Natural Gas Climate War Heats Up


Too good to be true -- activists relieved.

Cheap and abundant natural gas is anathema to some environmental activists because it threatens to undercut the case for renewable electricity production technologies like wind and solar. Burning natural gas to make electricity produces about half of the greenhouse gases that burning coal does. Earlier this year, the National Energy Technology Laboratory released a report that concluded [PDF]:

Average natural gas baseload power generation has a life cycle GWP 50 percent lower (emphasis added) than average coal baseload power generation on a 20-year time horizon.

Hooray! Natural gas could be the bridge fuel to the no-carbon energy future. Not so fast. Natural gas is just too damned clean, says a new study based on climate computer simulations by researcher Tom Wigley at tne National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado. The press release accompanying the study explains:

Wigley's new study attempts to take a more comprehensive look at the issue by incorporating the cooling effects of sulfur particles associated with coal burning and by analyzing the complex climatic influences of methane, which affects other atmospheric gases such as ozone and water vapor.

By running a series of computer simulations, Wigley found that a 50 percent reduction in coal and a corresponding increase in natural gas use would lead to a slight increase in worldwide warming for the next 40 years of about 0.1 degree Fahrenheit (less than 0.1 degree Celsius). The reliance on natural gas could then gradually reduce the rate of global warming, but temperatures would drop by only a small amount compared to the 5.4 degrees F (3 degrees C) of warming projected by 2100 under current energy trends…

"Whatever the methane leakage rate, you can't get away from the additional warming that will occur initially because, by not burning coal, you're not having the cooling effect of sulfates and other particles," Wigley says. "This particle effect is a double-edged sword because reducing them is a good thing in terms of lessening air pollution and acid rain. But the paradox is when we clean up these particles, it slows down efforts to reduce global warming."

Not to be too cynical, as usual the solution (solar and wind) remains what activists wanted all along.

NEXT: WTO Rejects U.S. Ban on Clove Cigarettes

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Not to be too cynical, as usual the solution (solar and wind) remains what activists wanted all along.

    I am shocked, shocked, that his ‘computer models’ showed this to be the result. I mean, what are the chances?

    1. I’m amazed by the incredible precision of these numbers that he pulled straight out of his ass.

  2. I’m not sure it’s possible to be ‘too cynical’ about policy prescriptions anymore.

  3. Not to be too cynical, as usual the solution (solar and wind) remains what activists wanted all along.

    Umm doesn’t using more Solar and Wind power also mean less coal burning…and therefor less sulfur????

    1. But…but…but…

      1. He’s a SCIENTIST!!!

    2. Maybe he means that with natural gas you have less associated sulfur, but some large amount of carbon dioxide so compared to coal which has high sulfur and carbon you get less sulfur canceling out carbon and thus an increase in temperatures overall with a carbon producing energy supply.

  4. Don’t the computer models show significant increases in temperatures even if we stopped burning all fossils fuels this second?

    1. Yes.

      And to answer the follow up question; no observational data do not back up the models.

      and the second follow up question; no observational data does not support sulfur from coal burning as being a net climate “cooler”….at least in any sense that it can be measured at all.

  5. So if natural gas is 50% less carbon output than coal, and its use would lead to a 0.1F temperature decrease, would a 100% elimination of coal replaced by zero-carbon sources lead to a 0.2F decrease? Is this significant compared to 5.4F projected increase? It might not even be 0.2F because wind and solar also don’t produce particulates, though solar might have benefits of reflecting energy back into space.

    1. Nope, solar is very low albedo (because it wants to absorb energy from the sun), so when you put black solar panels on a white or bright yellow desert you increase the energy absorbed by the Earth.

    2. Sshhhh!!! Don’t spoil it!

      Oh, and don’t go to mentioning that the projections aren’t matching reality at all anyway. They don’t know nearly as much as they’re telling us.

      1. The science is settled! Consensus! I don’t know what to tell you luddites anymore if you believe scientists who are far more qualified than you!

  6. Not to be too cynical, as usual the solution (solar and wind) remains what activists wanted all along.

    You’re not being cynical enough. What the activists really want is deindustrialization. It doesn’t matter what the technology is, if it threatens to become a reality, the greenies will find a reason to oppose it. Nuclear cleaner than coal? Nuclear weapons! China syndrome! Hydroelectric is clean and renewable? Dams disrupt eco-systems! Endanger obscure sub-species! Threaten the hunting and fishing traditions of the noble savages, native americans.

