An investigation on ProPublica details the environmental impact of natural gas versus coal and oil. Spoiler alert: it’s not as good as we may have been led to believe.
(See “More Reasons to Question Whether Gas Is Cleaner Than Coal” [4/12/11] and “Climate Benefits of Natural Gas May Be Overstated” [1/25/11].) Nevertheless, development of domestic natural gas resources is touted in Pres. Obama’s energy white paper: “By 2035, we will generate 80 percent of our electricity from a diverse set of clean energy sources–including renewable energy sources like . . . efficient natural gas; and clean coal.” [pp.6-7]
No doubt Obama wants to mitigate the effects of global climate change, but he is constrained by what is politically feasible in the current political climate. And thus, it’s no surprise that he can’t pass the more ambitious environmental measures that he and many other Democrats would like to pass—most notably, perhaps, the failure last year of the Senate cap-and-trade bill authored by Sens. Kerry, Lieberman, and Graham in the face of extreme Republican partisanship (a less charitable person might call it “denialism”) and Democratic bungling.
Where do we fit in? Without intercession, the damage of climate change will occur in our lifetimes, not in 50- and 60-year-old senators’ lifetimes. We have the critical role, and we are in the uncomfortable position of having more to lose from climate change but being almost powerless in comparison to energy lobbyists and their think tanks steadfastly denying the science. If Obama’s pro-natural gas, pro-”clean coal” policy is the best we can expect, from a Democratic president no less, do we accept the politically feasible baby steps his policy represents, or do we demand more from our leaders? And should we make our political support contingent on real climate change legislation?