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Recycling Carbon?

Filed under: — stefan @ 9 May 2016

Guest commentary by Tony Patt, ETH Zürich

This morning I was doing my standard reading of the New York Times, which is generally on the good side with climate reporting, and saw the same old thing: an article about a potential solution, which just got the story wrong, at least incomplete. The particular article was about new technologies for converting CO2 into liquid fuels. These could be important if they are coupled with air capture of CO2, and if the energy that fuels them is renewable: this could be the only realistic way of producing large quantities of liquid fuel with no net CO2 emissions, large enough (for example) to supply the aviation sector. But the article suggested that this technology could make coal-fired power plants sustainable, because it would recycle the carbon. Of course that is wrong: to achieve the 2°C target we need to reduce the carbon intensity of the energy system by 100% in about 50 years, and yet the absolute best that a one-time recycling of carbon can do is to reduce the carbon intensity of the associated systems by 50%.

The fact is, there is a huge amount of uncritical, often misleading media coverage of the technological pathways and government policies for climate mitigation. As with the above story, the most common are those suggesting that approaches that result in a marginal reduction of emissions will solve the problem, and fail to ask whether those approaches also help us on the pathway towards 100% emissions reduction, or whether they take us down a dead-end that stops well short of 100%. There are also countless articles suggesting that the one key policy instrument that we need to solve the problem is a carbon tax or cap-and-trade market. We know, from two decades of social-science research, that these instruments do work to bring about marginal reductions in emissions, largely by stimulating improvements in efficiency. We also know that, at least so far, they have done virtually nothing to stimulate investment in the more sweeping changes in energy infrastructure that are needed to eliminate reliance on fossil fuels as the backbone of our system, and hence reduce emissions by 100%. We also know that other policy instruments have worked to stimulate these kinds of changes, at least to a limited extent. One thing we don’t know is what combination of policies could work to bring about the changes fast enough in the future. That is why this is an area of vigorous social science research. Just as there are large uncertainties in the climate system, there are large uncertainties in the climate solution system, and misreporting on these uncertainties can easily mislead us.

It’s fantastic that web sites like Real Climate and Climate Feedback re out there to clear some of the popular misconceptions about how the climate system functions. But if we care about actually solving the problem of climate change, then we also need to work continuously to clear the misconceptions, arising every day, about the strategies to take us there.

Anthony Patt is professor at the ETH in Zurich; his research focuses on climate policy

95 Responses to “Recycling Carbon?”

  1. 51
    Scott Strough says:

    #25Taylor says:
    I agree that using this technology to capture enough of the carbon in the very short time frame is unrealistic. If you add in the fact that the economic cost to do this would be massive and would never actually get past the theoretical stage.”

    wrong technology

    “Under appropriate conditions, 30-40% of the carbon fixed in green leaves can be transferred to soil and
    rapidly humified, resulting in rates of soil carbon sequestration in the order of 5-20 tonnes of CO2 per
    hectare per year.”



    5-20 tonnes of CO2 per hectare per year x 1500000000 hectare = 7500000000-30000000000 tonnes of CO2 per year
    No cost. More profitable. Large enough.

  2. 52
    Thomas says:

    #48 in many ways yes I am an economics denier. It isn’t science it’s a belief system.
    #49 excellent refs and fair enough. However the drivers for acid rain has not stopped ‘cap n trade’ in and out of the USA – cap n trade requires Regulation at it’s core. It’s still playing a pea and shell game, it’s still pandering to a belief system that cries the “sky is falling” if you do that to poor ol’ me the power generator. It’s all about special interests being “their” shareholder profits and wealth and not scientific rigor. In the meantime every molecule of SO2 NO+ generated in the USA today still has a growing affect on the entire planet.

    As you say Kevin the EU carbon ETS is an abject failure. In Australia it was a abandoned after a change in govt to right wing conservative AGW/CC deniers. But whatever. If people choose to believe the words and promises of profiteers and the cursory papers that suggest “gosh it made a difference more than we expected” well go forward. Generations yet to be born will be praying these ideas are right. I disagree fundamentally on first principles but that’s just me.

