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 January 24, 2012
Natural Gas Is A Bridge To Nowhere --- Absent a Serious Price for Global Warming Pollution

 President of American Gas Association, 1981: "In fact, gas energy --- currently America's largest domestically produced fuel --- could prove to be the keystone to solving the nation's energy crisis by serving as the 'bridge fuel' to the next century's renewable energy technologies."

VP of AGA, 1988, "refers to natural gas as a bridge fuel --- the least harmful alternative while the world looks for other, longer-lasting solutions to the 'greenhouse' effect," the Washington Post reported.

Chair of AGA, 2008: "Natural gas will be the bridge fuel to the future.... The electric industry is expected to turn to natural gas as a bridge until clean coal and nuclear generation are available."

It's the longest bridge in history! Heck, the Golden Gate Bridge only took 4 years to build!

The President will be touting natural gas in his State of the Union address tonight, according to sources. Nothing wrong with touting gas --- if you also tout a rising carbon price, which the president once did but no longer does.

Way back in June 2009, I pointed out the value of gas in the context of a climate bill with a rising CO2 price --- see "Why unconventional natural gas makes the 2020 Waxman-Markey target so damn easy and cheap to meet." But the key point of that post was that you could put gas in existing, underutilized plants to replace existing coal power cheaply to meet the key 2020 target Obama.

Building lots of new gas plants doesn't make much sense since we need to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the next few decades if we're to have any chance to avoid catastrophic global warming. We don't want new gas plants to displace new renewables, like solar and wind, which are going to be the some of the biggest, sustainable job creating industries of the century.

Late last year, some of the leading (center-right) economists in the country --- Nicholas Z. Muller, Robert Mendelsohn, and William Nordhaus --- concluded in a top economic journal that the total damages from natural gas generation exceed its value-added at a low-ball carbon price of $27 per ton! At a price of $65 a ton of carbon, the total damages from natural gas are more than double its value-added!

For the record, stabilizing at 550 ppm atmospheric concentrations of CO2, which would likely still be catastrophic for humanity, would require a price of $330 a metric ton of carbon in 2030, the International Energy Agency (IEA) noted back in 2008.

The fact that natural gas is a bridge fuel to nowhere was in fact, first demonstrated by the IEA in its big June 2011 report on gas --- see IEA's "Golden Age of Gas Scenario" Leads to More Than 6°F Warming and Out-of-Control Climate Change. That study --- which had both coal and oil consumption peaking in 2020 --- made abundantly clear that if we want to avoid catastrophic warming, we need to start getting off of all fossil fuels.

Then came a remarkable new study by Tom Wigley of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) that concluded:

In summary, our results show that the substitution of gas for coal as an energy source results in increased rather than decreased global warming for many decades.