Natural gas should be part of our environmental strategy | Opinion
Like the commodity itself, the natural gas market is notoriously volatile. Demand increases or decreases whenever the weather turns bad, and supply disruptions regularly drive up prices. In recent months, natural gas prices have skyrocketed as demand increased and supply declined around the world.
Most Chicagoans consider natural gas to heat their homes, but it is also vital to industry. The latest gas shortages have raised the price of electricity in Europe and forced some factories to close, which in turn reduces the supply of gas-dependent products such as aluminum, steel and fertilizers.
Higher gas prices can also create political headaches, and China’s debt-laden economy is particularly vulnerable. On Capitol Hill, efforts are being made to limit natural gas exports from the United States, the world’s largest producer, to keep domestic prices stable and to deter hoarding. A whiff of panic hangs in the air.
Everyone needs to breathe deeply. Commodity markets correct themselves when they have the freedom to do so, and unless there is manipulation or fraud, the government should not intervene. An overreaction to a surge in prices only undermines the market forces at work. Our advice: do no harm and let the market fend for itself.
More broadly, the desperate grab for natural gas reflects the importance of this fossil fuel for economic and political stability around the world. This important fact conflicts with the agenda of environmentalists who want to phase out the use of all fossil fuels, preferably since yesterday. Compared to burning coal, natural gas is relatively clean, but its use does contribute to global warming and climate change, increasing the risk of severe storms, floods, droughts and other adverse consequences.
What to do? Again, don’t panic.
Over time, the world must wean itself off carbon-based fuels and embrace renewable energy sources. The key phrase, however, is “over time”. As recent market action shows, there is no responsible way to shut off the gas without an affordable alternative in place. One of the reasons the supply is insufficient is that environmental activism has discouraged investments in gas production that are currently needed to keep the wheels of industry turning.
In a few weeks, world leaders will gather in Scotland for the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference. Yes, this is the 26th time that they have met and, as this number suggests, it is difficult to come to a consensus. Since the first conference in 1995, most countries have pledged to reduce emissions through two historic treaties, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 Paris Climate Agreements. Slow progress is being made. which is better than no progress and much better than a drastic program that would involve parking our cars all the time and sitting in the cold as the economy crumbles.
At this year’s conference, we hope to see rich countries like ours commit to helping poorer countries cope with the effects of climate change, including some Pacific island countries that could be swallowed up by the surge. seas. At the same time, the United States must build resilience at home by adopting stricter building codes along coastlines, discouraging development in flood-prone areas, and taking active steps to reduce wildfires. . Realistic emission reduction targets must be adopted, although this is difficult on a global scale, given the competing interests of the United States, China and other major polluters.
We have greater hopes for action outside the great debates of the United Nations. In Illinois, the energy legislation that Governor JB Pritzker just passed is flawed and costly, but it should be successful in reducing the state’s reliance on coal-fired power plants. Other states and cities are similarly committing to reduce their carbon footprint.
More importantly, companies around the world are under pressure from investors to reduce the environmental impact of their businesses. The flow of money to businesses that are going greener is a powerful incentive for conservation, as well as support for new, game-changing technologies.
Right now, the best way to cut carbon pollution is to use less energy (which we can all do) and discourage demand for dirty stuff. Demand for coal is already under pressure. Natural gas, your day will come.