Natural Gas: It’s A Hedge, Not A Bridge

Think natural gas will get us from coal to renewables? Think again.

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Boosters of natural gas frequently argue that it can serve as a “bridge fuel,” spanning the chasm between our current global electricity systems, dominated by coal, and systems mostly or completely comprised of low-carbon sources like wind and solar. The idea is, we ramp up natural gas, the least dirty of the fossil fuels, to displace coal, thereby giving ourselves a few more decades to develop renewable energy, which will then replace natural gas. Natgas gets us from here to there.

This argument has become popular for a broad swath of U.S. elites, not only typical fossil-fuel boosters but lefty luminaries like Center for American Progress founder John Podesta and green leaders like Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp.

Despite the notion becoming common to the point of cliché, however, there’s been almost no effort to model a natural gas bridge — that is to say, to construct a climate scenario that a) stabilizes atmospheric carbon dioxide at a safe level and b) includes a large-but-temporary increase in natural gas consumption. There have been climate scenarios that incorporate a baseline level of natural gas consumption (assuming no significant policy shifts), and some that model consumption substantially and permanently increasing, but none that explicitly model a bridge, that is, a rise and subsequent decline.

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