There’s a lot of interest in carbon capture and storage nowadays. And of course there is a certain logic to pursuing all plausible avenues and even some odd ones when you have arrogated to yourself as large a task as changing the weather worldwide, just as a lot of obvious, subtle, strange and pointless possibilities were explored during the Second World War with its far less ambitious goal of merely ridding the planet of Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini. But it’s also a kind of back-door admission that actually cutting emissions of “greenhouse gases”, CO2 in particular, aren’t going well.
The Wall Street Journal’s “The Future of Everything” asks whether carbon capture has a future. “Is Carbon Capture Crucial to Reducing Emissions or a Distraction?” Of course it could be somewhere in between like, say, invading Italy during World War II. And of course it turns out to be “political” in the everybody-tries-to-shift-the-burden sense:
“So-called carbon capture and storage (CCS) is at center stage at COP28, the United Nations climate conference that kicked off on Thursday in Dubai. Developed countries are pushing for a sharp ‘phase-out’ of fossil fuels and a rapid scaling up of renewable energy sources. Big developing countries are pushing for a gradual ‘phase-down’ of fossil-fuel use and an abatement of the remaining emissions by capturing and storing them.”
Frankly a lot of things are “centre stage” at COP28 from gender to health. And neither “Developed countries” nor “Big developing countries” are really pushing for phasing out fossil fuels, in the sense that none of them have the slightest intention of ceasing to use them or any idea how they could if they wanted to. But soft. Let’s talk carbon.
“The Future of Everything” assembled a balanced panel consisting of Naomi Oreskes, Benjamin Longstreth (“global director of carbon capture for the Boston-based environmental group Clean Air Task Force”) and Charles Harvey (“a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology”) each of whom contributed a paragraph too short to be enlightening, with Oreskes calling it a distraction partly because the gas will leak out again, Longstreth calling for “a broad portfolio of decarbonization tools” and Harvey saying “As the costs of renewable energy and energy storage plummeted the past 15 years, billions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted on CCS projects that failed to inject any carbon into the ground.” Only the second half of which is true anyway.
So there you have it. Situation unclear.
The New York Times “Climate Forward” was on it too as the herd of independent minds stampeded around Dubai:
“There’s no shortage of jargon in the global climate talks in Dubai. But one particular word is taking central stage, and a fierce debate is brewing over ‘unabated.’”
And if you’re waiting with bated breath to know what it’s all about, “Unabated, when it comes to fossil fuels, means doing nothing to remove carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from oil, natural gas and coal emissions.”
Still puzzled by the jargon? Well, see:
“as my colleagues Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich report, if unabated makes it into the summit’s final declaration, it might allow nations and fossil fuel companies to continue to burn coal, natural gas or oil as long as they try to trap and bury the resulting greenhouse gases – a prospect that is far from certain.”
What is? Whether the language will be included? Whether people will try to bury a gas in sand? Whether it will work? Try all of the above. Especially since “There is no agreed-upon definition of unabated.” After 27 COPs and counting.
The Economist’s dreary “The Climate Issue” produced “A special report on carbon-dioxide removal” which declared that “a net-zero world, more or less, is a necessary precondition for a long-term stabilisation of the climate” as if the climate had ever been stable in the long term or ever could be. But then it lamented that:
“Another way that net-zero promises don’t match up to net-zero actions is in the sidelining of carbon-dioxide removal – the subject of our latest special report.”
Sidelining? Didn’t Harvey say billions of dollars had been dumped into it? Can’t we even agree on what is happening let alone what should be? (And how do we get “sidelined” in this manner?) Mind you The Economist shows a brief flash of the dry common sense for which it was famous long unwoke decades go, commenting that:
“The removals are ‘negative emissions’, as some scientists put it; to an economist they are credits which balance the debits in the planet’s carbon accounts. Whichever way you talk of them, though, you have to be able to do them. At the moment the world can’t. Projected removals in the middle of this century are measured in billions of tonnes.”
Which of course is laughably small given the supposed scale of the crisis. MSN reprints a piece from de zeen that tries to make it sound like a breakthrough that:
“Climate technology company Heirloom has opened the first commercial Direct Air Capture plant in the US, which will sequester atmospheric carbon for permanent storage using energy-efficient kilns. Located in Tracy, California, the Heirloom facility will use a limestone filtration process to capture up to 1,000 tons of CO2 per year, which will be then stored permanently.”
A thousand tons a year? One measly megatonne? When the carbon cycle is supposedly out of balance by gigatonnes? What a jest.
Scientific Alarmism, seeking to bury its dwindling credibility deep underground, also hypes this venture with:
“U.S. Hits Carbon Tech Milestone with First Direct-Air Capture Facility/ A new facility will suck carbon dioxide from the air, showcasing the potential of a nascent industry that some say is crucial to fighting climate change”.
Milestone. Potential. Some say. And then they crumble with:
“That’s roughly equivalent to the annual emissions of just 62 average Americans, according to pollution data crunched by the nonprofit World Resources Institute.”
And for that feeble scrap of achievement they need to run huge fans, kilns, blowers and who knows what all. (One proposal, highlighted in this video at 36:00, has CO2 being shipped via pipeline between U.S. states. No major energy footprint there.) Still, money well spent in that:
“Joining [U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer] Granholm for the photo opportunity at the dusty industrial site was California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, as well as Heirloom co-founders Shashank Samala and Noah McQueen.”
The Economist piece also warns that:
“Trying to increase ‘natural’ removals – ie, those made through photosynthesis in forests, kelp beds, grasslands and so on – to the required level would require huge amounts of land and raise similarly supersized concerns about equity: whose land gets used?”
Which is dang silly because there’s been a vast greening of the globe in the last 40 years, including big improvements in agriculture in some of the poorest and least hospitable regions for effective farming, because nature doesn’t need help absorbing extra CO2. It’s called “the carbon cycle”.
Anyway, it’s a vital pointless activity:
“Carbon-dioxide removal is not the most pressing problem facing the world. But it is the foundation on which the stable climate of the future will be based. And if the world waits until it is urgent as well, it will have waited too long.”
So there you have it… and don’t.