Our energy choices have direct impacts on our health, our environment, and our economy.
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What's at Stake
Power generation is a leading cause of air pollution and a major source of US global warming emissions. Coal is the worst offender, a dirty energy source that produces less than half our electricity but nearly 80 percent of all power plant carbon emissions.
The good news is that coal is on the decline. Many old and inefficient coal plants are closing down and essentially no new coal plants are being built in the US, a trend that is driving the largest transformation of the US electricity system in half a century.
The energy choices we make during this pivotal moment will carry huge consequences for our health, our climate, and our economy for decades to come.
Right now we are moving toward a natural gas-dominated electricity system, but an over-reliance on natural gas has significant risks and is not a long-term solution to our energy needs. Like coal, it is a fossil fuel that generates substantial global warming emissions, and has other health, environmental, and economic risks.
There's a better, cleaner way to meet our energy needs. Renewable energy resources like wind and solar power generate electricity with little or no pollution and global warming emissions—and could reliably and affordably provide up to 40 percent of US electricity by 2030, and 80 percent by 2050.
To create a cleaner, safer, and healthier energy future, it's time to choose renewables first.
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Our Energy Choices
Renewable energy: Unlimited resources. Nearly zero pollution.
Renewable energy generates electricity from sustainable sources like wind, solar, and geothermal power with little or no pollution or global warming emissions.
Learn more about renewable energy technologies >
Coal, natural gas, and oil: Dirty sources of energy
Fossil fuels—coal, natural gas, and oil—produce most of our electricity but come with significant and harmful consequences. They produce the vast majority of global warming emissions. They release toxic chemicals that pollute our air and water. And they have adverse, and costly, effects on public health.
Learn more about coal and other fossil fuels >
Nuclear power is “clean” from an emissions standpoint—nuclear power plants produce no air pollution or global warming emissions when they operate—but its long-term role in addressing climate change depends on overcoming economic and safety hurdles.
Energy and water use
Conventional power plants place heavy demands on our water resources—coal power consumes the most, but natural gas and nuclear power also require significant amounts. In places where energy production requires a large share of available water, the energy-water connection can turn into a collision—with dangerous implications for both.
Learn more about water-smart energy choices >
Smart Energy Solutions
We need smart energy solutions that provide reliable and affordable electricity, contribute to a strong economy, and do not compromise our health or our climate. No single energy technology can accomplish all of this.
The answer lies instead in a diverse energy strategy that offers the greatest potential to move the country toward a clean, sustainable energy future.
Increase renewable energy
Renewable energy is reliable, affordable, and beneficial for our health, our economy, and our climate.
UCS supports practical, cost-effective policies that promote renewable energy and lower barriers to its adoption. These include strong renewable electricity standards, financial incentives like clean energy tax credits, and investment in a smarter electrical grid.
Learn more about how we can increase renewable energy >
Decrease coal use
Coal is our dirtiest source of energy. It releases more harmful pollutants into the atmosphere than any other energy source and produces a quarter of the nation’s global warming emissions. If we are going to effectively reduce air pollution and address global warming, we need to shut down the oldest, dirtiest coal plants—and not build new ones to replace them.
Learn more about decreasing our coal use >
Improve energy efficiency
If we use energy more efficiently, we need less of it in the first place. Improving the efficiency of our power generation—along with increased efficiency in buildings, appliances, and electronic devices—can create significant energy savings that would allow us to safely and reliably shut down old, dirty power plants.
More on improving energy efficiency >
California and western states
California is a global leader in renewable energy and has set a goal of producing 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.
Long dependent on coal for the majority of its electricity, the Midwest now sits at an important crossroads—one that will determine where its electricity comes from for decades ahead.
Learn more about renewable energy in the Midwest >
Site of the nation’s likely first offshore wind facility, the Northeast also has minimal coal in its electricity mix—and plans to significantly increase its renewables portfolio.
Learn more about renewable energy in the Northeast >
Coal currently dominates in a region flush with renewable resources but with minimal installations of renewable facilities.
Learn more about renewable energy in the Southeast >
Urge your member of Congress to sign on to a congressional letter in support of robust funding for critical clean energy research.