Stuff that matters

Gas explosion

Natural gas is passing coal as a source of CO2 emissions in the United States.

“Emissions from burning natural gas are expected to be 10 percent greater than those from coal in 2016, as electric companies rely more on power plants that run on natural gas than those that run on coal, according to U.S. Department of Energy data,” Climate Central reports. And that may actually understate natural gas’ contribution to climate change, since government measurements of methane leakage from natural gas systems are usually lower than independent assessments.

Gas surpassing coal is a major change. Environmental activists who’ve been fighting to shut down coal-fired power plants, like the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, are also now working to prevent the expansion of natural gas infrastructure. Gas pipelines like the Algonquin Incremental Market Project in the Northeast are meeting grassroots activist resistance along their proposed routes.

But, as the graph below on the right shows, natural gas still isn’t the country’s biggest source of carbon emissions. That would be oil, which powers our cars and planes. Staving off catastrophic climate change will require not just clean electricity but a revolution in transportation.

EIA emissions sources chart
U.S. Energy Information Administration