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Save the World! Earn $25 million!

Filed under: — group @ 19 February 2007 - (Português) (Türkçe) (Français)

Guest commentary from Juliane Fry, UC Berkeley

On February 9, The Virgin Group chairman Sir Richard Branson announced a $25 million prize for anyone who can demonstrate “a commercially viable design which results in the removal of anthropogenic, atmospheric greenhouse gases so as to contribute materially to the stability of Earth’s climate.” At the press conference announcing this “Virgin Earth Challenge”, Branson was joined by Al Gore, and the panel of judges for the competition includes additional climate change celebrities: James Hansen, James Lovelock, Tim Flannery, and Sir Crispin Tickell.

The goal of the competition is to find a method that will remove at least 1 billion tons of carbon per year from the atmosphere. It will be very interesting to see what ideas come to the fore to scrub CO2 from the atmosphere. $25m should encourage some creativity! (and of course, once working should bring in a significant amount of carbon offset money). A ruckus was caused last year when discussion of injecting SO2 into the stratosphere to form reflective sulfate aerosols to mask global warming made scientists feel they needed to state their position on this controversial, poorly understood proposal. During the discussion, a New York Times feature (described here ) discussed various “geo-engineering” alternatives to exert a cooling effect to mask global warming. At least in this case, we are not seeking to add something new and uncertain to the atmosphere, but rather, remove something that we added.

192 Responses to “Save the World! Earn $25 million!”

  1. 51
    Doug says:

    My concern with these “techno fixes” is two-fold:
    1) We won’t come up with any technology better from a thermodynamic standpoint than existing biological systems (i.e. photosynthesis). We’ll put too much energy into removing the carbon. Save the forests!
    2) Techno fixes help some people maintain their state of denial — i.e. incorrectly thinking that we can keep growing forever. We should not be delaying the necessary changes in our growth patterns.

  2. 52
    George Ortega says:

    Re #32: Since the battle has clearly moved from science to politics, a class action suit against the U.S., and/or the fossil fuel industry, would certainly raise public awareness. I would still prefer to see legislation considering global warming misinformation a threat to national security because it would be far more effective as a mitigation strategy, and it would draw far more controversy (see #44), which would generate wider media coverage.

    Re #44: [edit out inflammatory comments]

  3. 53
    lars says:

    Save the planet, become a weedeater…..

    Humans’ beef with livestock: a warmer planet

  4. 54
    Marcus L. says:

    Man, it seems like every time someone tries to help the situation, everyone yells “NOT ENOUGH!” or “You’re doing it for selfish reasons!” or the like.

    All the talk about how this award won’t accomplish anything except advertise Virgin companies is counter-productive. All the talk about how it won’t work is also counter-productive.

    To solve this problem we need as many resources and as many ideas on the table as possible. $25 million will help motivate funding for the people already working on the problem, and might get some innovative idea off the drawing board a little faster. Even if atmospheric carbon sequestration isn’t the most efficient solution, it might help, and even if it turns out a complete dud, the global warming fight only lost $25 million. There’ll be plenty more money in the coming years, and in the meantime, this prize has gotten global warming a lot more press. Seems like a good deal to me.

  5. 55
    Dan says:

    re: 50. The last thing anyone needs is a science *fiction* writer like MC getting more publicity via the media such as Charlie Rose to talk about global warming. Giving his anti-science, completely discredited voice a soapbox just furthers the misguided “balance” that the media fosters on the issue. Which is completely inappropriate to the science involved.

  6. 56
    Ray Ladbury says:

    I don’t see how Branson’s offer can hurt. The thing is that people have to realize the realities we’re dealing with here. First, we will not stop climate change with only conservation measures and conventional strategies. Second, we cannot come up with technological fixes instantaneously. The hope is that conservation will buy us sufficient time to come up with technological innovations that will mitigate the problems caused by climate change–and one such technology is carbon sequestration.
    Likewise, it is not a question of whether the required conservation, etc. will derail economic growth, since in order to pay for the technological infrastructure to confront climate change, economic growth will have to remain robust.
    Richard Branson is doing his part to promote technological progress toward solutions. Millions of individual citizens are now trying to do their part by conserving more energy, planting trees (which can sequester carbon for hundreds of years), etc. It is now time for governments to do their part by funding research and implementing realistic policies that do not subsidize fossil fuels at the expense of cleaner technologies.

  7. 57
    Phillip Shaw says:

    One seemingly promising approach I haven’t seen discussed would be to build upon the existing and proven air seperation unit (ASU) technology to develop CO2 extraction plants powered by wind/solar/tidal energy. Picture, if you would, a power plant sized CO2 ‘dehumidifier’.

