How the U.S. can cut 25% of greenhouse gas emissions without you changing your lifestyle

Weather Blog

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The United States could cut one-quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions without you even noticing.

The pie chart below from the Environmental Protection Agency shows where U.S. greenhouse gas emissions came from in 2019. Transportation including cars and airplanes is the worst-offending category, but coming in a close second is electricity generation.

Sources of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 (EPA)
Sources of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 (EPA)

Maybe you haven’t ever considered where the power comes from when you plug your cell phone into the wall. As it turns out, the majority of it comes from burning fossil fuels.

How our electricity is created in the U.S. (EPA)
How our electricity is created in the U.S. (EPA)

60% of the electricity feeding your wall socket is produced by burning fossil fuels like coal. One-fifth of it nationwide currently comes from renewable sources such as wind and solar.

What if we increased the renewable number to 100%? The U.S. would cut a quarter of its greenhouse gas emissions, and it wouldn’t require you to change your lifestyle at all.

To find out if the $550 billion dedicated to climate change in the latest iteration of the Build Back Better bill working its way through Congress could get the renewable number up to 100%, we spoke with Dr. Joshua Rhodes, an energy expert from the University of Texas.

“I think given the way that it stands, we could probably get to 80-90% of that goal,” Dr. Rhodes said. “That last little bit will be a bit harder, but I think we could go pretty far.”

Some of the earlier versions of the bill penalized utilities for not increasing the amount of electricity generation from clean sources. The current version relies on tax credits for power plants that produce electricity without producing carbon, a greenhouse gas.

Also new in this bill is a tax credit for transmission — the massive powerlines that are required to move renewable energy from where it is generated to where it is used. Dr. Rhodes thinks this is key.

“Building those big wires is really hard and pretty expensive, particularly if you’re going across multiple states,” Dr. Rhodes said. “If I were king for a day, that’s what I would make the easiest thing to do: build a really large power grid, and I think the markets would go a long way in terms of bringing us the clean energy that we need, because it’s some of the cheapest energy out there.”

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