A Holy Grail for many for of climate-mitigation efforts is “carbon capture and sequestration” or CCS. This offers a ‘have your cake and eat it too’ vision related to fossil fuel use. In short, rather than eliminating the burning of fossil fuels (mainly coal here), lets figure out how to capture carbon dioxide (in the smokestack) and ‘sequester’ that CO2 back where we dug it up from originally. Somewhat like fusion or hydrogen vehicles, the CCS Holy Grail is used by many as sort of a panacea ‘tomorrow’s exciting technology’ to distract attention from already available opportunities to drastically change our collective emissions and climate impact profile (from energy efficiency to renewables to better land use to …). To be clear, we should invest in creating and developing ‘solutions’ for implementation tomorrow even as we invest (far, far more) in deploying things that are already available. Thus, this brief commentary is not some Luddite manifesto objecting to fostering innovation to increase tomorrow’s toolbox of solutions but a discussion of how we can/should think about CCS in a more productive way. CCS, however, is absolutely the wrong mental structure to apply to the challenge and opportunity. The issue is “S”: sequestration. Sequestration treats CO2 as a waste product and, just like carting trash to a landfill, will create significant cost streams (transporting CO2 to sequester locations, sequestering it, and monitoring …) with significant risks (what if sequestered CO2 is released? ….???). High cost, high risk, no direct benefit streams to those paying for the costs. Now, if we change that last letter, we might have something far more interesting. As put here in discussing some innovative technologies
Hy-tek Bio captures exhaust from burning fossil fuels uses this as food for algae growing in tubes. Their system has multiple innovations that look to create viable paths toward cost-effective CCR rather than the overhyped CCS (carbon capture and reutilization vs carbon capture and sequestration).
As we invest to create tomorrow’s opportunities to mitigate (and, sigh, adapt to) climate change, we should look for win-win-win solution sets. Treating CO2 as waste is more of a win-win-loss structure: a win (reduced carbon emissions) – win (increased business throughput for some firms and increased income for some communities) – loss (increased cost per energy unit and increased risk). Looking to that CO2 as a resource with value can shift that WWL to a WWW. What are some paths for ‘reuse’ of that CO2 which could be focused on for innovation, demonstration, and deployment support?
Agrichar / Biochar / Terra Preta: Very simply, we have the potential for a carbon-negative fuel that will, over time, also foster improve fertility in soil. Very simply, gasification of biomass can be combined with agricultural practices to create energy, have the waste plowed back into the soil to improve fertility (while reducing fertilizer requirements), and have some of the carbon from each of these cycles captured in the soil. “[T]he great advantage of biochar is that the technique can be applied world-wide on agricultural soils, and even by rural communities in the developing world because it is relatively low tech.” This is a highly promising arena that is getting attention, but perhaps not enough. For some additional discussion, for example, see: Biochar: The New Frontier; The pay dirt of El Dorado; International Biochar Initiative; Birth of a New Wedge; and Terra Preta for Carbon Reduction. When it comes to CCR innovation research, could there be ways to leverage CO2 from smokestacks to enrich other soils in a biochar-like manner.
Algae/other fuel stocks w/CO2: A CCR Holy Grail is to have algae farms taking in CO2 from smokestack emissions as a nutrient source and then convert that CO2 to energy. (As the CSM put it a decade ago, “Algae: like a breath mint for smokestacks.)
Carbon-fiber / Carbon-fiber nanotubes: From bicycles to airplanes to …, carbon-fiber is finding ever more uses across the global economy. The ‘next’ step (leap ahead forward) is coming with carbon-fiber nanotubes. Carbon-fiber nanotubes have great structural strength and offer a path for extremely efficient, light-weight, and incredibly safe movement of electricity. The carbon-fiber nanotube offers the potential for combining structural strength with electricity movement. Imagine eliminating copper wiring from satellites — saving weight (just how valuable is a pound of weight in space), freeing up interior space (again, what is cubic centimeter’s value 23,000 miles above the earth’s surface?), and improving structural strength. As we learn and reduce costs, this equation moves to aircraft, to automobiles, to portable electronic devices, to our built infrastructure. The cooper mining industry is a meaningful share of global emissions (pdf). Could carbon capture and reutilization to make carbon-fiber nanotubes provide a path to move the global economy away from using copper for things beyond beautiful kitchen utensils? Every avoided ton of copper use roughly equates to five tons of avoided mining emissions. Hmmm …
Note that CCR does have issues. First, the above ideas and other arenas require investment to make them viable realities — they are not ‘there there’ yet for serious climate mitigation benefits. Second, to the extent that they rely on capturing emissions from smokestacks from fossil fuel burning facilities they are only ameliorating/reducing the worsening of our climate problems as the fossil-fuel burning will add CO2 into the atmosphere. These CCR methods would reduce additional emissions — not directly reduce them. Third … the list can go on.