    It never ends with these people. Just watch, if solar energy becomes viable, new objections will be raised regarding the waste streams associated with the production of the technology.

      1. Too much paying attention to how Greens actually behave.

        1. glarble blur herp derp

          1. You have not seen the angst about wind turbines killing birds?

            Greens want an energy producing technology with no drawbacks. No such thing exists, so Greens are effectively against all energy in the practical sense.

            1. Those aren’t Greens, they’re watermelons. I can respect an actual environmentalist, or at least have a discussion with them.

              1. Dee only way to tell dee diffrence is to split dem open.

              2. Yeah, but those kind of environmentalists would embrace natural gas.

              3. Those aren’t Greens, they’re watermelons. I can respect an actual environmentalist, or at least have a discussion with them.

                You sure you don’t mean conservationists? I’ve never met an enviro who wasn’t a watermelon.

            2. “Greens want an energy producing technology with no drawbacks. ”

              No they don’t. They want a reduction in human population and a return to pre-modern technophobic society. Did you miss the whole White Indian thing?

              1. “No they don’t. They want a reduction in human population and a return to pre-modern technophobic society.”

                I agree, but check out this absurdity:

                True Greenies “should” love to see (in their fantasy life) industrialized society collapse. A great way to do that is via catastrophic rises in the sea level wiping out major coastal metropolitan/industrial areas. They should be pushing for the apocalypse of global warming, but they are doing just the opposite. Why?

                1. Such a world would be very icky and uncomfortable. Greenies talk a good game but are really pussies. (See Al Gore).

                2. The modern world provides many more opportunites to control people, which is their favorite hobby.

                3. If we return to our “natural” state, greenies will likely suffer a from a severe case of natural selection.

                4. They don’t really believe their dire predictions. Deep down they know that if humanity is allowed to continue on as the marget and resources dictate, nothing much is going to happen, except maybe some innovation and increases in general prosperity….BOOOOOORIIIIING!!!!

                1. marget = market

    1. I’m very curious how they will respond to fusion, when we get it. It’s believed to be far less hazardous than fission, so there’s likely no good reason but antithesis to technology to oppose its deployment.

      1. I already have the answer: too much Helium is created! It’ll fill the atmosphere and reduce the level of oxygen! Death! DEATH!

        1. But it will make the Earth lighter and make our of our voices high-pitched, bringing an end to conflict.

          1. Don’t forget the pleasant smell of rotten eggs permeating everything.

            (anti-pedant: Yes, I know it’s added…)

        2. Hey, I heard a quote today during a Teaching Company lecture that I think you will like–posted at Urkobold.

          1. Good fucking quote.

            1. I knew you’d like it. Too bad we haven’t fixed that problem in the last three hundred years.

              1. Fucking Whigs

                1. I know. Splitters!

          2. Great quote, but I don’t know what it means to come to the Ufe of their Reafon.

            1. I can’t abide a man who doesn’t love the long s. It’s the s of freedom.

            2. I don’t know what it means to come to the Ufe of their Reafon.

              Oh, I think you do.

              1. Oh, it’s a euphemism. Well, that changes the whole meaning of the quote!

        3. Still not a bad thing. Haven’t you heard about Peak Helium!

      2. when we get it.

        Optimism, ProL. Just what people like to see.

        1. I’m looking at a fusion reactor outside my window right now.

          1. Keep looking.

            1. Nice try.

    2. “What the activists really want is deindustrialization.”

      Try building wind turbines and solar farms without industrialization.

      Look honey, I made you a wind farm…out of daisy petals!

      1. which is why this is just another wingnutz meme

        1. my brain is just a wingnutz meme derp

        2. Uh, the point of wind turbines and solar farms is that they can’t produce anywhere near enough electricity to power an industrial society.

          INOW, using them will FORCE us toward deindustrialization.

      2. Wind farms kill migrating birds. Solar is already being opposed because it takes up too much space in the desert destroying the natural desert eco-system.

        1. that’s true. so in my state, the wind towers will look like giant owls

        2. Wind farms spoil the natural view off Martha’s Vineyard, grind-up birds and make too much noise during high winds.

      3. The Dutch have been doing it for centuries.

        1. Not to generate electricity and when their windmills were first built, they didn’t have to file environmental impact statements.

