The January Voice had an essay from Perry Bryant in which he disputed part of Dr. Randi Pokladnik’s piece in the December issue on Carbon Capture and Storage, or CCS. Bryant agreed that CCS is not a silver bullet but said we need all solutions to climate change. I wish to take issue with some of his arguments.
His first point was that CCS has been endorsed by the IPCC and the National Academy of Sciences. But the IPCC’s reports are produced by consensus; all states including Saudi Arabia, the U.S and Australia, must sign off on them. It isn’t just those states that send negotiators committed to pushing their “national interest,” which means the interest of large corporations based in their countries. We’ve had 27 years of COP meetings, and the emissions keep rising. All of their scenarios for keeping climate change below 1.5 degrees (which I think is impossible), or okay two degrees, assume “negative emissions” technologies that don’t exist or have not been proven to work at scale.
To capture a significant amount of the CO2 generated by fossil fuels would require a network of new pipelines to take the captured CO2 from power plants to the underground places where it is hoped, it will stay forever. This network is estimated to be at least as large as the entire existing network of pipelines! The fossil fuel industry is having trouble getting a few new pipelines for its products; how likely is it that they will get away with doubling the size of the current network (at our expense)? If you think CO2 pipelines are safer than gas or oil pipelines, google Satartia and Huffington Post.
Yes, it is possible to capture some CO2 (though I don’t believe any of the pilot plants have captured as much as they said they would). It just isn’t possible to do it economically. The reality is that fossil fuels are struggling to compete with renewables even without adding this major expense (the expense of the capture technology, the pipelines, and the extra fuel that must be burned because CCS reduces the efficiency of the plants). However, it can still go forward—by having the public subsidize it. We could use that money to subsidize renewables instead—but that wouldn’t accomplish the objective, which is to prolong the fossil fuel industries. Note that this does nothing about methane, the super-potent greenhouse gas generated mostly by gas.
For an amusing take on this, check out this Honest Government Ad from Juice Media (note: contains many naughty words) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSZgoFyuHC8
We are seeing a veritable cornucopia of false solutions to climate change because real solutions
- Will not enrich the very rich
- Will require acknowledging unpopular realities about limits.
Climate change is only one facet of an ecological crisis caused by too many humans living in unsustainable ways. The devastation of biodiversity is just as critical, along with the great harm to the oceans. If we were to seriously address this, we would immediately engage in revolutionary changes in our agricultural practices, in our city layout and economies to eliminate most commuting and pointless jobs, in our culture with its obsessive consumption and acceptance of unjust “externalities” as well as in our energy generation practices. This would include a lot of downshifting, something capitalism can’t tolerate and the public doesn’t want to hear about. But the refusal to countenance limits means we continue to rocket toward the cliff—a civilizational collapse which, sadly, looks like our best chance of averting catastrophic climate change—if it comes before we burn all the fossil fuels we can get out of the ground.
It’s true that we have already released far too much greenhouse gas. But Direct Air Capture machines are far too expensive and require far too much energy to be a sensible solution—likely the energy to run them would generate as much CO2 as they ever gather in and send to sequestration sites.
Mr. Bryant also endorses nuclear power—along with Senator Manchin and some in the WV legislature. But nukes take too long and too much money to build—we need to reduce emissions now. They are also not carbon free if you consider the construction process and the mining and shipment of fuels. Then there are the matters of terrorist-bait and disposal of radioactive spent fuel which must be kept away from living things for somewhat longer than humanity has existed.
No, Mr. Bryant, we don’t need and can’t afford “every arrow in the quiver”—we need to focus on arrows capable of hitting the target.
The question is, what is our top priority? To ensure that we don’t have to live a lot like our grandparents did, in terms of energy use and rate of consumption? Or to ensure that our grandchildren can live at all?