We cannot afford to treat resources as waste — that is what CCS does. CCR flips the equation from CCS’ high-cost and high-risk path to something that could turn out to be net positive and low risk. Which sounds more appealing to you?
In a ‘normal’ world, there should be (a) a rough balance between new high and low temperatures and (b) each year of records should make it less likely that there will be new records (ever harder to be far out on the normal distribution curve to ‘set’ a record).
Europe (and so many other places around the world) is experiencing yet another set of massive breaking of high temperature records.
In a “normal” world, this isn’t something that would be encountered by the same generation … time after time.
Science combined with nature can turn terrifying realities, at times, into gorgeous art. At this moment, there are three active typhoons in the Pacific. At right is an image capturing them
This reminds me strongly of last August when the Pacific Ocean (centered around the Hawaiian Archipelago) had a major meteorological phenomena: a massive set of hurricanes.
Regard this image from that event.
From West to East, these are hurricanes Halong, Genevieve, Iselle, and Julio.
Documentation of severe weather often provides quite striking and even beautiful images.
On first glance, last year and today, my impression was “Van Gogh, not “storm disaster”.
And, even when registering this as a rather impressive (and beautiful image from a) weather pattern, my first thought was not ‘climate change’ yet this set of four hurricanes is not just occurring within the context of global climate change but could well be a strong indicator of actual change.
The world is complex yet, far too often, humans gravitate to simple answers. When it comes to clean energy, for example, many (non-expert) advocates of action point to solar panels and seem to stop there — leaving out efficiency measures, other clean energy, ignoring grid management & storage issues, etc … On a broader level, there are those who create an either / or positing: either you address energy poverty or you address climate change; either you work to mitigate climate to help people in 2100 and beyond or you support adaptation measures to help people today. Judith ‘Marie Antoinette’ Curry provided a stunning example of this yesterday.
Looks like they need more air conditioning in Spain and France and also South Asia. [and the western United States …]
Does it make more sense to provide air conditioning or to limit CO2 emissions. I vote for more air conditioning in these susceptible regions.
Didn’t take long for pushback to emerge which led @CurryJA to reinforce her either/or mentality of addressing today’s problem(s) by worsening tomorrow’s.
Let them buy air conditioners! Never mind that they’re poor and can’t afford it. Ignore the fact that the energy use would make global warming worse. And be sure to paint it as an “either/or” proposition whether it is or not. Just don’t make us do anything like limit CO2 emissions.
Undertake adaptation measures to help humanity (and, as possible, ecosystems/other species) deal with the already existing and already locked in climate change impacts. This can include moving communities threatened by rising seas or, in some cases, building sea walls to protect them; improving building codes to deal with worsening storms; addressing land use to enable species to ‘migrate’ as the climate changes; to urban resiliency planning/development; etc ….; etc … etc … and even increasing air conditioning availability / deployment.
When it comes to that air conditioning, however, we don’t ‘win’ by deploying inefficient systems to be powered by (inefficient) highly-polluting energy sources. While today’s a/c units are far better than yesterday, efforts at ARPA-E and elsewhere are pushing us toward far more energy efficient air conditioning options. Building sciences have advanced to the point where we have very strong knowledge about how to ‘build’ (both specific buildings and communities) to lower heat loads and, therefore, a/c requirements (for example, white roofing). And, the dazzling growth of renewables makes it clear that we can power increased air conditioning loads without burning coal.
No, it is not ‘buy air conditioning and save lives today while accepting worsening tomorrow’ vs ‘work to help tomorrow by killing lives today’. This shallow form of reasoning might work for some but it doesn’t work for developing real solutions to real problems.
Sometimes comedians come too close to the truth. There are people who, it seems, truly thinks that the “solution” for climate change is something like Futurama’s ice cubes into the sea …
Well aligned with what climate science tells us will be happening with increasing frequency, there are a number of regions that have been going through seriously scary heat waves. Forget “scary”, how about seriously deadly?
The death toll from a weeklong heat wave in Karachi, Pakistan, has risen to 1,233, officials told the Associated Press Saturday. Some 65,000 people flooded the city’s hospitals to be treated for heat stroke, and about 1,900 patients were still receiving medical care as the country began to cool off.
… temperatures climbing to 113 degrees Fahrenheit
And, Pakistan is not along with extreme heat …
To this, Judith Curry has a rather straightforward (Futurama-ish?) response:
Does it make more sense to provide air conditioning or to limit CO2 emissions. I vote for more air conditioning in these susceptible regions.
