Global Warming: Delusions, Hubris and Wishful Thinking

So, where do we go from here? There is no viable option, it seems to me, but to embrace whole- heartedly the proven technology of the renewable energy route

Those of us who believe global warming/climate change is real and human-induced can be split into two camps. The first could be described as the "having their cake and eating it" camp; they argue that the technology of carbon capture and storage (CCS) will allow us to carry on burning fossil fuel but capturing CO2 to prevent it from damaging our habitat. Wikipedia defines the principle thus:

"Carbon capture and storage (CCS) (or carbon capture and sequestration), is the process of capturing waste carbon dioxide (CO2) from large point sources, such as fossil fuel power plants, transporting it to a storage site, and depositing it where it will not enter the atmosphere, normally an underground geological formation. The aim is to prevent the release of large quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere (from fossil fuel use in power generation and other industries)."

This solution is favoured by the fossil fuel industry, provided taxpayers pay for the enormous costs required to make such a solution a reality. Politicians are also enthusiastic as it lets them off the hook of having to confront the powerful fossil fuel industry, and also delays the inevitability of restructuring the economies of their respective countries away from their addiction to fossil fuel.

So far the American government has committed $5.8bn for the development of commercially viable CCS. Australia's commitment is $2bn, and the UK has committed £1.1bn. This technology is extremely expensive, with private industry loath to put its money into such unproven and energy-intensive technology. This is simply used by the fossil fuel industry to carry on with business as usual. "Not one integrated, large-scale electricity-plus-CCS project has yet been implemented anywhere in the world."

The whole concept of this technology is fundamentally flawed. This is an energy intensive technology; where is the energy going to come from? The answer is, of course, from burning more fossil fuel. It is estimated that to remove the carbon from 100 tons of fossil fuel burnt, you need to burn an additional 25 tons to do the job. Compare that with wind turbines: "the average windfarm produces 20-25 times more [clean] energy during its operational life than was used to construct and install its turbines."

Professor Clive Hamilton sums up the hubris associated with carbon capture and storage thus:

"An even more striking indication of the size of the enterprise comes from energy expert Vaclav Smil. He calculates that in order to capture just a quarter of the emissions from the world's coal- fired power plants we would need a system of pipelines that would transport a volume of fluid twice the size of the global crude-oil industry. Countering the damage caused by one technological dinosaur with another gargantuan engineering venture reflects the characteristic technological hubris of modern industrial capitalism. Capturing carbon is driven more by testosterone and wishful thinking than reason."

So, where do we go from here? There is no viable option, it seems to me, but to embrace whole- heartedly the proven technology of the renewable energy route championed by the second camp. Britain (2010) meets only 3.2% of its total energy needs from renewable sources, and it is 24th out of 27 countries in the European Union. Sweden is top with 47.9%, and the EU average is 12.4%. The figure for Norway (2008), which is a non EU country, is 62%. If Britain is to strive to improve its position, where is the money going to come from, I hear you ask?

Britain, not being in the Eurozone, has its own currency and can print its own money; the government did it to the tune of £375bn and stuffed it into the banks. So let us print it, Quantitative Easing style, using it to push renewable technologies forward. In the process, create employment and a sustainable industry with which Britain can earn its keep in the future. The expertise is already in Britain; what is needed is the vision and the will to exploit it, and to think differently.

Before You Go