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Hot air? The fallacy of gas as a transnational fuel

Lachlan Morris

Climate politics in Australia are quite literally on fire. The country is burning through a summer from hell, and the Australian people are, for the first time, ranking climate change as the biggest issue affecting them personally.

Unsurprisingly, dissent for coal is rising, with public and private uproar against the Adani mine and Clive Palmer’s colossal 40 million tonne per annum (mtpa) Galilee Coal Project. However, no one seems to be listening. Australia wrestles each year with Indonesia for the top place in international coal exports and both governments show few signs of slowing down.

In Queensland, the Palaszczuk government has tightened its grip on resource-rich regions and is wildly brandishing tenders for 5 new coal reserves. Even the federal Labor party and Albanese are now committed to coal; following the disastrous federal election results. A result which some blame on Bill Shorten’s clumsy position on Queensland coal jobs.

Australia is a long way off from seeing the end of Scomo’s favourite black rock. However, while the world battles about coal, we are all missing the pernicious elephant in the room: natural gas. In Australia, we are experiencing a “new gas boom”. Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) is rapidly expanding across the globe and in terms of its impact on climate change will soon have a greater effect than coal-fired power stations.

So, if LNG could be more harmful to our future than coal, why isn’t gas being rallied against with the same vehemence?

The answer is in the rhetoric.

Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) has been labelled as a “transitional fuel”. It is sold to us as a natural step to bridge the gap between phasing out dirty coal and moving towards total reliance on renewable energy. After all, gas emits a notable 50-60 per cent less carbon dioxide than coal. The success of this framing has meant that global gas production has burgeoned with minimal opposition.

However, recent reports are indicating that dubbing gas as “transitional” is greatly misplaced. If we listen to data that tells us that LNG emits less carbon dioxide than coal, we are burying our heads in the sand.

It is true, gas does emit less carbon dioxide than coal when burnt. But the process of drilling and extracting natural gas releases methane. Methane is 86 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period and 34 times stronger over 100 years. Methane may have a shorter life in our atmosphere but is far more dangerous while it is there. We now know from the Global Energy Monitor Report of 2019 that methane makes up 25 per cent of global warming worldwide.

So, if we are indeed serious about curbing the infernal effects of climate change, we should be washing our hands of this destructive gas rather than digging ourselves a deeper and deeper hole.

In November, Australia quietly slipped into first place ahead of Qatar as the world’s largest exporter of LNG, but this was barely spoken about in Canberra in comparison to coal. In 2019 the Guardian reported that there are 19 LNG project proposals in the pipelines and exports have tripled in Australia since 2015. In the Northern Territory, the moratorium on fracking has been lifted across the territory and the WA government has plans to become the world’s LNG central hub.

Maybe Scott Morrison thinks he will find the answers to climate change at the bottom of a cocktail in Honolulu, and maybe Anthony Albanese thinks climate change is not as bad as another drubbing at the hands of voters. However, for most people, anxiety is increasing with fire darkened skies and bushfire wheezing. There are more protests than ever to save the earth, and if the truth were known, people would not want to trade one poison for another. People want real change, not just more hot air.

Lachlan Morris studied International Relations and Journalism at the University of Queensland. He has worked for the Hon. Kevin Rudd, in a conservation organisation in Borneo and as a public speaker and teacher for the last two years. He loves politics and activism and writes whenever he can.


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