14 Sep 2011, 12:01am

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    Brighter Planet's 350 Challenge
  • Year 2, Month 9, Day 14: If You Remember, Heroin Was Originally Sold As A Cure For Morphine Addiction. Heh heh heh.

    The September 8 issue of the L.A. Times dispels some clouds of myth about the effectiveness of Natural Gas as a fuel source:

    Switching from burning coal to natural gas won’t have an appreciable effect on global warming, at least not in the next few decades, a study suggests.

    In fact, cutting worldwide coal burning by half and using natural gas instead would increase global temperatures over the next four decades by about one-tenth of a degree Fahrenheit, according to Tom Wigley, a senior research associate at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

    Strictly speaking, coal produces more global-warming gas per unit of energy than natural gas. But the tradeoff is complicated by the types of greenhouse gases and other pollutants associated with each of these carbon-based fossil fuels.

    “From the CO2 perspective, gas is cleaner, but from the climate perspective, it gets complicated,” said Wigley.

    Coal burning is notoriously dirty, producing sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, soot and ash, as well as other pollutants. None are too good for humans or the planet, but the sulfates can act to block incoming solar radiation, with a slight cooling effect. (Before anyone proposes burning more high-sulfur coal, the net effect of burning coal is still warming).

    Meanwhile, “clean” natural gas, touted by the industry and T. Boone Pickens, can be a mess to produce. An unknown amount of methane — a potent greenhouse gas with far more heat-trapping potential than carbon dioxide — leaks in the process of producing natural gas.

    Will our species get it together in time? Tune in next decade for the next episode of “Who The Hell Knows?” Sent September 10:

    H.L. Mencken said it very well: “For every complex problem, there’s a simple solution…and it’s wrong.” For a while, natural gas seemed like an attractive alternative to coal and oil — something that would allow our civilization to make the transition away from fossil fuels without too much disruption, while simultaneously reducing the impact of irreversible climate change.

    A simple solution — and, as the study from the National Center for Atmospheric Research makes clear, a wrong one. The complex problems of global heating require a complex solution: a mix of renewable energy sources, massive conservation efforts, and a comprehensive shift in our collective consumption habits. Mitigating the immanent effects of climate change is going to require more of us than simply switching to another source of fuel: we — all humanity — must change our ways of living if we are to survive and prosper in the coming centuries.

    Warren Senders

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