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Forget Paris: Fracking is the key to reducing carbon emissions

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When it comes to carbon emissions, Paris has nothing on fracking. (AP Photo/Ralph Wilson, File)

So we're out.

President Trump has announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. The Europeans are outraged. Russia is chuckling. And China is rubbing its hands with glee.

But let's pause and take a breath.

Because even assuming that reducing carbon emissions is positive, Trump's decision isn't a big deal. After all, we already have a better, proven alternative to reducing emissions: private sector innovation.

The data tell us the tale. As the U.S. Energy Information Administration accounts, of the four end-use sectors (transportation, industrial, residential, and commercial) of carbon dioxide emissions, only transportation saw increased emissions from 2014-2015. In part, that's due to new efficiencies in energy delivery and consumption. But it's also a consequence of the American fracking revolution. Specifically, the displacement of coal by more efficient and now cheaper natural gas. Just look at the chart below, it shows that American natural gas is booming.

This is only the beginning. As the Wall Street Journal reports, fracking-based energy firms in Texas' Permian Basin are finding a useful side-benefit to their innovation: gas comes up alongside the oil! The consequence: a growing glut of cheap natural gas. This gas is the golden ticket. It offers American businesses and families access to cheap energy, and an alternative to polluting energy sources. Note that U.S. natural gas is also packing a punch on the global energy export market.

Regardless, whether the consumers are at home or abroad, the private sector environment benefit of U.S. gas is sustaining: it is cheaper and far more emissions-efficient than coal, and it doesn't require massive public expenditures. In the coming years, more consumers and utilities will choose gas over coal. And indirectly, total carbon emissions will fall. Along with new technologies such as battery-based vehicles, this gas is the path to a lower carbon emissions future.

In contrast to this mutual (consumers and the environment both win) success, the Paris agreement is a pathetic joke.

And although the Europeans like to make carbon reduction pledges, they are not necessarily so good at keeping them. Germany, for example, is a leading supporter of the Paris accord. Yet having decided to shutter its nuclear power industry, and due to the inefficiency and unpredictability of its renewable energy sources, Germany heavily relies on one of the dirtiest fuel sources: lignite coal. As Jakub Kucera notes, "however large a share of the market renewables will achieve in Germany over the next few years, coal's share will not shrink much. Neither will Germany's energy-related CO2 emissions."

Another problem with Europe's unusual renewable-plus-dirty energy approach? The price of energy is much higher there than in the United States. And this disregard for family wallets goes hand-in-hand with the environmental agenda of activists like Tom Steyer.

How about China, which will now seek to displace America as Europe's closest ally? Again, the story is familiar. While China's leaders talk a good game, the data suggests they have little interest in following through. As the left-leaning Centre for International Climate Research noted in March, China's carbon reduction strategy is "nowhere near consistent with the overarching ambitions of the Paris Agreement."

Paris-accord sympathizers disagree. They cite China's reduced coal usage as evidence of its seriousness about the process. Unfortunately, their assumption rests on the reliability of Chinese government data. As Michael Lelyveld explains, China's national bureau of statistics is a very creative number factory, which is to say it makes up numbers.

If America is serious about reducing carbon emissions while also protecting consumers and the economy, its leaders must heed the data. And the data proves that the U.S. energy market offers a pathway to a cleaner future.

The Paris agreement, in contrast, is a non-binding fiction.