Over the past 250 years, greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere have increased substantially. This increase is largely attributable to the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil (including gasoline), and natural gas since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), and methane (CH4) warm the atmosphere by trapping heat that would normally be radiated back to space. The planet also produces these gases, and they are a part of naturally occurring cycles, but human activities have produced far more greenhouse gases than the natural cycles can handle, unbalancing the system and leading to atmospheric warming and other climate change-related outcomes (1). The science is clear: the climate crisis we face is caused by human activity and we must curb our use of fossil fuels if we hope to slow it.
In the United States, electricity production is responsible for about 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions, with other major sources being industry, transportation, and agriculture. About a third of this electricity comes from coal-fired power plants and a third from natural gas power plants, with the rest being made up by nuclear, hydropower, and renewables (2). Coal and natural gas emit the vast majority of greenhouse gases from the electricity sector.
Coal-fired plants are closing down throughout the U.S. as coal becomes less profitable due to state and federal regulations, an aging fleet, and competition from other sectors such as natural gas, wind, and solar. In the meantime, other sectors are picking up pace. While it's true that natural gas is a cleaner source of energy than coal and liquid petroleum, it still contributes to greenhouse gas emissions during electricity production, transport, and extraction (3). It is critical to the future of the planet that society moves away from all carbon-producing sources of energy and invests heavily in renewables such as wind, solar, geothermal, and second-generation biofuels.
(1) Climate Change: Basic Information." EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, n.d. Web. 23 Aug. 2016.
(2) "Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions." EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, n.d. Web. 23 Aug. 2016.
(3) "Power Plant Closures - IER." IER. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Aug. 2016.