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The Bridge Built on Methane?

Updated on September 5, 2015

How to Get There?

In order to slow the pace of global warming or global climate change, it will be necessary for the world to make a shift in energy away from fossil fuels like coal and oil and towards renewable sources like solar and wind.

This transition will take time, and some sort of "bridge fuel" will have to be found to buy the world that time. Natural gas is touted as a potential "Bridge Fuel". But does it make sense to have one fossil fuel replace another.

I had reached out to a local activist who has been active in fighting the natural gas industry in my home state of Pennsylvania for comments. He directed me to many of the resources that were used in this article.

A Short-Sighted Solution?

According to an article posted on Huffington Post in July of 2014, the argument for natural gas as a cleaner, and perhaps "greener", alternative fuel is based on some fundamental truths.

When natural gas is burned, it does produce less CO2 than an equivalent amount of coal or oil; about %50 less than coal and between %25-%30 less than heating oil, diesel, etc.

Natural gas also reduces the pollutants that contribute to acid rain, the particulate emissions that cause lung disease and mercury.

But CO2 is not the only greenhouse gas we have to worry about.

The Other Greenhouse Gas

While CO2 gets much of the press as the main "Greenhouse Gas", there is another gas that contributes even more to climate change--methane.

Cornell University Professor Robert Howarth warns "If we hit a climate-system tipping point due to methane, our carbon dioxide problem is immaterial."

The two main sources of methane from natural gas, according to phys.org, are leaks and the purposeful venting of natural gas. These emissions contribute to the %40 of "radiative forcing" a measure of the heat trapped in the Earth's atmosphere.

The climate also responds more rapidly to reductions in methane. Aggressive control of CO2, without reductions of methane emissions, would cause the threshold rise of 1.5 to 2.0 degrees celsius in 15-35 years.

A Hole In The Big Apple?

A March 2013 press release from Damascus Citizens for Sustainability provides an example of the methane that is released through a simple leak.

According to that report, the methane leaking from the system in New York City is contributing as much, if not more, climate impact than %95 of the natural gas being burned.

As the release concludes:

There is an increasing awareness of methane as a potent greenhouse gas and its role in climate change. Because natural gas generates less carbon dioxide when burned, it has been considered a cleaner energy source than other fossil fuels. However, to look at the emission levels from burning alone is to hide natural gasʼ total greenhouse impact. If only some methane leaks into the atmosphere during extraction, transport and delivery to the consumer, then what had been assumed was a small gas carbon footprint is in reality a highly significant gas carbon footprint.

The Sustainable Option

If natural gas is not the bridge to a renewable future, what is?

The option remaining may be aggressive conservation. Humans, especially in industrial nations may have to make changes in everything from how they travel and work, to what they eat.

This may be hard for many, but at least in America, we have done it. During World War II and during the recession of the 2000s, Americans found ways to make and do more with less. Alas, once peace and prosperity returned, Americans resumed their consumptive habits. To build, and maintain, the bridge to a renewable future, America, and the world, may have to learn to live with less.

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