          1. Well, they were challenged by certain Spanish aristocrats and their peons.

      4. To be clear, they want to eliminate free market industry. They want to nationalize all industries. They think this can result in improvement to life and society.

        They are if anything more irrational and magic-thinking than even creationists.

        1. is this the same “they” al sharpton & palin speak of ?

        2. Would you like to buy some bottled Unicorn farts?

    3. Solar kills tortoises.

  7. In other words, natural gas would reduce the real problem of air pollution while doing nothing about the pretend problem of global warming.

    1. The real problem is people. If they would all die, we would have no problems.

  8. “Burning natural gas to make electricity produces about half of the greenhouse gases that burning coal does.”

    Just burn twice as much gas by building deliberately inefficient gas-powered plants.

    Problem solved.

    1. Build twice as many plants, thus making electricity even cheaper! That’s a win-win!

  9. as usual the solution (solar and wind) remains what activists wanted all along

    That’s an extraordinary claim, do you have extraordinary evidence?

    1. G: How about this example from my earlier article on the Natural Gas Flip Flop?

      Josh Fox, director of the anti?natural gas documentary Gasland, put it bluntly on Kennedy’s radio show: “What’s really happening here is not a battle between natural gas and coal. What’s happening here is a battle between another dirty fossil fuel and renewable energy.”

      For a bit of historical perspective I quote below from a May 4, 1978 Washington Post article on “Sun Day” celebrations by activists:

      In a high-spirited tribute to solar power, more than 20,000 Washington residents joined Americans across the nation yesterday to celebrate Sun Day with foot races, yoga, prayers, hot-air balloons, songs, speeches and some controversy…

      The Carter administration has been under increasing attack from advocates of solar energy, including leaders of Sun Day. They have accused the administration of neglecting solar energy and focusing, instead, on coal and nuclear power. This charge was repeated throughout the day yesterday in a number of speeches.

      Sun Day, a sequel to Earth Day, had been designed by its organizers – a coalition of environmentalists, consumer advocates, labor unions and others – to heighten public awareness of sola*r energy’s potentially wide-spread uses and to put pressure on the federal government to invest more heavily in solar energy projects…

      “We’re going to bring this (Carter) administration into the solar age, kicking and screaming, whether they like it or not,” Rep. Ottinger said in a Sun Day speech on the Washington Monument grounds. Ottinger has flown here from Maine, after a mid-morning stopover in New York for another Sun Day talk.

      Of course, solar power then was going to “solve” the “energy crisis” that was allegedly occurring because the world was running out of oil. As I said, when it comes to energy the activist solution is always the same.

      1. The Carter Admin didn’t just fear that the world was running out of oil: it was convinced that the US faced an urgent crisis because it was running out of natural gas.

        Indeed the US was running out of natural gas at the time, but it was due to bad economic policy, not geology.

        Though Carter is quite correctly reviled as an economic ignoramus, at least he understood that price controls — originally put in place by FDR and invigorated by Nixon — removed incentives to explore for natural gas. Contrary to the narrative popular among Republicans, it was Carter who decontrolled natural gas prices.

        Since decontrol US natural gas reserves have continually expanded, from about 600 billion foeb in 1980 to 1300 billion foeb in 2010.

  10. “…By running a series of computer simulations…”

    Proposed 28th amendment: It shall be mandatory for every citizen of the United States to understand the meaning of “omitted variable bias”

    1. But, but, but… Experts! Consensus!

  11. Comedian: Why/How/What [insert remainder of joke here]?
    Comedian: We have a computer simulation!
    :: Raucous Laughter and Applause ::

  12. For twenty plus years they tell us that burning coal is going to overheat the planet. Then when the planet doesn’t overheat, what do they tell us? It’s because were burning coal.

    1. Some gases (like CO2) trap solar radiation, some (like sulfate aerosols) reflect it. This is not hard, it’s just apparently too much for you to handle.

      Deniers run around trying to blame their confusion and incredulity on the people who actually do understand.

      1. So we only need one random bit of information to understand an incredibly complex system that has been operating for billions of years?

        Exactly how much CO2 is expelled from the average volcanic eruption? Should we all be burning at this point?

        1. They voted!
          Didn’t you hear?
          There’s a consensus among climate “scientists”.
          The scientific method no longer applies.
          No longer does it matter if evidence exists that may question the hypothesis. Nope.
          There was a vote and the hypothesis has been declared irrefutable.
          The “experts” have spoken.