    The basic ASU process is straightforward. Outside air (or flue gas) is compressed and cooled to the point at which water vapor condenses and is removed. The dry gas is further compressed and cooled until the CO2 condenses, at which point it is removed for sequestration. (In industrial ASUs the gas stream is often further processed to extract liquid nitrogen, liquid oxygen and argon but the additional processing isn’t necessary for the CO2 extraction application.) As a side benefit the liquid CO2 produced would contain a percentage of the methane and other pollutants present in the input gas. The chilled compressed residual input gas is passed through heat exchangers and expanded through turbines to help power the compressors and to cool the incoming gases, increasing the efficiency of the process.

    The key to making this sort of CO2 extraction plant viable would be optimizing the overall efficiency. Not simple, granted, but this is just engineering and wouldn’t require any scientific or technological breakthroughs. It would also make sense to develop a standard modular design to minimize the non-recurring engineering costs of customizing plants. A plus of this cycle is that it produces potable water that can be used for human or agricultural consumption. Using this ‘waste’ water to irrigate tree farms or orchards would increase the net CO2 removal and provide an additional revenue stream.

    I envision plants of this type sited in desert areas such as the American west, central Australia, or Saharan Africa . . . anywhere with adequate renewable energy resources. Properly designed they could be ‘off the grid’ and largely self sufficient over their lifecycle.

    Comments, anyone?

  8. 58
    joel Hammer says:

    Since CO2, a trace gas, is vital to plant growth (something called “photosynthesis”) removing CO2 from the atmosphere would certainly have a negative impact on many people, like farmers.

    It has been shown repeatedly that plants in semiarid regions do better with higher atmospheric CO2 because of less lost of water through leaf evaporation. This helps to prevent the spread of deserts.

    I can see the day before the CO2 scrubbing plant goes into operation, some group will get a judge somewhere to issue a restraining order.

    The Greens have escalated this debate from science to politics and the law. They may regret that.

    Just think. One judge could stop the whole effort.

  9. 59
    James says:

    Re #32, #52, etc: As long as we’re talking about class action suits, why not one against anti-nuclear groups? If it weren’t for their disinformation campaign and obstructive tactics, we’d have far fewer coal-fired power plants to worry about.

    Or indeed, why not a class action suit against all the actual end-users of fossil fuels? Except that’d mean some of us would have to move out of our glass houses :-)

  10. 60
    Paul M says:

    This reminds me of the woman who collected ferrets in her house. Eventually there were so many ferrets and cages and cages stacked one on top of eachother, and the rooms held about ten times more ferrets than they should have. After the ferrets got removed, they cleaned the place and a dull stench stayed behind. The earth is like that house. Unfortunately there is no one coming to clean.

  11. 61
    Todd Albert says:

    I have a great idea for a machine that uses sunlight and water to efficiently convert CO2 into O2 and complex carbohydrates, sugars, and fibers. It only needs some additional nutrients to operate. I call it the TREE. I’ll sell my design along with a bridge and some swamp land I have, too.

    I agree with the skeptics here — the only thing that scares me more than geo-engineering atmospheric chemistry is not doing it. BAU is obviously a worse plan, but if we start removing CO2, who decides when to turn the machines off? At what level do we set the CO2 “thermostat”?

  12. 62
    SecularAnimist says:

    Not as razzle-dazzle as Branson’s $25 million “prize”, but probably more important:

    Companies Lay Out Global Framework to Fight Climate Change
    Earth Institute News

    As a significant step toward tackling climate change, an unprecedented group of companies and organizations from around the world have endorsed a bold post-Kyoto framework for affecting change at the levels of policy and industry, particularly in regard to creating sustainable energy systems necessary for achieving economic growth.

    Signatories of The Path to Climate Sustainability: A Joint Statement by the Global Roundtable on Climate Change hail from a range of sectors and industries, including air transport, energy, technology, insurance, banking, and many others, from across the globe.

    The statement – endorsed by Allianz, Bayer, Citigroup, DuPont, General Electric, Volvo, and many others – calls on governments to set scientifically informed targets for greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The agreement also urges governments to place a price on carbon emissions and to set forth policies aimed at addressing energy efficiency and de-carbonization in all sectors. Calling climate change “an urgent problem,” the statement lays out a proactive framework for global action to mitigate risks and impacts while also meeting the global need for energy, economic growth and sustainable development. It outlines cost-effective technologies that exist today and others that could be developed and deployed to improve energy efficiency and help reduce CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gases in major sectors of the global economy.


    The ability of so many key stakeholders with such diverse views to agree upon the Joint Statement demonstrates the possibility of fostering a global consensus on a positive, proactive approach to meeting the challenge of global climate change. The signatories include Air France, Alcoa, Allianz, American Electric Power, Bayer, China Renewable Energy Industry Association, Citigroup, DuPont, Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, ENDESA, Eni, Eskom, FPL Group, General Electric, Iberdrola, ING, Interface, Marsh & McLennan Companies, Munich Re, NRG Energy, Patagonia, Ricoh, Rolls Royce, Stora Enso North America, Suntech Power, Swiss Re, Vattenfall, Volvo, World Council of Churches, World Petroleum Council, and many others.

    A number of the corporations mentioned above are also participants in the US Climate Action Partnership, which in January called for urgent action — including mandatory national limits on carbon emissions — in the USA.

