That’s right – Dirty Natural Gas. Although sold as a “clean burning” transition fuel by the natural gas lobby, I’d argue the opposite. If anything, the natural gas “bridge fuel” narrative is keeping us from moving toward the true green energy revolution we need – one based on a geographically appropriate mix of wind, solar, biofuels, tidal power and other renewable sources yet to be discovered.
Yes, natural gas burns cleaner and is by far a better option than getting our energy from coal, but let’s not fool ourselves, it’s still a fossil fuel. Who wants to make a comparison like that anyways? Would you say your child is a good student because at least they’re not as bad as the worst student? Didn’t think so.
The true impact of natural gas extraction, transportation and burning is still inadequately understood. Methane released during the extraction process and transportation is difficult to measure because after all, it’s a gas and goes straight up into the air. Further, methane is known to be a more potent greenhouse gas compared to carbon dioxide, but it is shorter lived.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, methane has 28 to 36 times as much warming impact as the same amount of carbon dioxide over a century. After a pulse of methane is emitted into the atmosphere, half of it is no longer there after 8.3 years, and then only a quarter is left after another 8.3 years, and so on. That’s very different from the behavior of a pulse emission of carbon dioxide, some of which remains in the atmosphere for thousands of years. Yes, natural gas related methane emissions are shorter lived, but if we continue to expand fracking operations in North America, this short term nature will be trumped by their incessant release. Constant leaks = constant emissions.
So now that we’re clear on the natural gas story, here’s the good news out of the Canadian province of Ontario this week. The provincial government is reportedly working on a much anticipated climate action plan which will include phasing out natural gas for home heating! Although the government is staying fairly silent until the full report is published, we got a quick glimpse after the Globe and Mail obtained a confidential cabinet document that lays out the plan in detail. Among the key measures cited in the Globe report are:
- All new homes built after 2030 must be heated without using fossil fuels, such as natural gas.
- A target of 1.7 million electric or hybrid cars on the road by 2024
- Mandating a five per cent cut in carbon emissions from gasoline and diesel
Much of the funding for the plan will come from the province’s proposed Cap and Trade plan. Critics argue that the cap and trade plan will increase the price of gas at the pump by 4 cents per Litre, but let’s be honest with ourselves! Who hasn’t experienced filling up on a long weekend only to see the price hiked five to ten cents? Or what about that time in 2011 when we all blinked several times at that sign that read $1.33 per Litre seemingly overnight. 4 cents per Litre is literally pocket change in comparison.
With the privatization of Ontario’s hydro network, many are waiting with bated breath to learn of the Climate Plan details and the impact it will have on their finances. It’s not likely to be popular, but one thing is certain – it’s bold.
If we are to take real action on climate change, we must eliminate the use of all fossil fuels as rapidly as possible. If the Ontario government works with citizens to negotiate mutually agreeable terms, this new Climate Plan could be groundbreaking and precedent setting. Enough with twiddling our thumbs and talking about it. I for one am proud that my provincial government is ready to take on the difficult topics.