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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Talking past each other

Replacing oil and coal with shale gas will not cut greenhouse gas emissions, study finds,” says the headline describing a new study by Cornell University researcher Robert Howarth that was published in the journal Energy Science & Engineering.

Then, there’s this blog by David Hone, Climate Change Advisor for Shell that describes – accurately, I think – the importance of time horizons when looking at the serious impacts of methane on climate disruption.

Howarth has consistently demonized gas in his work - which, to give him credit, first raised the essential importance of methane emissions.  Hone appears to suggest that either we limit CO2 emissions, or we focus on methane, but not both.

Neither, in my view, are totally correct.

Howarth blurs the essential question of time horizons and methane emissions that Hone clearly explains.  Horwath also ignores the fact that methane emissions can be minimized with tough regulations and monitoring – neither of which we have yet, but can get to with the right political will.

Hone presents a false choice.  We can -  and must – limit both CO2 and methane emissions.  Now.   

Numerous studies – including the latest one published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences - find that shale gas burned to make electricity emits half the carbon of coal.  We must seize this opportunity to turn off coal while strongly regulating methane emissions from natgas production and distribution. But that’s not enough to spare us from the worst impacts of climate disruption, and the realities of global coal use.  CCUS is essential for all fossil-fueled electricity.

Can we accomplish all of that? Or will we continue to talk past each other on the existential question of climate disruption?

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