Republicans tout benefits of fossil fuels at climate talks


SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (AP) — Members of a Republican congressional delegation spoke at this year’s UN climate talks on Friday to tout the benefits of fossil fuels — a bold move during a a meeting dedicated to reducing carbon emissions for the good of humanity.

Scientists overwhelmingly agree that heat-trapping gases such as those released by burning coal, oil and gas are driving up global temperatures, causing sea levels to rise, extreme weather conditions and species extinction.

Still, Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, said it would be wrong to demonize fossil fuels.

“I think we have to decide as a world: do we hate greenhouse gas emissions or do we hate fossil fuels,” said Curtis, known for founding the Conservative Climate Caucus. “It’s not the same thing.”

Like Curtis, Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., suggested that fossil fuels can be a clean form of energy, if only the carbon released by extracting and burning them could be captured and stored safely.

“One of the things we should be doing is not attacking oil and gas, it’s attacking the emissions associated with it, where it may be indistinguishable from other oil and gas technologies. renewable energy,” he told an audience in the US pavilion at the climate talks in Sharm el-Sheikh.

According to Graves, that would make fossil fuels “an arrow in the quiver as we try to meet our goals of energy affordability, reliability, cleanliness, exportability and supply chain security.”

The opinions of House Republicans will likely become more important given the House’s planned shift to Republican control. The comments echo industry efforts in recent years to separate carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels in public perception.

Andrea Dutton, professor of geosciences and MacArthur Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said that was not possible.

“The burning of fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases that cause temperatures to rise rapidly, and this is the biggest contributor to global warming that we know of,” she said in an email. “It’s not a matter of belief but rather a matter of scientific evidence.”

Although the fossil fuel industry has made progress in reducing emissions per unit of fuel burned – largely due to government regulation and pressure from those concerned about climate change – neither coal nor oil nor gas are far from being a clean source of energy.

One solution promoted by the industry is the idea of ​​carbon capture, to prevent emissions from reaching the atmosphere, usually by storing exhaust gases underground. There is also nascent stage “direct air capture” that would be able to remove emissions once they are in the air.

No one has demonstrated a cost-effective way to do either on a large scale, said Andrew Dessler, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University.

“Renewables are currently the cheapest energy – even without carbon capture on fossil fuels – so adding carbon capture will never be the economically superior solution,” he said.

Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, said switching from a fossil fuel — coal — to a slightly cleaner one — natural gas — would already result in big emissions reductions.

In the United States, natural gas has already replaced coal in many cases and is responsible for substantial reductions in one of the main greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, in recent years.

“Let them build the pipelines they need, let them build the export terminals they need,” Crenshaw told the public in Egypt, adding that the effect would be “the equivalent of giving every American solar panels, giving every American a Tesla and doubling our wind capacity.

Several experts contacted by The Associated Press said that was not an ideal solution. Natural gas is mainly composed of methane. Satellites show the powerful greenhouse gases escaping from equipment at every stage of production.

“To solve the climate crisis, we must stop emitting carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere,” said Jonathan T. Overpeck, dean of the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability. “Producing and using natural gas does both, so we need to stop using natural gas as soon as possible.

Overpeck warned that any fossil fuel infrastructure being built, including for natural gas, risks becoming a stranded asset if governments are to deliver on their promises to curb climate change.

“That’s why we need to move from gas-based solutions to renewable energy-based solutions, plus battery storage, plus hydrogen,” he said in an email to the AP.

Crenshaw, the Texas lawmaker, accused “radical environmentalists” of exaggerating the threat posed by climate change and distorting the science.

“Let’s not lie to our children and scare them to death and then tell them they’re going to burn alive because of this,” he said.

Donald Wuebbles, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Illinois, former deputy director of the Office of Science, Technology, and Policy at the White House, and former senior author of the Independent Panel on Climate Science at the UN, said the allegation was misplaced.

“Nobody says children are going to burn to death,” Wuebbles wrote. “What we are saying is that this is an extremely serious problem, possibly the most serious problem that humanity has ever faced and we must deal with it.”

The Republican delegation spoke shortly before US President Joe Biden delivered a speech to a packed house at the same venue, where he announced additional measures to tackle methane emissions and promoted the recent proposed his administration’s climate law, designed to boost the use of rooftop solar and electric cars. .

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Richard V. Johnson