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Walter Russell Mead: Ignore The Greens And Innovate, And You Will Cut CO2

Ignore the greens and innovate, and you will cut carbon. Pay a lot of attention to them, spend a lot of money — and you will keep carbon emissions unchanged.

As activists in Rio and around the world mourned the failure of yet another useless summit to do anything about climate change, good news on the CO2 front was coming from the country greens love to hate: the US.

While Europe has adopted a plethora of expensive laws without any significant effect on CO2 emissions, the US is substantially reducing its emissions even as air pollution levels drop. As a CNN report puts it:

Despite there being no real effort by Congress to addressglobal warming and America’s longstanding reputation as an energy hog, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are falling.

The lackluster economy has something to do with it. But it doesn’t fully explain what’s happening. Consider that even factoring in a stronger economy, forecasters see greenhouse gas emissions continuing to fall.

It’s possible the country may meet its pledge to reduce emissions 17% by 2020.

The secret isn’t laws, green activism or regulations (although these do have roles to play). Innovation is the force that is enabling the cut in US carbon emissions. Specifically, the new ways of extracting natural gas that make have driven a natural gas boom in this country and dramatically cut the cost of the cleanest hydrocarbon energy source of them all.

What’s interesting is to compare the US performance with Europe. Europe has done many of the things greens want the US to do, but despite their “virtue” and our “sin”, the US is doing better than Europe at meeting key environmental goals. As CNN puts it:

Europe, by contrast, has seen its energy-sector carbon emissions remain basically flat. This despite the fact that most of Europe operates under a market-based cap-and-trade scheme where emissions are capped at a certain level and companies get tradable credits to emit pollution.

Plus, Europe has significantly higher taxes on energy.

Ignore the greens and innovate, and you will cut carbon. Pay a lot of attention to them, spend a lot of money — and you will keep carbon emissions unchanged.

The story of course is more complicated than this, and there are real environmental problems that come with fracking. Nevertheless, the one force capable of enabling human beings to have the kind of freedom and abundance that they want while preserving the planetary environment on which we all depend is innovation. Regulations and laws have their place, but they can only do so much.

Right now, fracking is doing more to control carbon emissions than all the efforts of all the greens in the world. And by promoting American (and Chinese!) domestic energy production, it is doing more to lay the foundations of world peace than all the peace activists and disarmament campaigners in the world. And by creating more well paid blue collar jobs both in gas and oil extraction and in the manufacturing industries that will grow to exploit the new cheap energy sources, fracking strengthens the American economy and the tax base, providing revenues for both federal and state governments.

Fracking is the left’s best friend.