  3. 53
    Scott Strough says:

    5-20 tonnes of CO2 per hectare per year x 1.5 billion hectare = 7.5-30.0 billion tonnes of CO2

  4. 54
    David B. Benson says:

    Here are the links to the two desert irrigated afforestation papers that I know about.

    Could Planting Trees in the Desert Mitigate Climate Change?
    This group suggests planting Jatropha curcas unlike
    Irrigated afforestation of the Sahara and Australian Outback to end global warming
    where a large eucalyptus is suggested.

    Even if the papers fail to mention it, the long range paln is to sequester caron in the soils and deep underground in the form of biochar.

  5. 55
    Cody Nichols says:

    To Omega Centauri’s comment before – I think that the ask a scientist service is a great idea! I wonder, though, whether it’s an issue of whether or not that service exists, or if they just don’t want to consult anyone on the topic. I don’t mean to say that they would want to publish something that they know to be untrue.. but maybe they just like it the way it is. I think that could be a lot of the issue with the media. People want to hear that there are good compromising solutions. It’s really tough to say something so drastic as “we need to eliminate all coal based power”.
    But, to address your idea, there are definitely sub reddits which exist capable of filling that niche. Like /r/Askscience, for example. It might not be certified or accredited, but there are people there who could point out some of the errors in the article before it was posted. Often they will even cite references. And, I wouldn’t doubt for a minute that they could point you in the right direction for who to speak to for further info.

  6. 56
    Thomas says:

    17 Kevin McKinney says: “Sensitivity to price does not magically stop at some arbitrary level of ‘can afford it.’ Even billionaires like a ‘deal’….”

    That is really not true Kevin but understandable so I don’t criticize you for that. eg if it was true they would already be flying coach and not first class or in their own lear jets. Kevin “Price” is irrelevant when real money is concerned. Millionaire’s electricity bills and gas prices are as concerning to them as the annual cost of paper clips are to you mate. The same goes for CEOs, corp boards, and major shareholders. Seriously, your idea/definition of a ‘deal’ is very different. You need to add at least six zeros to yours and introduce the elements of ‘power’ and ‘prestige’. I speak from direct personal experience here and not from imagination or theory. And they are not as smart as some like to believe they are. Long ago I had some ‘dealings’ with James Peabody III. He tried to manipulate me (due to my corp position) to get what he wanted and money was no object. Instead I used him and so outwitted him and his competition (our current supplier) to get a deal that both were seriously pissed about. :-)
    Maybe think of it this way .. the Crocodile Hunter (RIP) was a big hit because he understood the nature of the animals he was dealing with when those watching on the TV did not. Follow that thought down the rabbit hole mate.

  7. 57
    Thomas says:

    Kudos to 19 Scott Strough – excellent contribution.

  8. 58
    Digby Scorgie says:

    Let’s put aside for the moment this argument about carbon taxes versus cap-and-trade versus whatever. I would’ve thought that if one lived in a country that was serious about climate change, one should see the cost of fossil fuel rising at an increasing rate.

    Effects would be, amongst others, fuel for one’s car becoming more and more expensive, airlines charging more to fly because of rising jet-fuel costs, and shipping costs rising because of the increasing cost of oil for ships.

    Is this or is this not the case?

    I can’t see how we can wean ourselves off fossil fuel without confronting the reality I’ve outlined above. Or am I mistaken?

  9. 59
    zebra says:

    @BPL 48,and also T,

    I don’t know exactly what either is trying to say. Maybe for once, on this science-oriented blog, people could refrain from getting into the “definition debate” mode and agree on whatever it is you are talking about?

    Laissez-faire Capitalism and free markets in the original sense are antithetical.

    Efforts by sellers to motivate buyers can exist in either case.

    Definitions please?

  10. 60

    z 59,

    I think of economics as part of the science of mass human behavior. That prices are set by the interaction of supply and demand was an important theoretical breakthrough; we may take it for granted now, but it is a 19th century discovery (there may have been one 18th-century predecessor). Free markets work well to distribute goods and services–that does not mean they work well for all things, as externalities are an obvious problem. But to say, as Thomas does, that the entire field of economics is useless, is simply an ignorant and anti-science attitude.

