What’s wrong with Gas?

Over the last 12 months, I have written 3 letters to Chris Huhne, the British Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. From the replies I have received, it is clear that our government is not only determined to keep burning coal (based on the false hope of it one day being made effectively carbon-neutral!); it is also determined to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. But how on earth is this to be achieved given that the vast majority of domestic central heating systems are gas-fired? This is yet another example of what James Hansen and many others have called “greenwash” – Saying one thing but planning for another… If we in the UK are to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, then we need to be taking steps towards making it possible to stop mining coal and to stop importing gas. Instead of which, we are allowing American companies to explore for shale gas; and experimenting with methane gas extraction from old coal mines and/or coal bed methane projects. Therefore, our government should be demanding that firms like UK Coal and British Gas should focus on (not just experiment with the idea of lending their support to) projects to rapidly-upscale alternative technologies such as geothermal energy, biogas (from algae), groundsource heat pumps, and energy from waste (including human excrement). This would be then represent real investment in the future of genuinely carbon-neutral energy production (i.e. that which does not add fossil carbon to our atmosphere). Instead of this, they have recently cut back on the scope of subsidies aimed at encouraging people to invest in micro-power generation systems. Again, if they are serious about wanting to reduce our reliance upon fossil fuels, surely it would make sense to undertake a national survey of all properties; and to pay for/subsidise solar or wind systems to be installed on all those found to be suitable? How many such installations could be paid for from monies being set aside to fund massive new national infrastructure like new national transmission networks? To me, this all seems to boil down to either deliberate double-talk, or a complete failure to think laterally. It does not matter where the gas comes from, we must stop burning it. Furthermore, it does not matter if someone else burns it (they may have less choice), that is their problem. This would represent an important step forward because, if we did not burn it, we would be helping to reduce global demand and therefore price. Some more-radical green thinkers have suggested that trading in fossilised carbon should be made illegal (like trading in ivory etc), but something does not need to be made illegal for us to reduce the scale of its demand. However, unless or until people can see workable, price-comparable alternatives, they are not going to willingly make the required mental and or physical switch. Although there is much in the way of fine-sounding rhetoric emanating from our governments at the moment, there is little in the way of substantive action. Furthermore, what talking is being done – both nationally and internationally – is in serious danger of being inaudible above the clatter of deck chairs being re-organised and some rather tuneless playing of the fiddle (which is never easy in a smoky environment). However, when the International Energy Agency decides to echo James Hansen’s warning from Storms of my Grandchildren, by saying that catastrophic climate change will be unavoidable unless we stop building (and using) new fossil fuel infrastructure within 5 years, I think it may just be time (i.e. at COP17 in Durban next week) for our politicians to stop talking and take some resolute steps towards requiring national governments to make legally-binding changes in energy policy. Now we know how big the stakes are, our grandchildren will not forgive us if we do not take action to minimise the planetary damage we are doing… ———- UPDATE 4 December 2011: Tonight’s BBC Countryfile programme (approx 20 minutes in) is typical of the media output that fails to explain the inherent danger of Carbon Capture and Storage and the consequential urgency of the need to stop looking for new sources of fossil fuel to burn.


About Rick Altman

Possibly just another 'Climate Cassandra' crying 'Wolf' in cyberspace. However, the moral of the old children's story is that the Wolf eventually turned up!
This entry was posted in Civilisation, Climate Science, Consumerism, Ecological Modernisation, Economics, Energy Crisis, Environment, Ethics, Fossil Fuels, James Hansen, Mass Extinctions, Modernity, Politics, Storms of my Grandchildren, Sustainable development, UNFCCC and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What’s wrong with Gas?

  1. pendantry says:

    You surprise me, Rick. You agree that ‘clean coal’ is a fiction because CCS (‘carbon capture and sequestration’) is pie in the sky, and yet you believe all those promises about those as-yet-unproven nuclear technologies… ok, I’ll shut up on that one*. For now 😉 Good for you for trying to help sound the alarm about our current non-greenest ever government’s actions. I think we’re simply seeing more of the same problem with the Tories (and where’s the coalition we were promised?) — they’re far too wedded to business interests, and way too receptive to lobbyists. “[…] unless […] people can see workable, price-comparable alternatives, they are not going to willingly make the required mental and or physical switch.” Agreed, of course. And they’re not going to be presented with ‘price-comparable alternatives’, because accountants, like statisticians, can twist the numbers so that some shades of grey seem darker than others. The problem is that the accountants are — unsurprisingly — also too wedded to business interests… * bear in mind I’m working backwards from your most recent post — my current comments have a contrariwise chronology 🙂 [See my response to your comment regarding nuclear energy here – Rick]


  2. Pingback: First green superpower? | Anthropocene Reality

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