environment. “…affordable technology exists to grow the economy while reducing emissions…but that requires policy to deploy those technologies in the market. And we've seen a freeze in that kind of policy at the federal level over the past few years."

While Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler often cites how greenhouse gases have declined in the past 2 years by 2.7%, he fails to mention how the EPA is removing regulations and strategies put in place pre-Donald Trump, that were meant to wean the country off of coal-based energy sources.

Furthermore, in November of last year, the administration released its fourth national climate assessment, which stated thousands of Americans could die, gross domestic product may decrease by 10%, along with other detrimental environmental and economic effects by century's end.

The Paris Agreement, which Trump had previously announced U.S. removal from, pledged to reduce carbon emissions to below 2005 levels by 2025. However, preliminary data suggests that the U.S. has increased, rather than decreased this gap.

While there isn’t expected to be a repeat of 2018 in terms of emission levels, the U.S. is certainly presented with challenges leading into 2019. The transportation industry and the increasing need for jet fuel is massive, despite the increase in hybrid and electric cars. Furthermore, there is a need for more affordable and accessible renewable energy because natural gas is not emission-free.

Mason Twins