    Companies like Exxon-Mobil that continue to fund the global-warming deniers, and otherwise resist the urgent necessity of dealing with global warming, are becoming increasingly isolated in the corporate world.

    I regard Branson’s announcement as basically a publicity stunt, that is at best unlikely to have any significant impact on anything and at worst diverts attention from where it really needs to be: on reducing carbon emissions.

  13. 63
    Adrianne M says:

    I totally agree with you. It’s not like we would have a turn on/off machinery and just press a button when the co2 level is not within limits.

    The way I see it, it’s not like we can do much to change current situation. But we can do much to evoid future climate changes of such gravity.

    History shows us that in the past century, there have been other climate changes, that seem to be linked to certain events that affected the oceans in the same period. Naval wars, as small as they seem compared to the vaste spread of the oceans, are some of the more importants causes of the climate changes in the history

  14. 64
    Mark A. York says:

    “completely discredited voice.” Crichton isn’t in some circles including the White House. Rose has extensive interviews with scientists, as well as authors of many genres. He was clearly perplexed by MC’s density on this issue. It was very telling and a climate scientist should correct the record in this fashion representing the position of science.

  15. 65
    James says:

    OK, serious idea here: I suppose most of you are familiar with the concept of ocean thermal power, which uses the temperature difference between the surface and cold deep waters to drive a generator. Consider also that warm tropical surface waters are in effect biological deserts because of their lack of nutrients, which are plentiful in the cold deep waters. (That’s why upwelling zones such as the west coast of the Americas were rich fishing grounds…)

    So: build ocean thermal plants, designing the plumbing so that it brings cold deep water to the surface. This provides nutrients to the surface life, which absorbs carbon (part of which drops to the bottom and is sequestered), generates electric power, and creates a productive fishery to boot.

  16. 66
    W F Lenihan says:

    The solution is simple.

    All new energy production plants should use nuclear, hydro or clean coal burned fuels. Existing fossil fuel plants should be phased out and replaced. Doing so in China and India alone will reduce emissions by over a billion tons per year. As an incentive to China and India, we should offer them our new clean burning coal technology as soon as it is perfected.

    If the rest of the developed world followed, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions would be enormous.

    When Richard Branson reads this post he can cut a check for the prize money.

  17. 67
    Ken Rushton says:

    Here’s a “simple”, cheap, and potentially very profitable method for carbon sequestration of gasses from a coal or natural gas plant: (1) extract pure oxygen from the air through liquidification or a membrane, (2) use to burn the coal, (3) compress the resulting gases (CO2, SO2, SO3), (4) sell the sulfur oxides, and pump the liquid CO2 underground.

    Why use pure oxygen? The removal of the nitrogen makes the generator a lot more thermodynamically efficient. The increased efficiency creates way more than enough power to run the compressors, and you don’t have to extract the nitrogen from the flue gases.

    The catch? A lousy 25 million doesn’t begin to cover the myriad costs involved in setting up a new, albeit improved power generation system. Pure oxygen burns hot. Would you like, as a responsible investor/engineer to be the first to bet your money/reputation that you get everything right? Especially when the popular inclination is to criticize, comment or even sue if perfection is not instantly achieved.

    Google “pure oxygen” “power generation” for a sample. I.e: The Gas is Greener…
    Also Wiki “MHD”.

    The solution to our need to encourage good solutions?
    (1) Understand the science, economics and politics involved
    (2) Criticize constructively and carefully
    (3) Lower entry barriers to good solutions; identify them, then help make them risk-free and profitable.

  18. 68
    No Longer a Urinated State of America says:

    “One seemingly promising approach I haven’t seen discussed would be to build upon the existing and proven air seperation unit (ASU) technology to develop CO2 extraction plants powered by wind/solar/tidal energy. Picture, if you would, a power plant sized CO2 ‘dehumidifier’.”

    I’d be skeptical of this, because of the thermodynamics. You’be be wasting a lot of mechanical energy to condense a small amount of CO2.

    By contrast, the power plant CO2 capture schemes don’t use pressure-swing absorption, they use a CO2-absorbing solvent (like an amine) on a temperature-swing. You can use low-grade heat (~120-140 deg C) for the temperature swing. That reduces the loss of possible useful work from the system versus using pressure swing absorption or other such separation systems based on input of mechanical energy.

    “Recently I read about the discovery of natural lakes of liquid CO2 at the bottom of the deep ocean. Apparently, at the right pressure and temperature, the CO2 will remain a liquid separated from the water by a layer of solid hydrate. With this information, would CO2 sequestration in the deep ocean be back on the table? ”

    IIRC, there was a paper by MBARI a few years back where they looked at how liquid CO2 behaved a great depth in the Monterey Bay. The details escape me, but I remember there was weirdness with the hydrate formation that made me think “well, that screws the deep ocean CO2 lake idea.”

