Oh, the glorious irony! While environmentalists everywhere have long insisted that we need major government interference in order to combat the greedy capitalism ostensibly fueling the effects of man-made climate change, and that hydraulic fracturing is one of the most environmentally unfriendly, earth-raping practices in the history of ever, it’s officially official: It is in fact free enterprise and fracking together that have accomplished what greenies have been lecturing us to do for decades.  From the Associated Press:

In a surprising turnaround, the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in the U.S. has fallen dramatically to its lowest level in 20 years, and government officials say the biggest reason is that cheap and plentiful natural gas has led many power plant operators to switch from dirtier-burning coal.

Many of the world’s leading climate scientists didn’t see the drop coming, in large part because it happened as a result of market forces rather than direct government action against carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere.

Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, said the shift away from coal is reason for “cautious optimism” about potential ways to deal with climate change. He said it demonstrates that “ultimately people follow their wallets” on global warming.

“There’s a very clear lesson here. What it shows is that if you make a cleaner energy source cheaper, you will displace dirtier sources,” said Roger Pielke Jr., a climate expert at the University of Colorado.

In a little-noticed technical report, the U.S. Energy Information Agency, a part of the Energy Department, said this month that total U.S. CO2 emissions for the first four months of this year fell to about 1992 levels. … While conservation efforts, the lagging economy and greater use of renewable energy are factors in the CO2 decline, the drop-off is due mainly to low-priced natural gas, the agency said.

And it feels so good. Just look at that — the free market did something ‘green’ and good all on its own, no “necessarily skyrocketing” energy prices necessary! As I often argue, too many environmentalists operate under the mistaken impression that prosperity and environmental quality are mutually exclusive, but that assumption couldn’t be more wrong. Not only are wealthy societies the only ones that have the luxury of worrying about their environmental impact, but a robust and thriving economy is the only thing that’s ever going to bring about the efficiency and innovation that will lead to cleaner and better energy and resource usage.

Not to mention, natural gas is providing and can continue to provide a huge boost for economy, our global competitiveness, and our energy security. As John Deutch wrote for the WSJ the other day, the opportunities just keep on comin’:

Two summers ago, natural gas cost $4.50 per thousand cubic feet, which was less than half what it had cost two summers earlier. Today the price is under $2.50, as unconventional natural gas production has increased to 20% of domestic supply from 5% in 2008, with 40% anticipated by 2020….

A United States hopelessly dependent on imported oil and natural gas is a thing of the past. Most energy experts now project that North America will have the capacity to be a net exporter of oil and natural gas by the end of this decade. …

The historic ratio between the cost of natural gas and oil on an energy-equivalent basis—one to six—means that there is a tremendous economic incentive to develop new natural gas technologies for purposes including compressed natural gas vehicles, gas-to-liquid conversion, and methanol that could be used as a transportation fuel or blended into synthetic diesel fuel.

Update (Ed), 8/17: We forgot to add the link back to the story from which the first excerpt came.  It was written by Kevin Begos at the Associated Press.  We certainly apologize for the oversight.