  11. 61

    However the drivers for acid rain has not stopped ‘cap n trade’ in and out of the USA – cap n trade requires Regulation at it’s core. It’s still playing a pea and shell game, it’s still pandering to a belief system that cries the “sky is falling” if you do that to poor ol’ me the power generator. It’s all about special interests being “their” shareholder profits and wealth and not scientific rigor.

    Sorry, Thomas, but I have no idea what this paragraph means, or is supposed to mean.

  12. 62
    adelady says:

    I noticed this in the NY article …
    “But developing devices that can efficiently and economically convert large amounts of CO2 will require overcoming many hurdles, not the least of which is all the energy required to split carbon dioxide molecules.”

    So what do we do? We look to natural processes, nature can split CO2 at ambient temperature and pressure using water and some leaves or plankton. It can also combine CO2 with other chemicals in the environment at ambient pressure and temperature. The obvious one is rock weathering. Obvious for two reasons.
    1. We know that this is the basis for most/much geological sequestration of carbon over history.
    2. We’re burning and releasing fossilised carbon at a rate much, much in excess of the natural process of reabsorbing it.

    Why not, for the time being at least, ramp up rock weathering processes to match or exceed the current excessive rate of release. This has the additional advantage of being able to continue, _regardless_ of a reducing rate of release, to go for the effect of reducing atmospheric and ocean concentrations once we get to trivial or nil emissions.
    1. The absorption is guaranteed and irreversible (unlike trees or injection underground). Olivine in particular absorbs CO2 at better than one to one. 1 tonne of crushed rock absorbs 1.25 tonnes of CO2. Fantastic basis for offset schemes to (partially) pay for the task if anyone wanted to do that.
    2. Done correctly, it can enhance agricultural and forestry and fisheries production (because of the magnesium etc) as well as reducing pH of ocean waters near coral reefs. Enhancing the growth of trees gives you additional sequestration even if you can’t measure how much.
    3. If you can’t afford the whole, best, completed processes all the time, you can simply shatter the rocks and leave them in situ until you can get around to crushing them. The weathering process will be sped up, just not used to best advantage in the meantime, especially in the wet tropics.

    1 It’s not glamorous or sophisticated. Nor does it require any fancy materials science to design or refine uses or applications. It’s really, really _simple_. That might sound like a good thing, but it fact it’s a huge disadvantage. Most people, whether they admit it or not, like ideas that are new, exciting, glamorous, white-coat laboratory or silver bullets in one way or another – preferably with a media-worthy ribbon cutting ceremony to mark the auspicious occasion of flicking a switch or opening the doors. Quarrying rocks is something we’re highly skilled at and this is a _very_ easy, beginner level, version of that. It doesn’t require any, or very much, transport to use. It’s about as sophisticated as deciding how finely to crush gravels or dusts for various road building uses. Not glamorous or exciting to anyone.

    2. It’s a huge, gigantic quarrying/mining task, about the same size as the current coal industry.

    3. It’s a lot of money – but only because people are used to the trivial sums usually grudgingly allocated to environmental remediation. The money is large because the task is large. Though considering Australia’s tax office tells us that, in Australia alone, the oil industry has $187 billion dollars accumulated in credits for exploration – thus offsetting most if not all tax liabilities for a few years – we shouldn’t worry too much about finding $250 billion worldwide to deal with something much more important.

    Personally, I see no other way – apart from massive changes to agriculture – to even consider how we can work towards 350 or 280 ppm.
    Rats. pdf won’t link. Use search term … innovation literatuur Schuiling olivine against climate change … and you’ll get it.

    David Benson.

    I thought of you when I saw this. You, like me, will _hate_ the video itself because so many of the slides are completely indiscernible. However, the agricultural-adviser-become-forester speaking is a really nice guy. His belated discovery of what people now call “invisible forests” is fantastic. Apparently they’re all over the place if you just -look- the right way. He’s the only forester ever to have developed multiple millions of hectares of forest – without planting a single tree. As one of his colleagues observed,

    “How many people have used a $2 pocket knife to create something that’s visible from space?”

  13. 63
    adelady says:

    Digby Scorbie
    “Effects would be, amongst others, fuel for one’s car becoming more and more expensive, …”

    In the absence of EVs, that might happen. But EVs are on the march and they _will_ take over the world. Oil producers will, sometime during the 2020s, find themselves heading in the same direction as the whale oil industry in the 1850s. They’ll be running out of customers long before they run out of whales/oil. Better technology wins.