  19. 69
    lars says:

    Re #66

    beat you to it with post #53….
    only 666,666,666 more people(out of over 6 billion) need to become vegetarians, mission accomplished….

    I know, it is a scary number, but so are the consequences….

    please contact me and I will give you my swiss bank account number.

  20. 70
    SecularAnimist says:

    W F Lenihan wrote: “As an incentive to China and India, we should offer them our new clean burning coal technology as soon as it is perfected.”

    According to WorldWatch Insitute there are more than 150 coal-fired electrical generation plants already planned to be built in the USA. As I understand it, not a single one of them is anything resembling a “clean coal” power plant, and not a single one of them incorporates any form of carbon sequestration technology. The builders are going for cheap, conventional, 80-year old pulverized coal technology and hoping that these power plants will be “grandfathered” out of any new legislation mandating so-called “clean coal” and/or sequestration. That’s a gamble on their part — if such legislation is passed and the plants are not “grandfathered” out of it, then they will require very costly retrofits.

    At any rate, the USA doesn’t really have any “clean coal” technology to offer India or China.

    Both of those countries, on the other hand, are huge markets for wind turbines and photovoltaics, which are much more appropriate and cost-effective technologies for rural electrification in developing countries that don’t have and can’t afford to deploy the large power grids needed for distributing centrally-generated electricity to rural populations.

    [Response: Actually this isn’t quite fair. There are plenty of ideas and technology developments in the US that could be utilised elsewhere – particularly in China. But the utilization of the technology even in the US is restricted because of multiple regulatory hurdles that do not rank reducing CO2 emissions as a priority. Thus even if utilities wanted to build lower emissions plants now, they cannot unless it is cheaper than any alternative (which it isn’t). This came up at the GROCC press conference this morning. Without a price for carbon emissions, state regulations preclude almost all experimentation with new carbon-capture related technology. -gavin]

  21. 71
    No Longer a Urinated State of America says:

    “Why use pure oxygen? The removal of the nitrogen makes the generator a lot more thermodynamically efficient. The increased efficiency creates way more than enough power to run the compressors, and you don’t have to extract the nitrogen from the flue gases.”

    Problem is that the temperature gets too hot if you just burn fuel & oxygen – you end up having to use a working fluid, and there’s issues with using a triatomic gas like CO2 as the working fluid versus a diatomic gas like N2 – different gamma, lower efficiency. Also, you’ve got a shedload of mechanical energy losses in compressing and condensing air for distillation.

    In general, separation of O2 pre-combustion loses out thermodynamically to post-combustion capture of CO2 in air, or reforming of the fuel to hydrogen and CO2 and then capturing the CO2 pre-combustion. The post-combustion and pre-combustion capture of CO2 work out roughly equal in terms of economics.

    There’s been work on ceramic oxygen-conducting membranes, but the materials issues in terms of materials and degradation of the membrane from higher carbon chains are practical problems when you scale up.

  22. 72
    Paul Dietz says:

    How about artificially increasing the pH of the ocean? This will naturally cause more CO2 to be absorbed into it. Indeed, isn’t dissolution of calcium carbonate the natural mechanism by which most of the current anthropogenic CO2 pulse would be absorbed into the oceans over the next few thousand years?

    Also: the concentration (in moles/volume) of inorganic carbon is higher in the ocean than it is in the atmosphere, by a considerable factor. So instead of extracting CO2 from air, it might make more sense to extract inorganic carbon from seawater, convert it to CO2, and dispose of that CO2 somehow (underground? mineral carbonation?). The ocean would then pull more CO2 from the atmosphere to compensate.

  23. 73
    Eric Swanson says:

    #57 Phillip Shaw

    ASU systems are like any other thermodynamic system based on a cycle. Such processes are not 100 percent efficient, i.e., the compression/decompression process and the heat transfer processes return less energy than added to make the cycle work. As you point out, such systems are available now. The energy to run them can be calculated. The idea of using renewable systems as a power source sounds great, but there is a cost of the electric power from these systems, even though the primary energy source may be free. Most of the cost is for the capital to build these machines and they have a limited life time.

    The electricity from the renewable sources would be useful no matter where is is eventually consumed or what it’s source. The ultimate question is, who would pay for any of these sequestration approaches, even if the latest techno gadget can actually be made to work. How large a carbon tax would be required to remove a ton of CO2 from free air vs. the cost of removal from a waste stream, such as that from a coal fired electric power plant? Those ASU devices would likely be much more cost effective if they used a high CO2 content, therefore, what’s the incentive for building them out in the middle of some desert no where?

    Here’s a bit more discussion on the subject:

  24. 74
    Paul Dietz says:

    That’s a gamble on their part — if such legislation is passed and the plants are not “grandfathered” out of it, then they will require very costly retrofits.

    Perhaps not surprisingly, EPRI and Alstom have an effort to demonstrate a technology that could considerably reduce the operating cost of such retrofits. This technology would absorb CO2 from flue gas using a chilled ammonia solution, rather than the amines used in current solvent-based approaches.

