PoliZette

Fossil Fuel Makes Climate Progress Possible, Yet Politicians Dither

The Green New Deal would slow or stop the shale energy revolution and restrict the port infrastructure it requires

Manmade warming may indeed pose a threat to humanity’s future — but those calling for urgent action demonstrate little willingness to address it realistically. Even as a consensus for action emerges, the gap is widening between those who offer practical solutions and the arm-waving ideologues who insist on drastic actions with little chance of political acceptance.

For confirmation of this, look no further than the U.S. Congress. There, a progressive agenda to end all fossil energy use with a dozen years defeats hopeful signs of bipartisan support for taxes and technologies to reduce carbon emissions.

The Green New Deal (GND) would slow or stop the shale energy revolution and restrict the necessary pipeline and port infrastructure it requires. Yet Democrats who acknowledge this liability risk becoming the new homeless.

Aside from the obvious harm this policy unicorn would inflict on a U.S. economy still overwhelmingly reliant on fossil fuels, the Green New Deal poses two major obstacles to any prospect for timely climate change progress.

First, and most obviously, it frustrates any attempt to build the required political consensus for concerted action. States that either produce or use oil, gas and coal cannot be expected to cooperate in their economic ruination. Insisting on a transition to all-green energy within two decades — powered by wind and solar energy subsidies — is neither a strategy for firm legislative action nor a realistic plan for serious emissions reduction.

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A second obstacle to this radical agenda is less obvious, but it is ultimately more telling about what’s behind the stubborn impasse on meaningful climate progress. By opposing shale gas and the infrastructure to export it, doctrinaire activists are willfully ignoring the emissions reductions achieved by displacing carbon-heavy coal with carbon-light natural gas.

Emitting half the CO2 emissions of coal combustion, natural gas-fueled power plants here and abroad have accounted for steady, year-over-year progress, cutting carbon emissions from coal-powered regions in the developed world and from major emitting countries like China and India. Shale gas from domestic wells has accounted for most of the reduction in U.S. emissions, while exports of super-cooled liquified gas (LNG) have lowered the emissions trend in Asia.

But in a classic illustration of perfection making an enemy of the good, progressives dismiss this documented progress simply because fossil energy achieved it. Doctrinaire greens demand an end to fossil energy use, but only at the cost of real climate progress in regions where future emissions pose the biggest threat. The likelihood is that, until distributed green energy and scalable carbon capture technologies are within financial and technical reach of the largest emerging economies, natural gas can curb emissions as a bridge fuel to zero-carbon energy.

In their haste to demonize all fossil fuels, critics ignore their different carbon properties. Burning natural gas is less carbon-intensive than coal, as North Sea oil boasts better emissions than oil from tar sands.

Critics who insist the continued use of natural gas will “lock out” wind and solar power overlook the decline of coal. It, too, was thought to enjoy perennial primacy in power generation owing to its ubiquity as a low-price, low-volatility energy source. But within a decade, lower cost and lower emission natural gas loosened coal’s grip on global energy markets to become the largest source of global energy growth, on track to account for 40 percent of the total by 2035.

In their haste to demonize all fossil fuels, critics ignore their different carbon properties. Burning natural gas is less carbon-intensive than coal, as North Sea oil boasts better emissions than oil from tar sands.

Where and how fossil energy is produced can mean substantially different emissions outcomes. Blind opposition to LNG capacity obscures the significant potential for environmental improvements in developing countries where global emissions pose the greatest threat.

Progressives are right to lament the failure to curb global warming.

They should not be sanctimonious about the source of any progress.

Luke Popovich is a Washington, D.C.-based writer specializing in energy and environmental issues. He previously represented the coal, nuclear, mining, and paper industries.