    It just depends how soon, many people suggest 2022-23, the industry will be able to supply long range EVs at the average US price for a vehicle, $22000ish. Of course, fleet managers will be very early adopters. Quite apart from the reduced fuel costs, the reduction in maintenance costs is absolutely staggering. Fewer than 30 moving parts in an EV. 22000+ moving parts in an ICE vehicle. They’ll be elbowing individual purchasers out of the way.

    Oil is low priced now because of a deliberately created, but temporary, glut of supply. What will happen to the oil industry when EVs, long before they’re very common on the roads, reduce demand by the same amount, but permanently?

  14. 64
    Dan Miller says:

    #35 Thomas: Again, I totally support regulation but I feel effective regulation will be harder to implement in the short term compared to F&D. But regulations will come when the SHTF, but it may be more like marshall law. As others have pointed out, arguing that F&D won’t work because other problems were solved by regulations is not valid logic.

    Let’s look at an example. Assume that in 5 or 10 years that CCS can be implemented for $50/ton (one of our companies is working on that). Now assume that the F&D carbon fee hits $100/ton 10 years from now. You are a power plant operator, a cement manufacturer, or steel producer. If you have the choice of paying $100/ton or $50/ton, which will you choose? Add to this the public relations bonus you get by eliminating your emissions! The $100/ton will also swing decisions, big and small, in favor of wind and solar and away for coal and NG.

    #41 Andy Revkin: The idea that we should not use F&D to reduce emissions in the US because it may not be the ideal incentive program in China and India doesn’t make sense (and that logic is used by conservatives to avoid implementing all kinds on carbon reduction programs). But in any case, F&D has two parts: (1) the carbon fee and dividend distribution, and (2) a boarder duty on products coming from countries that don’t have their own price on carbon. If we implemented a boarder duty along with China and the EU (both of whom are ahead of the US on carbon pricing) the rest of the world would need to fall in to place quickly. A border duty is allowed under WTO as long as you have your own carbon fee. Note that this international leverage is a big advantage of F&D over regulations since we must get the whole world to reduce emissions if we are to have any chance on making it through this.

  15. 65

    Concerning the inefficiency of cap-and-trade: At least in the european case, it’s not the fault of the system, but clearly of it’s implementation. It covers only half of all emissions, which is a joke, and the cap is set so high, and its rate of decrease so low, that it’s a mere alibi politics.
    If those three parameters: coverage, cap and decrease rate were set correctly, we would as surely as tuesday notice a considerably higher investment both in saving – and in non-fossil energy, and in lifestyle too, as e.g. long distance flights and big cars would become relatively more expensive.
    Ugo Bardi on his blog did a back-of-envelope-calculation with the result, that we (as mankind) have to multiply our current yearly investment in regenerative electrical power by 8 (eight) to achive both: continue our lifestyle and avoid warming > 2 K. ( And he did not include heating.
    So, there is really something to do.

  16. 66

    z 59,

    A free market is a market composed of an infinite number of infinitely small buyers and sellers, with no barriers to entry or exit. Clearly, this is like an ideal gas–it’s never perfectly true in reality, though you can come close.

    Laissez faire refers to a market economy where the government never interferes. In the long run, this is unstable, since market “winners” will collaborate and drive out the “losers,” eventually leading to oligopoly or monopoly for every good or service or collection thereof. It also provides no mechanism for dealing with externalities.

    A free market, in general, is a good way to organize an economy, because it distributes goods and services efficiently through the price mechanism, and does not require lots of government planning. The mechanism is automatic and self-correcting–provided no one cheats and there are no externalities. The latter problems are where the government comes in. In the long term, you can’t sustain a market economy without vigorous antitrust and some way of regulating pollution and other involuntary third-party effects.

  17. 67
    Hank Roberts says:

    Thank you Scott Strough for #19 above, worth expanding into a topic, or do you have pointers to further info?

    It’s worth remembering that the rising investment in corn came after sugar from Cuba was embargoed — corn syrup was the replacement for cane sugar. And Cuba is opening up again just as taxing sugary beverages because:diabetes is getting attention. So it won’t simply go backwards.