  25. 75
    D.J. Barton says:

    The Earth Sciences Education Project (ESEP) presents its design of a carbon capture strategy for effectively reducing anthropogenic carbon emissions within the framework of climate change policy. ESEP is dedicated to the geophysical 3-state and 4-state modeling of planet Earth ( The ESEP Earth model transforms Earth’s atmosphere into an integral part of the planet.

    The ESEP Earth model is based upon the deduction that the radius of Earth extends to the exobase at the top of the atmosphere. This far-reaching deduction derives from the definition of ‘planet’ and from the fundamental, but overlooked, geophysical fact that planet Earth exists under hydrostatic equilibrium conditions in all four states of matter. (See Definition of â��Planet,â��

    Global solutions to global warming entail a sea change in our understanding of planet Earth. In 1988, while conducting rainforest canopy research in the headwaters of Borneo, I concluded that global biogeochemical cycles–including the global hydrologic and carbon dioxide cycles–physically couple the lower atmosphere to the land masses, ocean and biosphere.

    This discovery, I realized at the time, is equivalent to assuming that the atmospheric gas-phase components of the global cycles are an integral part of Earth. This means, in the instance of the global hydrologic cycle, that Arctic jet streams and ITCZ cloud formations are integral parts of the planet and are not located, as conventional science holds, outside the surface boundary of the planet in the troposphere.

    In the instance of the global carbon dioxide cycle, this means that the increasing parts-per-million concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide is an integral part of planet Earth and is not concentrated, as conventional science assumes, outside the surface boundary of the planet.

    In the ESEP Earth model, climate and weather are recognized, for the first time, as taking place within the interior of planet Earth. The net result of analyzing climate change within the ESEP Earth model is that anthropogenic greenhouse gases are no longer viewed as being emitted into an ‘atmospheric dumping ground’ that lies outside the surface boundary of the planet and beyond the purview of policy makers.

    The ESEP Earth model effectively captures and sequesters the entire volume of atmospheric carbon dioxide under the surface boundary of planet Earth. As a consequence, the anthropogenic sink concentration, in the atmosphere, and source emissions, near ground level, of the gas species carbon dioxide become amenable to the charter powers, governance, and stewardship of the international community�s institutions.

    From source to sink, the atmospheric pathway of anthropogenic carbon becomes subject to transnational law and sound science policy. The carbon capture strategy and design of the ESEP Earth model leads directly to the language of an international declaration that recognizes the atmosphere as forming an integral part of Earth. The declaration would reach, a fortiori, to the anthropogenic parts-per-million concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

    Along with continued IPCC assessments and protocols recognizing the transnational status of the atmosphere, the international declaration could form the basis for an international, UN-sponsored atmospheric treaty on global climate change. This treaty would be the authorizing power for the source-to-sink green capture of carbon under mandated rates of reduction–initially of second-order magnitude–in anthropogenic carbon emissions.

  26. 76
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    #53, Lars has a good point. In my every effort to reduce my GHGs, I became a vegan (though I’ve backslid somewhat in recent years). If people could just cut their meat consumption in half, that would help, not only reduce environmental harms, but also improve health, and spare more food for the poor. Considerations include not only the methane emitted from livestock, but also the fossil fuel & water-intensive agriculture for growing grain for livestock; a much larger area of arable land for meat-eaters; and a host of other issues.


  27. 77
    W F Lenihan says:

    Those who commented on my suggestion regarding clean burning coal technology seem to ignore the fact that China has enough very dirty coal with which generate a significant portion of its energy requirements for several hundred years. Limiting China to nuclear and hydro power sources will not do. China will surpass our total CO2 emissions within a year or two. China will use its coal regardless of the consequences so long as it is cheaper than other fuels.

    We have a lot of coal too. It is politically unacceptable for us to use it until the clean burning technology is perfected.

  28. 78
    mark s says:

    hey, can a country win the prize, maybe Australia ought to get it! Am i right in thinking that i can sleep a tiny bit easier tonight, knowing that some of the ‘low hanging fruit’ ie inefficient light bulbs, are being plucked, at last.

    I wish the UK had been the first, because i hate to see the Aussies get the glory (its a cricket thing)!

    Bless em tho, they are looking a bit like canaries, at this point.

  29. 79
    Roger Smith says:

    “China will use its coal regardless of the consequences so long as it is cheaper than other fuels.”

    Or not. China has much less coal than the US and much of it is low-grade and high-sulfur. Their air quality problems are a major development barrier as it’s killing the workforce. Sooner or later something has to give.

  30. 80
    John L. McCormick says:

    RE # 79 Roger You said

    [China has much less coal than the US and much of it is low-grade and high-sulfur. Their air quality problems are a major development barrier as it’s killing the workforce. Sooner or later something has to give. ]

    That is only your uninformed opinion.

    China’s coal demand will rise, in 2007, to 2.5 billion tons. China’s coal capacity stands at 2.35 billion tons with 800 million tons of capacity under development.

