I found this post by James Hrynyshyn to be very thought-provoking on the issue of natural gas being better for the environment than coal. Environmental scientists have been busy crunching the numbers on this, and several different points of view have come out about whether natural gas is going to help reduce climate change. Some say yes. Some say no. …And ome say that natural gas will actually be WORSE than coal.
How could that be? As Hrynyshyn describes:
"…because burning coal releases lots of aerosols that hang about the atmosphere reflecting sunlight, a significant portion of the warming effect of the practice [from carbon dioxide and other emissions] is masked by a cooling effect [from reflecting sunlight]. If we stop burning coal in favor of technologies that don't involve aerosols, we lose that cooling effect. So, unless the alternative has a really, really low warming effect (something close to zero), we won't be accomplishing much."
… 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.
…yeah. That's a good description of "not much".
As Hrynysyn points out, this paints a bleak picture for any of the so-called "stop-gap" fuels between coal and zero-emissions power sources like solar/wind/nuclear.