This Time, It’s Evil Propane – Watts Up With That?

From RealClear Energy

By Tilak Doshi
February 08, 2024

Reporters at The Guardian never tire of demonizing fossil fuels. In its latest salvo, the newspaper –  funded in part by the green-billionaire Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – published a January 25 hit piece on the Propane Education and Research Council. PERC, funded by the U.S. propane industry, is a nonprofit that provides propane safety and training programs and invests in research and development of new propane-powered technologies. PERC, its critics charge, is “greenwashing” by downplaying “the full climate impacts of propane” and marketing it as “clean” energy. The Guardian article claims that PERC “has invested millions in a multiyear strategy to rebrand propane from what it’s called a ‘dirty fossil fuel’ to a so-called clean energy source.”


The Guardian article’s accusation of PERC’s “greenwashing” cites Charlie Spatz, a research manager at the Energy and Policy Institute, who attended PERC’s 2022 board meeting. Spatz says that the fossil fuel industry has long tried to brand its products as renewable: “And so we’ve seen PERC, in some respects, catch up with the oil industry and natural gas industry to present their product as renewable.”

EPI self-describes as a “watchdog organization working to expose attacks on renewable energy and counter misinformation by fossil fuel and utility interests.” Oddly enough, for an organization that purports to reveal the hidden influence of fossil fuel and utility companies, the EPI is opaque about its own funders, and it is hardly disinterested itself. Its executive director, David Pomerantz, “spent eight years working with Greenpeace to move the electric sector away from fossil fuel and towards renewable energy.”

The article also quotes Faye Holder, a program manager at InfluenceMap, to support its greenwashing accusation. According to Holder, “All these talking points that you see about ‘clean gas’ and ‘gas is lower emissions’” are used in advertising. “But they are also all used in the direct lobbying to policymakers [making] climate policies that would otherwise threaten the role and the business of gas.”

InfluenceMap describes itself as a “global non-profit think tank working on the cutting edge of climate and sustainability issues.” It claims to use a funding methodology based on “best available records.” Relying on work traced to InfluenceMap, University College London geography professor Mark Maslin, a climate activist and “strategy advisor” to Net Zero Now, wrote that oil companies were spending $200 million a year promoting “climate change denial.”

According to a familiar trope, “oil money” is the culprit behind public skepticism about the “climate science consensus.” According to this view, “Big Oil” funds skeptical scientists and institutions that cast doubt on “consensus science” to pad their corporate profits. Politicians have embraced the arguments of climate evangelists, pushing to “save the planet” with emissions reductions and other climate regulations and policies. As the great essayist H. L. Mencken observed, “[t]he whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

Investigative journalist Ben Pile examined the claim that oil company financial support accounts for “climate change denial” and found that the “methodology” employed by InfluenceMap consisted of estimates, not actual receipts:

It turns out that this “methodology” is far more subjective – some might say “woolly” . . . Rather than finding money and Big Oil actually commissioning evil deniers, a tower of “estimates” are produced. This is largely guessing, not the discovery of a cache of receipts.

Pile’s hard-hitting critique concludes that “InfluenceMap’s ‘methodology’ means nothing more than counting any reaction of any kind from any part of the industrial sector to the demand that it must volunteer to die as ‘denial.’” At the very least, the claim that oil companies and utilities are spending $200 million a year promoting “climate change denial” must be seen as unreliable if not entirely made up.

Indeed, as Chris Morrison of The Daily Sceptic reminds us, even a cursory assessment of open sources would find that the vast funds flowing into “climate research” and climate activism originate from green-billionaire foundations linked to the Rockefeller family, Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, and Bill Gates, along with the Hewletts, Packards, and Gettys.

Image Credit: Cartoons by Josh

Propane: Scourge or Savior?

Propane is one of a group of liquefied petroleum gases, a co-product of natural gas extraction and crude oil refining. It burns more cleanly than gasoline, diesel, and coal. In the U.S., propane is used for space and water heating, cooking, and typically for outdoor barbecues. It can be an important energy source in non-urban areas where other heating fuels (electricity, heating oil, natural gas, and wood fuels) are limited or expensive – for example, when back-up power generation might be required. According to the 2020 Residential Energy Consumption Survey, about 11 million U.S. households used propane as a major fuel and about 42 million U.S. households used propane for outdoor grilling.

In attacking propane, The Guardian article – and others like it that run in that newspaper’s pages on an almost daily basis – does an injustice to the civilizational role that fossil fuels have played in human history. In his magisterial work on the role of energy from the Middle Ages to modern times, Vaclav Smil notes that the four pillars of modern civilization – cement, steel, plastics, and ammonia (for fertilizers) – would not be possible without fossil fuels. The same goes for goods and services that affluent countries take for granted, such as electricity, transport, home heating and cooling, clean water, wastewater and sewage treatment, hospitals, medicines and medical equipment – to name just a few.

Propane, or more generically, LPG, has a critical role to play, as the World Bank has noted. It would help almost 40 percent of the global population in developing countries wean themselves off dependence on polluting solid fuels such as dung, wood, and charcoal for indoor cooking and heating. LPG would help reduce household air pollution, improve health outcomes, reduce energy poverty, save nonrenewable biomass, and support local economic development. The World Bank advises developing countries on the need to promote the use of LPG as a clean cooking and heating solution.

Luxury Beliefs of The Privileged

The Guardian article is merely another symptom of the conceit of luxury beliefs that infect the intelligentsia of the modern West, cursed as it is by a Rousseauesque angst about modern industrial civilization. In berating the role of propane, as it does with other fossil fuels, the newspaper betrays a lack of empathy for 80 percent of the world’s population that depends on expanding the use of fossil fuels to escape poverty. According to the WHO, an estimated 3.2 million people die prematurely due to indoor air pollution caused by using dirty cooking and heating fuels. LPG is particularly instrumental in reducing this grisly toll.   

It’s time to remind ourselves that climate science is anything but settled, as argued authoritatively by Steve Koonin in his book Unsettled. Dr. John F. Clauser, joint recipient of the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics, has criticized the climate emergency narrative, calling it “a dangerous corruption of science that threatens the world’s economy and the well-being of billions of people . . . Misguided climate science has metastasized into massive shock-journalistic pseudoscience.”

The widespread uprisings by farmers across Europe and the siege of Paris by farmers with tractors constitute a populist backlash against the debilitating fantasies of Net Zero. They are the most visible result today of the travails of a neo-Malthusian obsession that afflicts Western politicians, policymakers, and their preferred “woke” constituencies. The Guardian’s reporters would be well served to avoid “shock-journalistic pseudoscience” and adopt some modesty, and appreciation, for the role of fossil fuels in human flourishing – and survival.

Dr. Tilak Doshi is an energy economist, independent consultant and a Forbes contributor living in London. 

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