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All Fracked Up: Study Shows How Natural Gas Worsens Climate By Delaying Renewables

 Policy Mandates Like Renewable Portfolio Standards Can Drive GHG Emissions Reductions

Powerful Economic Interests & Discredited Ideas Block Reforms

Source: The effect of natural gas supply on US renewable energy and CO2 emissions (Christine Shearer et al 2014 Environ. Res. Lett. 9 094008)

Source: The effect of natural gas supply on US renewable energy and CO2 emissions (Christine Shearer et al 2014 Environ. Res. Lett. 9 094008)

a laissez faire economic theory is maintained in an industrial era through the ignorant belief that the general welfare is best served by placing the least possible political restraints upon economic activity. The history of the past hundred years is a refutation of the theory; but it is still maintained, or is dying a too lingering death, particularly in nations as politically incompetent as our own. Its survival is due to the ignorance of those who suffer from the application of this theory to modern industrial life but fail to attribute their difficulties to the social anarchy and political irresponsibility which the theory sanctions. Their ignorance permits the beneficiaries of the present anarchic industrial system to make dishonest use of the waning prestige of lasssez faire economics. The men of power in modern industry would not, of course, capitulate simply because the social philosophy by which they justify their policies had been discredited. When power is robbed of the shining armor of political, moral, and philosophical theories by which it defends itself, it will fight on without armor; but it will be more vulnerable, and the strength of its enemies is increased.  ~~~ p. 33 “Moral Man and Immoral Society” (Niebuhr – 1932)

I begin this post with that Niebuhr quote because, although it is more than 80 years old and written in the depths of the Great Depression, it remains apt for our times of climate and economic crises.

The same discredited ideas and economic powers impose great suffering and exert a chokehold on reforms.

Today, so called Neoliberal “free market” based policies have been discredited. Yet powerful defenders of the status quo continue to insist upon market based approaches to policy and restrain government intervention. As a result, effective government action is blocked and multiple crises deepen.

On the domestic US energy and climate fronts, President Obama backs an “all of the above” policy which guarantees that we pass what scientists have said are critical tipping points that could trigger runaway catastrophic climate change.

At the international level, ironically, after decades of inaction, the UN seems poised to adopt a market based approach by “putting a price on carbon” via a deeply flawed and discredited cap and trade program. The irony is cruelly doubled because climate activists have abandoned the UN at just the moment that their involvement is critically needed to derail the pending cap/trade catastrophe.

And right here in NJ, despite the recent climate related Sandy disaster, Gov. Christie is dismantling NJ’s climate related policies while the legislature sits on the sidelines, or seeks to revive discredit market based approaches like RGGI cap & trade.

Despite the recent crash in solar markets, repeated boom & bust cycles, and the so called high price of wind that is blocking off shore wind development, the Legislature continues to rely on and seek to expand market based approaches to renewable energy.

However, an upcoming debate on the role of markets versus government policy could change some of that, but the degree to which is unclear at this time, because the bills have yet to be introduced, e.g. see the ghost bill, S2444 (Smith – Bateman) Establishes Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards

So, just like Niebuhr observed, discredited market myths continue to block desperately needed reforms.

So, let’s drill down on just one aspect of the energy/climate debates.

A recent study found – contrary to the widespread myth that natural gas is a viable climate change strategy as a bridge fuel to a renewable powered future – that natural gas is a disaster for the climate, delaying renewable power by decades and allowing the status quo carbon emissions to blow through tipping points and assuring catastrophic and irreversible warming.


Increased use of natural gas has been promoted as a means of decarbonizing the US power sector, because of superior generator efficiency and lower CO2 emissions per unit of electricity than coal. We model the effect of different gas supplies on the US power sector and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Across a range of climate policies, we find that abundant natural gas decreases use of both coal and renewable energy technologies in the future. Without a climate policy, overall electricity use also increases as the gas supply increases. With reduced deployment of lower-carbon renewable energies and increased electricity consumption, the effect of higher gas supplies on GHG emissions is small: cumulative emissions 2013–55 in our high gas supply scenario are 2% less than in our low gas supply scenario, when there are no new climate policies and a methane leakage rate of 1.5% is assumed. Assuming leakage rates of 0 or 3% does not substantially alter this finding. In our results, only climate policies bring about a significant reduction in future CO2 emissions within the US electricity sector.

Our results suggest that without strong limits on GHG emissions or policies that explicitly encourage renewable electricity, abundant natural gas may actually slow the process of decarbonization, primarily by delaying deployment of renewable energy technologies.

Here is what the results look like – with a lot lot cheap gas available, renewables reaching parity with gas is delayed 36 years [ and we have to go way beyond parity].That’s a climate disaster, brought to you by reliance on markets and so called low cost energy:

gas curves2

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