          So sit down, shut up, and do what you’re told.

          1. So what if you’re wrong, and the near-unanimous consensus of the global climate science community is right? Ever consider that, Mr. scientific method?

            1. I have never given much consideration to doomsday cults, regardless of their popularity among politicians and dumbshit cocksuckers.

              1. So you’ve weighed the evidence carefully, I see.

                1. Correlation and computer models do not evidence make.

                  1. Correlation and computer models do not evidence make.

                    The correlation is very weak. Look at any graph of global temperatures of the past 30 -100 years and you will see lots of dips and peaks….then look at CO2 concentration over that same period…it is a very steady slow rise with very little up and down change.

                    ie the correlation is very weak.

                    1. The correlation is very weak. Look at any graph of global temperatures of the past 30 -100 years and you will see lots of dips and peaks….then look at CO2 concentration over that same period…it is a very steady slow rise with very little up and down change.

                      ie the correlation is very weak.

                      Christ how did the global scientific community miss THAT!

                    2. Willful blindness.

                2. The evidence is that Al Gore is very wealthy and has never done anything useful in his life, prescriptions for “fixing” AGW would always make some group of people hugely wealthy while not doing anything productive, scientists supported by tax dollars increase their personal wealth and prestige by begging dollars out of the political system, an effort has been made to silence dissent by name-calling and the coining of silly phrases like “settled science”, alarmists could end most of the opposition to their ideas by posting all of their datasets and all of their model code along with a complete explanation of where every piece of data came from and every adjustment that may have been made to the data onto a publicly accessible server in order to make their work completely transparent and yet they don’t. Since the alarmists usually advocate the massive transfer of wealth and the complete transformation of the world economy as well as the transfer of at least some national sovereignty to transnational bureaucracies, than complete transparency from the alarmists is not much to ask.

                  And the evidence implies ……. AGW is a scam.

                  1. So sayeth the totally unbiased research team from ExxonMobil, who aren’t out for massive unprecedented profits, but to demonstrate the miracle of capitalism, or something.

                    Oh wait:

                    “Rising greenhouse-gas emissions pose significant risks to society and ecosystems.”

                    –ExxonMobil website

                    1. –ExxonMobil website

                      That looks less like evidence than it does like an appeal to authority coupled with the assumption that an oil company can’t benefit by playing along with the AGW scam. Have you been taking your vitamins, Tony? You seem to be suffering from some kind of deficiency.

                    2. So it’s the worldwide scientific community, governments, AND the oil industry vs. you. That is one big fucking conspiracy. Al Gore must be omnipotent.

                    3. Sounds like Exxon just got on the money train!

        2. Human greenhouse gas emissions haven’t been around for billions of years.

          And human beings wouldn’t have fared very well for most of the time during those billions of years.

          What we have here is a fallacious appeal to nature.

      2. “Deniers run around trying to blame their confusion and incredulity on the people who actually do understand.”

        Sounds like a socialist trying to talk about economies, freedom, markets, price controls, regulations.

      3. “Deniers run around trying to blame their confusion and incredulity on the people who actually do understand.”

        A perfect description of typical keynesian socialist price-control promoting leftist trying to understand how on earth can free markets deliver health care!

      4. The scatter plot corresponding to Dessler 2010 Figure 2a is shown below. While I feel uneasy using the term “confidence intervals” with such weak relationships, the 2-sigma confidence interval brackets the -1 to -1.5 w/m2/K range that Dessler 2010 sought to exclude.

        Now read this article in full:…..more-14546

        Note how the alarmist combined two sets of data to get the result he wanted but when one uses the uncombined data it gives the exact opposite result.

        then note that the results of both have such huge error bars that one would consider the whole exercise irrelevant.

        Then finally note that the error bars for the studies that show increasing CO2 increases temperature are even bigger then these fucked up error bars.

        So to recap: Climate expert that Tony likes lied and manipulated data to hide the result that would have give the exact opposite result he wanted. The result that he hid was that clouds have a net cooling effect though very slight and with huge error bars….and that effect is larger then CO2 heating effect and the evidence for the CO2 has even bigger error bars.

        You are an idiot Tony and you do not understand. Please just stop…it would be better for everyone if you just stop.

        Work on wealth redistribution or something.

