President Obama, Ban Ki-moon and 300,000 others showed up in New York City this week to support the use of modern technologies and cleaner fuels. But at least four notable heads-of-state stayed home, each of whom is just as important in the battle against global warming. Missing: China, India, Russia and Canada.
While it may seem hard to reconcile that some of the globe’s biggest polluters skipped the event — they still sent delegations as a show of respect — it is not necessarily a blow to the cause. That’s because of unconventional shale gas — and the wealth of those supplies all around the world. The paradox is whether climate activists can possibly embrace natural gas a bridge fuel until greener energies would win greater market acceptance. Possible?
“We should have increasingly stringent regulations on coal to help us move away from it,” says Michael Shellenberger, president of the Breakthrough Institute, an environmental think tank. “Cheap natural gas helps a lot. But we need to ramp up our investments in renewables and nuclear energy so that they can compete with coal and natural gas.”
The Breakthrough Institute is part of the push to crack the climate change code by first ditching coal-fired power and using mostly natural gas and nuclear energy. It’s a far more pragmatic approach to lessening all the pollutants that are regulated under the Clean Air Act — ones that don’t just include carbon dioxide but also sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter. That position on natural gas is, generally, supported by the Worldwatch Institute.
While the United States has the technology to develop such shale gas reserves, the rest of the world has yet to catch up. If ever they do, both China and India have a plethora of unconventional fuel under their feet, as does Canada. And if those resources could eventually be produced, the fuel would supplant coal usage, especially in the world’s emerging economies. Consider that China is globe’s biggest carbon emitter, followed by the United States and India.
English: President Barack Obama meets with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao during a bilateral meeting at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Dansk: Præsident Barack Obama møder med Kinas formand for statsrådet Wen Jiabao under et bilateralt møde ved de Forenede Nationers Klimakonference i København. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The environmental movement — including many of those climate marchers present in New York City this week — want to skip past the fossil fuels and move straight into the green era. Right now, though, renewable fuels account for 10 percent of energy consumption and 13 percent of electricity generation in this country. Getting it over the 50 percent hump will take time.
“The overall energy strategy is changing and is geared toward more natural gas, which also creates jobs and which has fewer greenhouse gas emissions,” says former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, in an interview with this writer for a story in Public Utilities Fortnightly.
Whitman, who also served as President George W. Bush’s EPA administrator and who is now a co-chair for the pro-nuclear CASEnergy Coalition, is also touting nuclear energy as a reliable and carbon-free fuel.
If the reduction of carbon emissions is the goal of the U.S. president, the United Nation’s secretary general and the “People’s Climate March,” they might be partially pleased: In this country, carbon releases are 10 percent less than they were in 2005, mostly the result of switching from coal to natural gas.