Photo credit: Sirdle via Flickr/CC BY-SA
It has begun. Okay, so it began a while ago, ever since natural gas companies first got wind of the news that their product produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions than the world's other favorite fossil fuels. But now that gas prices are once again rising (and increasingly unlikely to come down for long) and coal plants are coming under increasing scrutiny, the natural gas industry is rearing its head. Conservatives are smelling an opening to embrace natural gas on bipartisan territory, and will soon start driving towards the hoop with increasing gusto. Exhibits A & B: An unabashedly anti-clean energy and pro-natural gas op-ed in the New York Times and a nat gas love-fest in the typically liberal Salon.com.John Laumer already poked some holes in the false choice presented by the NY Times op-ed, which was authored by a member of the far-right think tank the Manhattan Institute. That piece argued that since renewable energy projects require so much land and new materials and endanger wildlife, it's better just to switch to nat gas. He even turns the words of economist E. F. Schumacher against greens (many of whom hold as an inspiration), claiming "small is beautiful" and renewable energy ain't small.
Of course, neither is natural gas, whose extraction sites, transportation via massive pipelines, refineries, and distribution networks span hundreds of miles and also endanger species -- and of course our underground drinking water stores. But that doesn't quite make it into the article.
Michael Lind's article in Salon is even more egregious, which argues that the fossil fuel era is just getting started. It dismisses both renewable energy and climate change as relative nonsense in the course of advocating for exploiting our vast natural gas reserves.
A case can be made for using natural gas as a transition fuel. That doesn't make it "green". Discounting the climate impacts of burning the stuff and counting out the potential renewable energy holds is just plain stupid -- the amount of emissions that extracting and burning natural gas creates is still up in the air, though it does undeniably yield a substantive amount. And yes, there will be challenges with deploying solar and wind on a large scale -- but there will be (far more environmentally detrimental) challenges to ramping up natural gas extraction too. Neither author is up on the latest climate science, or understands the urgency by which we must stop spewing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Renewable technology is getting better and cheaper, and clean energy solutions are proving viable and being embraced by nations around the globe. Mapping out a future that relies on fossil fuels for decades longer just isn't really an option if we're keen on stabilizing our climate and keeping temperatures at a range that planetary life is accustomed to.
So be forewarned -- a storm of high-minded, seemingly well-reasoned arguments that natural gas is 'green' looming on the horizon. And if those opinionators, pundits and policymakers get their way, they could doom us to another few decades of fossil fuel reliance. If we do so without making serious, serious inroads in clean energy deployment, we can kiss that stable, livable climate goodbye ...