While many environmental advocates favor shifting energy-generation plants from coal to natural gas to combat global warming, a new study says that may not help–and could hurt in the long run, according to the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Ironically, that’s because coal emits more environmentally-hazardous particles.

The study by Tom Wigley, a senior research associate at (NCAR), underscores the complex and sometimes conflicting ways in which fossil fuel burning affects Earth’s climate. 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.

“Relying more on natural gas would reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, but it would do little to help solve the climate problem,” said Wigley, an adjunct professor at the University of Adelaide in Australia. “It would be many decades before it would slow down global warming at all, and even then it would just be making a difference around the edges.”

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