While good, perhaps, for HVAC manufacturers, this ‘solution’ for a climate-change driven trend for more and worsened heat waves is like dropping ice cubes into the ocean …
And, like dropping ice cubes into the ocean, there are just a few complexities to consider …
Karachi’s power grid also collapsed, leaving thousands without air conditioning in a city already facing power cuts and water shortages.
So, the answer to ever-worsening heat waves should be increasing energy demands … often in areas with poor to utterly inadequate energy services.
Too many climate disinformers/delayers engage in a related sleight of hand: they decry “Energy Poverty” as part of a subterfuge effort to support increased global reliance on and use of polluting fossil fuels (primarily in support of burning coal). “Energy Poverty” is a real thing — but the solution set(s) are to be found elsewhere than promoting the burning of coal.
In any event, welcome to today’s Futurama episode courtesy of Judith ‘Marie Antoinette’ Curry:
Let them buy air conditioners.
Yup, let’s tell people, businesses, countries
to buy air conditioners
to keep people cool in ever-worsening heat waves as a path
to worsen energy poverty challenges and
to worsen our climate change challenges.
It does sound like something more suitable for a comedy show than serious intellectual dialogue.
The Papal encyclical on climate change is a truly worthwhile read says one who has barely scratched the surface. Amid all the other demands of life, this compelling of science, philosophy, morality, and religion requires greater attention than I can give it today. Part of the intrusion, twitter notices. Honestly, I doubt that I ever thought that the Papal twitter account would catch my attention. Today has changed that:
This Thursday, the Vatican will release the Papal Encyclical “Laudato si’, on the care of our common home”.
Pope Francis’ decision to take such a serious stance on climate change (on the need to take action seriously to protect our common heritage, to protect the poorest among us, and to protect our common future) could have a dramatic impact on the global political dynamic.
And, by entering the fray, Pope Francis is taking on serious adversaries and creating serious foes. This preview captures the situation in a compelling manner.
At the three minute mark, President Obama shifts the discussion from money in politics to “the need to focus on big challenges: like climate change”. For nearly a minute, the routine continues with President Obama speaking in the ‘acceptable’ zone of somewhat banal political language even if straightforward in laying out that
The science is clear.
But, then President Obama begins to lean in forcefully.
OBAMA: The science is clear, the science is clear. Nine out of the 10 hottest years ever came in the last decade.
LUTHER: Now I’m not a scientist, but I do know how to count to ten.
OBAMA: Rising seas, more violent storms…
LUTHER: You got mosquitoes, sweaty people on the trains stinking it up. It’s just nasty!
OBAMA: I mean, look at what’s happening right now. Every serious scientist says we need to act. The Pentagon says it’s a national security risk. Miami floods on a sunny day and instead of doing anything about it, we’ve got elected officials throwing snowballs in the Senate.
LUTHER: Okay, I think they got it, bro.
OBAMA: It is crazy! What about our kids? What kind of stupid, short-sided irresponsible bull —
LUTHER: Whoa, whoa whoa, whoa!
LUTHER: All due respect, sir, you don’t need anger translator. You need counseling.
President Obama has been working forcefully to encourage those with a basic respect for science to move toward more meaningful action.
President Obama has been issuing forcefully executive orders and directing Agency moves (such as EPA regulations under the Clean Air Act).
Last night, President Obama let his anger shine forth in what some are calling his most forceful statement yet on climate change.
Last night, President Obama hammered forcefully the nail in the coffin any claims of the White House engaging in Climate Silence.
That is a coffin we need to bury across all of society.
President Obama’s anger against those who deny climate science and who are impeding movement toward a prosperous, climate-friendly society is anger that we all should share.
While everyone who has understanding of climate science implications requires some form of counseling (let’s be honest, this is pretty overwhelming and depressing …), perhaps we need to emulate President Obama and let our anger shine forth.
I’ve been critical in the past for Obama not speaking forcefully enough about climate change — and for not realizing until mid-2013 that moral outrage is the winning way to speak about it.
But this was not only Obama’s best “speech” on climate change to date, it was delivered to the perfect audience — the DC elite and the panjandrums of the media. The “not-so-intelligentsia” have been wildly underplaying the story of the century for a long, long time.
They should have called “Bull–” on deniers a long time ago. Kudos to the President for finally doing so.
This was the perfect audience — and this speech just might influence some reporters’/outlets’ approaches to climate change issues in the 2016 election cycle.
Peter Sinclair likens the power of President Obama’s “anger translator” with John Oliver’s look at climate science consensus.
