Bummer for Boulder — the city’s ballot measures likely won’t have any impact on global warming.
Supporters of 2B and 2C hope that they can reduce the city’s carbon emissions and thus help save the planet by establishing a municipal utility that generates power from a combination of renewables and natural gas. But these efforts may be for naught. A recently released report from the Boulder based University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) reveals that while natural gas emits much less carbon, switching from coal to natural gas won’t halt global warming.
While coal use causes warming through emission of heat-trapping carbon dioxide, it also releases comparatively large amounts of sulfates and other particles that, although detrimental to the environment, cool the planet by blocking incoming sunlight.
The situation is further complicated by uncertainty over the amount of methane that leaks from natural gas operations. Methane is an especially potent greenhouse gas.
Wigley’s computer simulations indicate that a worldwide, partial shift from coal to natural gas would slightly accelerate climate change through at least 2050, even if no methane leaked from natural gas operations, and through as late as 2140 if there were substantial leaks. After that, the greater reliance on natural gas would begin to slow down the increase in global average temperature, but only by a few tenths of a degree.
The only way for Boulder to address climate change is to reduce its energy use, but a 2010 Wall Street Journal article reported that Boulder’s energy use is going in the opposite direction. And yesterday’s Daily Camera reported more depressing news, the city’s carbon emissions are up 2.5 percent. It isn’t being green.