One Presidential Candidate Works to Cool Down the Danger of Global Warming, while the Other Throws Gas on the Fire

Elections matter, although as a review of American history will show, sometimes elections don’t matter all that much. The 2024 election, on the other hand, is very much in the “Elections Matter.” column. Bill McKibben, one of the best-known figures on climate progress, put our climate future actions baldly in a May 15, 2024, The New Yorker Daily Comments titled “It’s a Climate Election Now.” This piece ran with the sub-title “Trump’s reported billion-dollar offer to fossil-fuel executives shows that this is the key year to save the planet.”

A screen shot of Bill McKibben’s recent Daily Comment about the upcoming election.

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican Presidential candidate for the 2024 election, recently met with a bunch of fossil fuel industry leaders. It has been reported that during the meeting Trump agued two main points: Big Oil should hand over $1 billion for his election campaign and that Trump would reverse Biden’s climate change-focused executive actions while also working to reduce the level and burden of fossil fuels-related environmental regulations. Although this meeting was a private function held at Mar-a-Lago on April 11, 2024, it’s been reported that around 20 people were in attendance, including executives from American Petroleum Institute (API), Exxon, and EQT Corporation. You know ExxonMobil, of course, and you may know that it is the largest oil and gas producer in the world, by market capitalization, at $309.75 billion, so I’d guess that the corporation has the means to dig deep for some spare change. API, the fossil fuels lobbying arm, while in the news for decades, is less widely known, except, of course, on Capitol Hill. The public is even less likely to recognize EQT Corporation, but its home page tells the tale: “Unleashing U. S. LNG. Replacing international coal with American natural gas is the largest green initiative on the planet and the world’s best weapon to address climate change.” EQT Corporation is one of the biggest independent natural gas producers, with multi-state operations across the core of the Appalachian Basin (i.e., Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio). One can reasonably assume that EQT Corporation, for one, would love to see President Biden’s pause on new L.N.G. export permits reversed, and that there are other huge LNG companies feeling the same.

Across many subjects, the contrast between Biden and Trump is stark and climate change is one of the leading examples of the important differences between the two candidates. Biden has signed some of the largest climate progress bills, including the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) in 2021, and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in 2022, and both bills contain unprecedented amounts of funds to encourage decarbonization, the fancy term for burning less and less fossil fuels (and therefore reducing CO2 and other greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming) by building more and more renewable energy projects and electrifying more parts of the economy such as home and building heating and cooling and electric vehicles. Biden’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently further strengthened methane regulations to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations. The new regulations went into effect on May 7, 2024, and aim to reduce methane emissions by 58 million tons from 2024 to 2038. As you might imagine, the natural gas producers don’t much care for the newest regulations, regardless of EQT’s claim that L.N.G. (methane, primarily) is “the world’s best weapon to address climate change.”

According to Google’s Gemini AI (or whatever it is now being called as the big tech companies vie for AI dominance), “methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (CO2) in the short term, but it breaks down in the atmosphere after several decades, while CO2 can remain for over a century. According to RMI [Rocky Mountain Institute, one of the leading NGO climate research consultancies], leaks and flares send a lot of methane right into the air:

Natural gas and coal have similar climate risks when considering net emissions from all greenhouse gases, including methane, CO2, and sulfur dioxide, if methane leaks are only 0.2%. However, a 2011 study co-authored by Robert Howarth found that up to 7.9% of methane from gas production is leaked into the atmosphere, which could make gas a greater contributor to warming than coal in the short term.

If you want more on this issue, check out the RMI article titled “Reality Check: US Natural Gas Is Not a ‘Cleaner’ Alternative Fuel” that shows that there’s a big difference between methane in theory and methane in practice. It turns out that in practice, methane leaks at every step of the process, from “production and processing, transport, liquefaction, regasification, and different end uses,” and that’s not even including the millions worldwide of uncapped or poorly capped wells that no longer produce, but still leak methane, mainly from slopping industry practices, also known as being cheap to help profits. By the way, the industry term for these abandoned wells is “zombie wells.”

McKibben points out that ExxonMobil made $36 billion in 2023, while Chevron made $21 billion, and as you know, there are many other giant oil companies whose profits could be added here. The fossil fuel industry has spent, McKibben claims, “at least a billion on lobbying in the past decade,” but that’s just him being polite, since there’s been a ton more of dark money getting spread around that is by the very definition hard to count (Thanks, Citizens United!).

McKibben also wonders if Trump, with his blatant appeal to Big Oil, may help shape the coming election. “[W]e have six months left to grapple with the fact that a second Trump term will do incalculable damage on a geological time scale.”

I, for one, am all in favor of lowering the temperature of global warming ASAP, instead of throwing gasoline on the fire of climate change.


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