If you saw the President’s as-always, pitch near-perfect and impeccably timed speech to the White House Correspondent’s Dinner last, you saw his final bit with his “Anger Translator”, a brillant parody on the ‘angry black man” so loved and feared by the Fox News Crowd.
But even the Anger Translator is taken aback by the President’s rage about climate deniers….
The use of humor to cut thru to the bone is rarely deployed like this by a Chief Executive. Only John Oliver has done anything quite as skewering as this.
UPDATE 3: The post-mortem on climate silence is clearly too soon. According to notes from those who track such things, the media reporting on the Anger Translator is downplaying (to outright ignoring) the climate portion of the President’s remarks.
It is seriously difficult and even more seriously important for us to consider our energy and climate challenges and opportunities with systems thinking. Let’s consider the all-encompassing information revolution which, clearly, is integrally tied to energy and energy usage. (After all, omething is behind your screen turning on, isn’t it?) If one takes a systems approach, even as knowing we could be doing an awful lot better, it is clear that the “information technology is good for climate” and that “The energy impact of web searches is very LOW“.
Most folks think that the power used by computers is a lot more than it actually is, and that it’s growing at incredible rates. Neither one of these beliefs is true, but they reflect a stubborn sense that the economic importance of IT somehow must translate into a large amount of electricity use. That incorrect belief masks an important truth: Information technology has beneficial environmental effects that vastly outweigh the direct environmental impact of the electricity that it consumes.
The really important story is that while computers use electricity, they are not a huge contributor to total electricity consumption, and while it’s a good idea to make computers energy efficient, it’s even more important to focus on the capabilities information technology (IT) enables for the broader society. Computers use a few percent of all electricity, but they can help us to use the other 95+% of electricity (not to mention natural gas and oil) a whole lot more efficiently.
As an example of this latter point, consider downloading music versus buying it on a CD. … the worst case for downloads and the best case for physical CDs resulted in 40% lower emissions of greenhouse gases for downloads when you factor in all parts of the product lifecycle (Weber et al. 2009). When comparing the best case for downloads to the best case for physical CDs, the emissions reductions are 80%. …
And, sending an email rather than a postcard by international aircraft … and … using gps navigation to avoid getting lost while burning gasoline … and … smart use of information technology enables the economy to operate more efficiently and with a lower footprint.
So, being quite clear that smart adaptation and leveraging of information technology enables a more efficient and lower polluting economy, there is a truth: computers burn electricity, server farms burn electricity, making the computer equipment has resource demands, etc … Thus,
And, taking Energy Smart practices can help reduce the footprint and save costs.
These include purchasing decisions, such as the how many different systems to buy to the ever-present debate of laptop vs desktop
Energy efficiency and consumption are a key design element to laptop computers that make the devices much less power hungry than desktop PC counterparts. Desktop computers are permanently tethered to a massive power supply, making energy efficiency a bonus or a perk as opposed to a functional necessity. … Laptop computers consume up to 80 percent less electricity than desktop computers
Obviously, there are some basic choices about set-up (such as having an advanced power strip to reduce vampire load issues) and choices about power management — such as actually turning off your computer and monitor before you leave the desk at the end of the day.
The basic points information technology and the worldwide web are making the economy work more efficiently … and therefore with lower pollution.
So Google, Youtube, blog, and flickr as much as you want. If you are worried about your carbon footprint, buy 100% green power and do an efficient retrofit on your house to cover your emissions “” and let the Internet keep saving people energy and resources.
Indeed, replacing material consumption and transportation with electricity is almost certainly a good thing from a climate perspective since it is considerably easier to generate carbon-free electricity than it is to have carbon free-transportation or carbon-free versions of books and newspapers and inventories and offices
For weird, sort of uncertain reasons, there is (as “debunking” above suggests) a concerted effort to suggest that internet use is an overwhelming part of our energy system. And, in using the internet’s “Series of Tubes,” it is very easy to be caught up with the data that comes from these who falsely (okay, generously speaking: incorrectly) state “that generating the electricity needed for a Google search emitted half as much carbon as did boiling a cup of tea”. Note that Google put the figure at 1/35th that half-a-cup-of-tea number. Again, going with Koomey from his “Tempest in a Tea Pot“:
Information technology (IT) facilities do use electricity, but moving electrons is always less energy intensive and environmentally damaging than moving atoms.
While it is important to improve the energy efficiency of IT facilities …, it is the NET environmental impact that matters, not the direct electricity use and carbon emissions of these facilities treated in isolation.
driving an average car just one mile and back to the nearest library to manually search for information produces more than 100-times more greenhouse-gas emissions than a web search
Within in mind, we are ready to consider the infographic after the fold.