    China’s power generation capacity rose by 20.3 percent to reach 622 GW at the end of 2006; 484 GW of which is thermal power plants (virtually all coal-fired) Coal fired capacity is projected to rise to 557 GW in 2010 and 798 GW in 2020.

    Sasol, S. Africa’s coal-to-liquids energy firm, signed agreements with China to build two coal liquefaction plants each having an 80,000 bpd capacity and costing $5 to $6 billion each.

    The recoverable coal reserves in China are 114.5 billion tons; albeit at 30 percent recovery factor. Known deposits are estimated to exceed a trillion tons. Half the coal reserve has sulfur content average of .5; 30% has sulfur content between .51 and 2.0% and the remainder has over 2.0% sulfur. And, the majority of the coal deposits are bituminous rank (steam coal).

    Finally, Australia is a ready source of coal to meet Chinaâ??s tight supply.

  31. 81
    J.C.H says:

    The notion that China is incapable of taking a positive position with regard to dealing with its CO2 emissions makes little sense. They’re not idiots.

  32. 82
    Craig Allen says:

    Re: #55 and #50

    I just watched that Charlie Rose interview with Michael Crichton

    Rose gave Crichton a roughing up (politely) over his denial of the scientific consensus on global warming. And Crichton pretty much agreed to most of the premises on anthropogenic global warming but refused to accept that the implications are likely to be as problematic as generally feared and therefore warrant urgent action. (Mind you he continues to pretend that his own ‘calculations’ of the predicted degree of warming are more accurate.

    I really do hope that a climatologist with good speaking skills takes up the challenge to debate him. Rose clearly accepts that the the consensus is likely to be right and should be taken seriously. And I suspect that he would want the point to be made that the one-to-one interview gives a grossly misleading impression of the true weight of expert opinion. It would be great to see Crichton have to face the facts and it is important the climatologists take up such opportunities to present their case.

  33. 83
    Jeff Weffer says:

    If we are adding 24 billion tonnes of CO2 (6 billion tonnes of carbon) to the atmosphere each year and the most efficient methods of CO2 reduction we have now are $10 per tonne per year (many of the above proposals would cost $100s per tonne), then the cost of stopping CO2 rise is $2.4 trillion per year.

    That is a lot of money and people should understand that this is not an easy uncostly fix. You will have to pay much more for electricity and reduce your usage. You will have to pay much more for gasoline and reduce your usage. You will have to stop using plastic products. If you are a farmer you have to adopt Zero till techniques and cut your fertilizer usage considerably. Some mentioned going vegan (not required, methane levels have stabilized.)

    You cannot ask Exxon to make all the changes. You have to reduce your demand of Exxon’s products so that less gasoline is used and Exxon’s emissions come down. It is not Exxon’s fault or your local electrical utility’s fault; it is yours; for using all that electricity and all that oil that your computer requires when you are reading this board.

    You will pay much more and you will use much less.

    [Response: Some arithmetic errors there. If we add about 9 gigatons of carbon to the atmosphere each year, then an abatement cost of $100 per ton is 900 billion per, or just short of a trillion. That’s an over-estimate of the cost, since that’s gross cost, not net. Carbon taxes can be plowed back into the productive economy, and there are jobs (and GDP) in building carbon sequestration plants or wind farms. Also, note we’re not talking about instantly decarbonizing the whole economy. The object is to first stabilize then ramp down emissions, to delay the atmospheric CO2 rise and buy time for emergence of technologies that could completely decarbonize the economy. –raypierre]

  34. 84
    Craig Allen says:

    Re #78: Yep it’s official; Australia is set to ban the incandescent light bulb!

    You do have to wonder though why it takes so long for such simple decisions to be made. The government here is starting to feel pressured by public opinion and the opposition party over it’s lack of serious action on climate, so it’s stating to cast around for minimal effort responses. At least it’s a start.

    And yes Oz is starting to feel like a giant sunburnt canary. Flick through the other articles on the environment section on the ABC news website to get a feel for how things are going here in the parched Antipodes. Take note particularly of the fierce debates over water management.

  35. 85
    James says:

    Re #77: “China will use its coal regardless of the consequences so long as it is cheaper than other fuels.”

    Why should this be any more or less true of China than of any other country, or indeed, of any group or individual?

    Now rephrasing that to “group X will continue to use coal as long as those making the decisions perceive a net benefit in doing so” would be closer to the mark, and also gives ideas on how to change that behavior. In the case of China, there are plenty of options, such as selling them cheaper alternative energy technologies or imposing excess CO2 tariffs on imports.

    Seems like the “China card” has become the last resort of the denialists. If they can’t convince people that AGW doesn’t exist, they claim that it’s futile for the rest of the world to try doing anything because China won’t. Which, of course, is silly: why should the Chinese be less amenable to education & persuasion than anyone else?