    My old friend Phil Rutter has been working on commercially feasible replacement of corn and soybeans with woody agriculture — chestnuts, hazelnuts, and various hybrids – for several decades and can make a good argument for including that path in the near future of agriculture (and also a good argument against replacing corn/soy with switchgrass as a fuel crop).

  18. 68
    Thomas says:

    59 zebra this is not the time or the place for people have to work it out for themselves imo. eg that Adam Smith was not what we know of today as a Libertarian, or Tea Partier, or AGW denier, nor was he for an unregulated free for all “free market”. Like most ‘gurus’ of the past his early wisdoms (that were focused in the time in which he lived) have been hijacked and twisted into something else entirely. I will offer up 3 First Principles definitions:

    1) A belief system is a set of mutually supportive beliefs. The beliefs of any such system can be classified as religious, philosophical, ideological, or a combination of these.

    2) An ideology is a set of opinions or beliefs of a group or an individual. Very often ideology refers to a set of political beliefs or a set of ideas that characterize a particular culture. Capitalism, communism, socialism, and Marxism are ideologies.
    3) Religion is a cultural system of behaviors and practices, world views, sacred texts, holy places, ethics, and societal organisation that relate humanity to what an anthropologist has called “an order of existence”.

    And “government” is not the devil – it all depends on who is controlling it and their ethics and values – a monarchy, dictatorship or a democracy system makes very little difference to that imo. Look no further than the deceit and criminality behind the GFC. The rest is history.

  19. 69
    Thomas says:

    59 zebra, a PS.

    By coincidence I came across this talk. It speaks to the hypocrisy and mythology of “free enterprise”, “free markets”, “finance”, and “economics” today. One might also add in the notion of duplicity as well, especially when it comes to barriers of switching from fossil fuels to alternatives and major reductions in emissions into the future that are possible by applying the known science, already available technology and analytic reasoning and further investments in ongoing research and development, imo.


    Try listening for the first 5 mins only. As you do consider what is meant by term “mindsets” and how regularly these clash with logic and the facts. Like who really funded the internet and modern technology and established the infrastructure to deliver it? :-)

    Basically no carbon tax or ETS cap n trade is required to significantly push up the overall cost of using fossil fuels and which will then exert an immediate downward pressure on their use within the economy over time. A notice to Corporations that the Govt will progressively regulate power generation and MV emissions, plus coal mines, tar sands, and shale gas out of existence within 15-30 years will be enough to motivate industry and the consumer to change their present behaviour and their future purchasing decisions immediately.

    Of course that requires an international approach and agreement. Not going to happen. And so they keep putting off the hard decisions by pretending that the “free market” and economic theories about supply and demand will solve the problem. It cannot do that. It’s impossible and it will fail. Prayer would be more effective imo. :-)

  20. 70
    Digby Scorgie says:

    adelady @63

    Did you confuse the “g” and “b” on your keyboard? Scorbie? Ouch!

    Anyway, regarding fossil fuel and cars, I think you’re optimistic. How many fossil-fuel cars are there in the world and what is their mean lifespan? For example, my wife and I drive a ten-year-old car which still shows no sign of old age. It could easily last another ten years.

    Unfortunately, humanity has to make a huge dent in the use of fossil fuel over the next two decades, if my understanding is correct. EVs might form an increasingly large fraction of new vehicles, but it will simply take too long to replace the existing fleet of fossil-fuel cars.

    Focusing on vehicles is also not enough. What about shipping and aircraft? I’m still waiting for some sober comment on my original question: Is our goal the increasing cost of fossil fuel, whatever methods are used to achieve this, and what would be, in broad outline, the effects?

  21. 71
    Scott Strough says:

    @Hank # 67,
    Thanks to you and Thomas for the kind words. I actually did put a whole lot of effort in that post, been developing the concept for a while now. You said, “do you have pointers to further info?”

    Could you be more specific? Are you a farmer who wants the latest methods of carbon farming? Or how to integrate animals back on the land efficiently? Or an advocate that needs info to influence policy makers? Or a policy maker yourself trying to understand how to structure the infrastructure, subsidies and regulatory guidelines to help the farmers get this done? Or a scientist needing supporting published evidence and/or case studies? Or an educator needing materials to show others how to do this? Hands on or theoretical info? There are so many sides to this it is hard to really know what “pointers” to what “further info” you really are seeking.

