Natural-gas boom could isolate US on climate change

The domestic national-gas boom might thin the ranks of climate change advocates and put the United States at odds with the international community on the issue, an expert said Thursday.

America’s insistence that natural gas will play an important role in easing the effects of climate change runs counter to European views and will likely invite “friction,” Michael Levi, program director on energy security and climate change with the Council on Foreign Relations, said during a discussion hosted by the New America Foundation. He said Europeans view natural gas as a dirty energy source.

That could isolate the United States in international climate talks, Levi said. 

“For the most part, people in the United States who care about climate change think that natural gas is good news,” Levi said. “That is not the view in Europe. In Europe, natural gas is generally seen as a bad thing for climate change and a bad direction for the climate. On the international level, that will put us in some problems.”

Natural gas emits less carbon dioxide than oil or coal when burned as an energy source. But some environmentalists fear that emissions of methane — a potent greenhouse gas — at well sites could erode the climate benefits of the fuel.

Climate change has garnered more attention in recent weeks as abnormal weather — including droughts, fires, windstorms and record temperatures — sweeps the country. Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano last week said there could be a link between the extreme weather and climate change.

The expansion of natural gas might also cause environmentalists most concerned about resource scarcity to drop from a coalition of groups that push for climate change policies, he said.

“If that piece of the coalition that wants climate policy in place vanishes because of this sense of abundance, then I think it becomes more difficult to put good climate policy in place,” Levi said.



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