        1. You’re making the mistake of judging the actual data and coming up with your own conclusion.
          Didn’t you know you’re not smart enough to do that? It’s too complicated for anyone other than an expert to understand.
          You’re supposed to choose who you believe based upon popularity, and then take their word as gospel.
          Since the alarmists are obviously more popular than the deniers, they must be correct.

          1. ^^THIS^^
            Someone understands how science works; thanks for explaining it to these deniers. Thanks, sarcasmic….sarcasm? Hey, wait!

            1. sarcasm? Hey, wait!

              Don’t worry, he’s being sarcastic about that too.

            2. You witnessed a stray sargasm.

        2. “Rising greenhouse-gas emissions pose significant risks to society and ecosystems.”

          –ExxonMobil website

          1. Check out BP’s site. Their whole marketing shtick was ‘Beyond Petroleum’ before the Gulf disaster.

            Remember their pre-Gulf ads? Some faux voxpop setting of Area Man-types standing in front of a gas pump and saying – in response to a question not seen but about global warming or the rainbow-n’-whales crisis, whatever:

            “Yeah, we need to like, save the earth, but, you know, I gotta go to Taco Bell too, yo.” And in the background would be this rising-tempo-crisis tune?

            And finally some factoid would appear in text: BP invested more in peacock-shit-powered biofuel plants in Uganda than all our competitors combined….

            Followed by the cute line its a start… to a crescendo of the crisis-tempo tune? I know these ads so well because I was unemployed watching TV at the height of that particularly insidious BP marketing folly. Ironically, at the height of Uncle Stimulator handing out checks for renewables in summer, 2009 to be exact.

            Tony, its called ‘marketing’ and its squarely targeted – as always – at the uninformed 18-34 demographic who respond to such things; as Obama’s 2008 campaign learned, and Exxon has known forever, and to which demographic you undoubtedly belong.

            Exxon’s playing you for a sucker, Tony.

        3. Your confirmation bias is so large you now must exclude the oil industry, as believers in AGW, they now disagree with you.

          You’re dicking around with the remnants of propaganda they paid for years ago.

          1. Tony you forget to mention that you now agree with oil companies….

            …you know like gulf coast polluting BP and Polar bear killing Exxon.

            Oh wait…this is a sock-puppet of tony isn’t it?

            I mean the real Tony would not be that stupid right?

            remnants of propaganda they paid for years ago.

            ummm….yeah Dessler’s study came out in 2010 and the link to the article was posted yesterday….

            Also should note the big reveal on clouds by CERN is pretty recent as well plus i think the article I linked to was precipitated by the fall out about the Spencer article which started about 2 weeks ago.

            1. There is as yet no evidence on the space ray/cloud connection, so your ejaculating over it is a bit premature.

              All I’m saying is now you must include oil companies as participants in the vast global conspiracy to enrich Al Gore.

              1. So now you’re quoting a PR blurb from a corporate website as proof of AGW?


                1. Not proof of anything but your guys’ frightening level of delusion.

              2. There’s no evidence that humans are causing global warming, either.

                1. You’re misinformed.

                  1. That’s not what your mom said last night.

                2. You’re misinformed.

      5. Some gases (like CO2) trap solar radiation …

        More proof that Tony is a scientific ignoramus. The solar spectrum contains very little energy in the CO2 absorption bands.…..ectrum.png

  13. This is a non-problem if there ever was one … just quit removing the H2S from natural gas before burning it and quit desulfurizing bunker fuel if the enviros want more sulfur in the atmosphere.

    The fact is that the enviros won’t be satisfied until human civilization is reduced to stone knives and bearskins. Of course, the vegans would still complain about that.

  14. The bottom line: solar and wind cannot cover the base load or peak load usage of the US. If nuclear plants are also verboten, then natural gas is it. There are no other large power plant solutions. Otherwise you’re going to distributed generation and fuel cells and paying far more than you would with a combined cycle plant.

  15. Models, models, models.

    Models are what you use when you lack data in fields like this (soft sciences like climate, epidemiology that are connected to hard science).

    The modern faith in models is a reflection of scientific ignorance. These models were used to predict specific temperatures and failed. If the models cannot predict future temperatures than they don’t work. And they cannot as demonstrated the past 10 years when the world wide temp was outside the 95% confidence interval. So…until they they can predict the future – say 10 years consistently, than I say I believe in man made global warming but since they have no idea of the magnitude we just do nothing.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.