    Also keep in mind, my post is a synthesis of my own making based on what I have learned from many sources. You probably won’t find this exact plan elsewhere analyzed by independent peers.

    Oh and BTW I am well familiar with the chestnut hazelnut drop in replacement for corn and soy. It’s a good plan because to mechanize harvest, you need pretty good spacing between trees, and that area is best managed as a savanna biome…..with usually beef and/or sheep grazing between rows. So yes, that would be part of the plan where appropriate. You also still need corn wheat and soy of course, so integration is also needed where appropriate. Many ways actually to skin that cat. Probably one of the best being pasture cropping developed by Colin Seis. He is getting documented case study results of 17.1 tonnes CO2 per hectare per year sequestered over a 10 year case study, by integrating both at the same time.

    Also there is rice, which has a whole different way to produce more and also carbon farm.

    As far as your “switch grass” biofuels. I kinda disagree. Part of the way a buffer stock scheme works is by dealing with surpluses. I wouldn’t recommend any land solely dedicated to switchgrass biofuels, but grasslands that are undergrazed do sometimes have surplus biomass. You must get rid of that excess or you can develope moribund plants. You could burn it of course, but I think since switchgrass is many times more efficient at producing ethanol than corn, that type of biofuel could actually be a key component to maintaining the buffer stock scheme on restoring grasslands. Not a a monocrop dedicated switchgrass for biofuel, there I agree, but rather a way to maintain a more steady price for the commodity markets.

  22. 72
    James Salsman says:

    Why would anyone advocate carbon capture from air instead of the electrodyalisis of carbonate from the ocean where it is in equilibrium with air but the far greater molecular surface residue of aqueous instead of gaseous chemistry allows extraction at such greater efficiencies?

  23. 73
    Paul D says:

    #50 (pardon the off-topic digression) Most of the dead trees seen along the western Pennsylvania Turnpike in the area you are referring is due to wind-blown winter road salt spray and dust on this snowier and windier stretch of the highway on the western Appalachian slopes. The increasing intolerance of US drivers to any winter weather conditions – combined with heavy marketing by the miners of those huge salt deposits underlying western New York, has led to explosive increased of road salt usage. Annual gypsy moth damage has declined to near zero since the 1990s. The environmental impacts of road salt usage are largely ignored – because to suggest curtailing salt usage will lead one to accusations of calling for “carnage on the highways.” This is probably just a taste of what we are going to face if we call for somewhat more draconian restrictions on car usage and car design to address AGW.

  24. 74
    Michael Mays says:

    Converting carbon dioxide into a liquid fuel requires a hydrogen source, most likely hydrogen gas. Clean hydrogen sources are problematic. If your source is hydrogen then this process isn’t needed.

    Making a liquid fuel, a hydrocarbon, to sequester carbon dioxide from the air at a significant amount would in turn produce massive amounts of liquid fuel.

  25. 75
    zebra says:

    @ Thomas 69,

    [I hope this isn’t a duplicate.]

    OK, BPL 66 did a good job of defining which I suspect you would agree with. But, you seem to be missing the point that maintaining a free market is a form of government regulation.

    I often suggest, for the case of electricity generation, the following:

    1. Create a carbon price.
    2. Require that utilities do not generate electricity, but only function as common carriers, allowing buyers and sellers to connect without bias– an individual’s solar panels or some corporate giant nuclear plant, the utility provides grid and meters and so on equitably.

    This relates back to what I said in the previous comment– you need to get the camel’s nose under the tent, and change the psychology of the consumer. This is a doable plan. It takes away the ability of the FF corporations to manipulate those consumers, and it takes away arguments about “picking winners”.

    I’m hardly a marketing expert, but as a consumer I look for some positive element in the transaction rather than see it as a punitive experience. Hey, if you provide an “app” for people to buy and sell and manage electricity consumption, how can you go wrong?

  26. 76
    gallopingcamel says:

    Carbon sequestration is a great idea if it is implemented according to Hammurabi who stored grain in the “Fat” years so the people could survive the “Lean” years.

    In a modern context we should be creating mountains of non-perishable food to alleviate the suffering that will be caused by the next volcanic eruption on the scale of Mount Tambora.