  36. 86
    John Monro says:


    The only way I can see that is even remotely feasible to actually remove CO2 from the air, is to plant trees. There are vast areas of arid or semi-arid land, some of which was probably forested at one time, that could be planted in trees. These would be irrigated by a sustainable irrigation system, with water coming from solar powered distillation plants. It is even possible that large scale reforestation like this will in turn affect the climate in the local area, as the atmosphere cools and water vapour is released into the air, so that after 50-100 years, or maybe even sooner, the forest will become self perpetuating. Tourist trips in renewable fuelled aircraft, the fuel being derived from the cellulose of these forests, would be very popular, with brochures tempting customers to visit the wonders of the Saharan jungles or the Gobi forests.

    Of course, none of this would be worth attempting until we reduce our global CO2 emissions by 80-90%

  37. 87
    Mark A. York says:

    “It would be great to see Crichton have to face the facts and it is important the climatologists take up such opportunities to present their case.”

    I highly concur and my 1st choice is Gavin, but anyone on this group could do wonders, as Jim Hansen did in his response to Crichton’s scientific method.

    My recomendation is if the phone rings, answer it, and show up with a PPT presentation. I’ll be watching.

  38. 88
    mark says:

    I know that non-scientists like Michael Crichton really aren’t credible about global warming, but I have a question about a statement he made. He said that there should be “double-blind” studies fo all environmental research. I’m not a scientist, but I know double-blind research is what medical doctors and medical researchers use, because of the placebo effect in patients receiving drugs or other medical treatments.

    Now I realize Crichton doesn’t know what he’s talking about when he speaks out on climate science, but is that statement about double-blind research in environmental/climate studies as nutty or ignorant as it sounds?

    I mean, how would you use double-blind studies when it comes to studying the planet? Wouldn’t that mean we need two earths?
    I apologize if I’m missing something. Thanks for taking the time for this neat web site.

  39. 89
    mark says:

    I’m not a scientist, so hopefully someone who knows about this will soon reply, but in magazines like Scientific America they’ve had articles about how new technology might “scrub” C02 from the air. Basically it would involve some kind of filter that captures C02 particles and store it (usually underground, or perhaps the sea). I mayb be wrong but it’s my understanding, that while plants play a big role in cleaning the air, it’s unlikely they would be the solution to solving the carbon problem because once a particular tree or plant dies the carbon it stored up is released back into the ecosystem. Of course things like deforestation should be stopped, but apparently just planting a lot of trees or artificial forests wouldn’t stop global warming. The technology for the CO2 scrubbers also would be extremely expensive and it would take a large number of them to even have a miniscule effect on overal C02, so pretty much the only reliable “cure” is to massivel reduce CO2 emissions. Some people have proposed science-fiction like solutions such as a solar shade that blocks out some of the sunlight, but of course many scientists doubt things like that would be a good idea, and they don’t solve the underlying problem, and there are other problems with oil use like carbon acidification of the oceans and peak oil. Apparently there’s no quick fix or simply free lunch for this. Again, I’m not an expert just someone who’s read about this (mainly science magazines for a lay audience), so hopefully one will answer your question soon.

  40. 90
    mark says:

    Paul M
    “Isn’t Branson the guy who owns the airlines? Don’t planes burn fuel?…”

    No offense, but deniers use some excuse like that all the time, “Doesn’t Al Gore own a plane, etc..” Well first just because someone’s a hypocrite does not mean the science is wrong. And you might want to be sure before you charge someone with it. For example, Al Gore uses carbon offsetting to neutralize the carbon he puts out. Branson only recently became a “believer” in global warming, I seriously doubt he’s going to bulldoze his hotels and sell his business and airplanes (even then, people wanting to fly would just use a different airline.)

    China actually may soon actually be making more progress in this than the US, for example it’s proposing efficiency rules for its auto industry that are actually more stringent than ours. So one of the few remaining exuses “but, but China!” might not be viable anymore. China’s a totalitarian dictatorship that treats its citizens like crap, so I don’t think we should emulate them anyway. Also when the US was industrialized, fossil fuel was the only viable fuel source, there were no alternatives like there was today, and we didn’t realize the effects of all this then. Finally, virtually none of the measures proposed would “deny” China/India prosperity, such as transferring oil company subsidies to renewable energy to spur regulation, encouraging efficiencey in our own country, reseach prizes like this, etc. Despite what all the shills and deniers say, ther is NO reasonable justification, morally or economically for doing nothing. I also, personally find it a little humorous when the same people who otherwise don’t give a care about anyone else in the world suddenly are “concerned” when they realize their own lifestyle might be threatened (I’m not saying you’re like this, but many are). Kind of like when con-servatives who think all poor people are lazy bums who need to work harder, and oppose minimum wages, and any measures to help them, suddenly are “concerned” action on global warming might hurt the poor.

    Global warming certainly has, and is, bringing out the absolute ugliest in human nature, and shown a lot of people for what they really are. Like when greedy already wealthy businessmen care so little about human life, even their children’s, they’re willing to lie and spread propaganda to prevent any action on this so they can make more money than they ever need. Certain people on the right have shown (not just in this matter) in the last few years they’ll put ideology over facts no matter what the cost. So while anyone who’s not biased and has been paying attentino knows, there certainly is a lot of ugliness but it’s certainly not coming from the scientists and people trying to solve global warming.

