US Carbon Emissions Are Up Despite Drop In Coal Plants

A power plant emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Lukas Schulze / Getty Images

Even as a high number of coal plants closed last year, the United States still saw a drastic increase in its total carbon output in 2018, a new study discovered.

The study, put out by the Rhodium Group, found that last year’s carbon dioxide emissions output in the U.S. was the largest increase the nation has seen over the past eight years, according to reporting from the New York Times.

So how did output increase while coal production seemingly went down? A number of factors were at play. A harsh winter in places like New England saw a number of people turning to carbon-based energy in order to heat their homes, for example.

Industries that rely upon carbon-based fuels also played a role in the over-the-year increase. Steel, cement, and other similar industrial sectors saw a sharp increase in economic activity (more than 5.7 percent growth over the year). Because their work relies on carbon-based fuels, it’s likely that they contributed in a big way to the increase in energy output.

That presents a big problem, analysts say, because it means a positive economy is directly tied to an increase in carbon output. Without regulation or other options made available soon, it could mean even higher increases of the pollutant in our atmosphere.

The increase in carbon output will likely have dire consequences for the planet at large.

Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring greenhouse gas that helps regulate the planet’s temperatures. Greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, absorb and reflect the sun’s energy, allowing the heat from the sun to enter and trapping some of it inside the atmosphere rather than bouncing off the planet and going back into outer space, according to an article by Sciencing.

But balance is kept to the equation. Too little carbon in the atmosphere results in a colder planet. Too much, and the opposite happens — more of the sun’s cosmic rays enter the atmosphere, but cannot escape back out into space, creating a hotter planet as a result. Unnatural increases in carbon dioxide output, therefore, can lead to global warming, and thus climate change.

To use an analogy to better understand the concept, imagine your car on a warm summer day. Even though the temperatures outside your car are comfortable, the temperatures inside your car might be unbearable. That’s because heat is being trapped inside your vehicle but cannot escape. An increase in greenhouse gases across the planet behaves in much the same way.

The increases in carbon dioxide output are the second largest over the past two decades, further reporting from CNBC on the subject revealed.