Natural gas is to climate change what our mediocre exercise and diet regimes are to our health: far from perfect but better than nothing.
Why it matters: Natural gas, which is becoming the world’s dominant energy, emits half as much carbon dioxide as coal. That's why it's emerging as a good-enough-for-now solution to climate change. But since it’s a fossil fuel, it still produces heat-trapping emissions.
The big picture: Natural gas was the fastest-growing energy source last year —accounting for 45% of all such growth — with most regions and many industries turning to the fuel as a cleaner alternative to coal and oil, according to an International Energy Agency report released Friday. It’s set to keep growing in the coming years.
The intrigue: Environmentalists and some politicians are increasingly opposed to natural gas because they worry it's locking in far too much global warming. Looking purely at the math and science of climate change, they're right.
- Ramping up natural gas would make it impossible to cut emissions to a level scientists say would avert the worst impacts of a warmer world. That assumes there won't be a massive buildout of emissions-capturing technology, which is still in its infancy and expensive.
But, but, but: Science and math don’t operate in a vacuum. And the reality is, natural gas is providing a cheap, plentiful, cleaner-burning option for countries to get off the world’s dirtiest — and historically dominant — power source: coal.
- Apart from climate change, natural gas emits very little particulate pollution, which is a big draw for developing nations whose populations are choking on smog from coal and oil.
- To think countries wouldn’t make this transition because of what the science says reflects a lack of appreciation for how the real world embraces science: imperfectly and unevenly. (Much like our diets.)
Go deeper: More of that analogy in the full column.