  41. 91
    Alex says:

    Re: #9 – Rick, weren’t we told that robots would be running our households by the late 20th century? We can hope that technology will eventually make a big dent in this issue via such things as carbon sequestration, but it seems unwise to bet the farm on it. Especially when the laws of physics still have some say in the matter. We should be doing what we can now, and then transition to new technologies as they become feasible and reasonable in the real world.

  42. 92
    Aaron D. Holder says:

    I do not know much about science, I will state that first off. And most of the ideas I throw out are completely stupid. Anyhow can’t CO2 be removed the an alkaline metal solution? instead of SO2 can’t you use calcium or potassium? both of those can be used to filter CO2. I know it’s not a device or method I am stating. I am just trying to give an idea of a filtering solution. I am not an engineer.

  43. 93
    Mike says:

    While we’re waiting for that $25 mill…

    Here’s a click-to-donate site that appears kosher. Check it out on Wikipedia if doubtful. One mere daily click of your mouse saves over 11 square feet of rainforest and of course helps the CO2 imbalance.

    Keep up the good work chaps and female climatologists.

  44. 94
    pete best says:

    Re 83, Raypierre, is that possible what you suggest? Can we stabalise our CO2 output when China and the USA plan or are designing and building new coal fired power stations during this decade? And then can we make it fall when no agreements or finance are yet available to do so and when the technology is not currently developed to assist in this?

    I have read this morning that the EU 27 states have agreed 30 % cuts relative to 1990 levels by 2020 but I am doubtful that this can be achieved without large scale spending by the states themselves and that means diverting money other good causes such as health, roads, schools etc. In fact the only way to achieve this is to use energy conservation techniques that will have to be paid for by the state, ie lagging peoples houses and cavity wall insulation.

    Surely any demonstration of cuts of this magnitude are more ideology than fact? Sustainable energy aside (germany has plenty of wind turbines and solar) can we really do it ?

  45. 95
    Nick Gotts says:

    re #58 “I can see the day before the CO2 scrubbing plant goes into operation, some group will get a judge somewhere to issue a restraining order.

    The Greens have escalated this debate from science to politics and the law. They may regret that.

    Just think. One judge could stop the whole effort.”

    Believe it or not, even US judges do not yet have jurisdiction over the entire planet.

  46. 96
    Jeff Weffer says:

    On #83, yeah sorry, my math was off there, the cost should have read $240 billion per year.

  47. 97
    Brad Arnold says:

    I’ve been shopping around the concept of constructing a GMO and seeding it into the ocean to improve nature’s ability to fix carbon. The reactions I’ve gotten back from governments and scientists is that it is a risky scheme.

    Therefore, I think people need to first percieve how close we are to triggering a catastrophic runaway global warming chain reaction where mankind’s emissions rapidly melt the permafrost which cause the oceanic methane hydrate to melt.

    Furthermore, I think people need to percieve that it is unlikely (and unrealistic) that mankind will cut their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions so deeply, so fast, as to avoid runaway global warming. Therefore, cutting anthropic GHG is a poor mitigation strategy.

    When people realize how serious global warming is, and that trying to cut their GHG emissions is failing to solve the problem, they will come to the realization that only removing the GHG from the environment after it has been emitted is the solution.

    This may sound too good to be true, but nature already removes about half of the carbon dioxide mankind emits each year (although that is expected to decrease 30% by 2030). We need to improve nature’s ability to fix carbon, and in my opinion the best way to do that is by seeding a GMO into the ocean (i.e. biosequestration).

  48. 98
    Marco Parigi says:

    Re #84 Re #78: Yep it’s official; Australia is set to ban the incandescent light bulb!

    First of all one has to note that Australia has no incandescent light bulb manufacturers to complain. Secondly, Energy efficient lightbulbs were likely to be switched to in large numbers anyway. How many more with the policy change? Just the ones which had less reason to and very few more (most people are less lazy when it is about saving money). Wrongly, the government gets credit for an accelerating process of conversion that was happening anyway. Great politics, So-so environmental credentials.

  49. 99

    Phillip — I think you have an interesting idea with the carbon sequestration plants working on the surrounding air. I don’t know whether it’s practical in energy terms or not, but if it is it might well be the way to go (aside, of course, from conservation and developing renewable energy sources). For sequestering the carbon, I’m wondering if it can’t be combined with some other substance to make a solid, which could then just be stacked or buried somewhere. If you could make bricks out of it it might be very useful.

  50. 100

    [[History shows us that in the past century, there have been other climate changes, that seem to be linked to certain events that affected the oceans in the same period. Naval wars, as small as they seem compared to the vaste spread of the oceans, are some of the more importants causes of the climate changes in the history ]]

    How? By what mechanism do naval wars change the climate?