Gas looks cleanest when people burn wood to stay warm

Aug. 28, 2017
Something about the topic of climate change destroys appreciation for balance and scale.

Something about the topic of climate change destroys appreciation for balance and scale.

To cheers from environmental groups, the advertising standards board of the Netherlands spanked Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij (NAM) for touting environmental benefits of natural gas. NAM is the Dutch joint venture of Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil.

NAM called natural gas "the cleanest of all fossil fuels," in an advertisement.

According to press reports, later online versions of the ad changed the descriptor to "the least polluting fossil fuel."

The Dutch advertising watchdog earlier this year rebuked Statoil for referring to natural gas as "clean energy" and "low-emissions fuel."

A spokesperson for Friends of the Earth Europe, an instigator of the complaint, said the NAM scolding showed "how oil and gas companies are misleading citizens and politicians."

Preventing catastrophic climate change, he insisted, requires an "end to the dependency on all fossil fuels-including gas."

Environmentalists disparage natural gas because its chief component, methane, has global warming potential 28-36 times that of carbon dioxide over 100 years and 84-87 over 20 years, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

But that's not the whole story. Methane's concentration in the atmosphere is less than 0.5% that of CO2.

The lightest hydrocarbon's warming influence, which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calls radiative forcing, is about one fourth that of CO2.

On a CO2-equivalent basis, says the IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report, methane accounted for about 20% of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) related to people in 2010, CO2 about 62%.

On balance, because combustion of methane yields less CO2 than that of heavier hydrocarbons, substituting gas for coal or oil can and does lower GHG emissions overall, notwithstanding the associated, modest increase in emissions of CH4.

To extoll the "clean" qualities of gas is not misleading.

What's not clean is the energy utopia of environmentalists, in which people would use only energy from solar and wind without back-up from coal, oil, or gas.

In winter, they'd burn a lot of wood.