CCS is a dangerous distraction

by Mike Gaworecki

May 7, 2008

When I read in the NYT that there were reports being published in the prestigious journal Science showing that biofuels were actually creating more global warming pollution than conventional fuels, I was disappointed but not shocked. A lot of businesses had bought into biofuels, converting commuter, transport, and other vehicle fleets to run on biofuels, so it was disappointing to see that their efforts might have been wasted – or worse, anti-productive. But when you really think about it, adding a small percentage of (what was thought to be) more sustainably produced fuel to regular old fossil fuel is a pretty weak remedy for global warming in the first place.

Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) is based on an even more ludicrous premise: keep burning coal, the dirtiest energy source around, but take all of the pollution and bury it underground?!? It almost sounds like a bad joke.

Both of these technologies have the same obvious liability: they allow business as usual to commence rather than fostering the energy revolution our society and global ecology desperately need.

Sadly, the idea of CCS has gained traction as coal industry lobbyists have pressed hard on lawmakers in an attempt to cast CCS as a remedy for global warming, a ploy ultimately aimed at winning more federal subsidies for their clients. But, as a new Greenpeace report shows, there’s no way CCS can be functioning on a large scale soon enough to play a role in mitigating the climate crisis. And even if it was ready to go right now, there’s always the danger that our storage methods could be compromised. All it would take is a small leak to reverse the benefits of storing all that carbon underground.

That’s why we need to tell Congress not to throw our money at this unproven and risky technology.

To play devil’s advocate for a moment: Perhaps the best and only viable argument for developing CCS is that it could be a useful “bridging technology.” In their book The Hot Topic, Gabrielle Walker and Sir David King explain what that means thusly:

[CCS] has the great advantage that it can remove emissions from traditional fossil-fuel plants, thus buying the world some time to develop new low-carbon alternatives. CCS is likely to be especially important for countries like India and China, which are currently exploiting their vast coal reserves at an increasing rate to fuel extremely rapid economic growth.

It is true that China and India are currently developing several new coal plants, and will therefore get substantial amounts of their energy from coal for at least the next several decades. And if the emissions from those plants could somehow be captured and safely stored where they will do no harm, that would be a good thing. But CCS is still in very early stages of development, and there’s absolutely no guarantee that it will ever be a viable technology. It is certain, however, that it won’t help us stop global warming, which is why it is nothing more than a distraction from the real solutions. Our government should not be subsidizing its development with taxpayer dollars.

We have totally clean, renewable, and proven sources of energy available to us right now, like wind and solar. Every dollar our government spends on CCS is a dollar not spent on the truly clean technologies that will fuel the energy revolution, and we should not accept that.

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