  27. 77
    Thomas says:

    75 zebra, we are coming at this from different ways. I don’t disagree with what you’re suggesting as useful. What I am saying is that there already is a “carbon price”, it’s called the cost of mining and extracting coal, gas and oil. It ends up as the Price Points set on petrol pumps, gas meters and in one’s electricity bills. Consumers usage then is predominately a result of their consumer goods from cars, plane flights to light fittings and refrigerators plus import/export controls. Every step of this continuum is already Regulated by Govt Laws and Standards in most nations and especially in the OECD G20.

    By national govts collectively Tweaking every step of existing Regulations and their approval processes for mines etc immediately forces a higher price for “carbon based fuels” in the marketplace globally. The demand stays the same for energy but the supply of fossil fuels being restricted opens up the space for competitive alternatives in both safe GenIV nuclear and renewables and especially higher efficiency technology across the board to help consumers reduce consumption.

    What is the barrier to this approach? The Banking, Corporate and Economics High Priests say the Govt is being ‘naughty’ when the Rules are changed half way through the life-time of any Investment based on a Business Marketing Plan. Those who built and funded a power plant in 1980 demand that “reality” never changes in the next 60 years. That of course is insane and yet the entire world is being held to ransom based on a ludicrous belief an illogical myth.

    An example is the Adani Coal Mine in Australia planned to be the worlds 3rd (?) largest ever and operating for the next 60-90 years until 2100. The state of the manipulated rules currently existing means if in 20 years the Australian or Indian Govt chooses to shut it down then the Shareholders of Adani, the Banks and Bondholders will then demand compensation from the taxpayer for interfering in their dreams to make a fortune selling Coal to India.

    There is a simpler solution. A logical science based global agreement via the UNFCCC nations that there is an immediate and permanent Moratorium on all new Coal mines, Gas and Oil fields. That one simple act will immediately produce a doubling of the price on all fossil fuels due to the implicit massive cut in supply. That will flow throughout the whole economy of the world in an instant. Then corporations and bankers and the consumer will act accordingly based on this new reality.

    Simply follow this same logic of new tough environmental pollution Regulations being imposed on existing coal mines, gas and oil fields, power stations, motor vehicles, shipping, farming techniques, shipping, airlines, refrigerators, light fittings, air conditioners, manufacturing, business and building codes.

    Before you can say “holy crap Batman” oil companies will be investing in manufacturing Batteries and recharging facilities on the highways, coal fired power companies will be building new wind farms, home owners will be switching to solar and mini-wind turbines and creating neighborhood owned mini-renewable electricity distribution networks and battery units in their garages. The financial industry will follow suit immediately. They are not dumb, simply lazy at present because currently the Governments we vote in allow them to be.

    iow the fault lays solely in the collective hands of the consent of the governed. No one else. Not Deniers. Not the Koch brothers. Not fossil fuel companies. And not our Politicians either. We are in fact living inside a world of economic and “free market” theory (a false Religion) based on delusion, myths and unreality.

    Fix that and the rest will fix itself based on reason, logic and scientific know-how. imo.

  28. 78
    Chrstopher says:

    A carbon tax of any design when applied to energy management, photovoltaics, wind, geothermal, net zero technologies would “bury” CCS in a heartbeat.

    then why would we adopt CCS strategies that involve extracting and burning even more fossil fuels to accomplish the CCS (I believe this is the worst case positive feedback, the more FF that is CCS the more FF that has to be burned to accomplish the CCS!)

    Why would we adopt CCS when we ignore energy conservation practices that are readily available for way less cost?

    Plan B calls for carbon to be removed pre-burn and converted to carbon based structural elements. These elements will replace both steel and concrete and last longer without expensive and scarce alloying elements or paint. The process will eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from energy production, iron ore extraction and smelting, coking operations and concrete manufacturing. It will also eliminate the entire field of sequestration underground.

  29. 79
    Chrstopher says:

    Did anyone mention the Keeling Curve? Seems that after 60 years of steady 2ppm increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations that we surpassed 400ppm 2 years ago and rapidly increased to 407ppm for a doubling of yearly rate of increase.

    And what is to blame for this increase? What role does fracking play in this rapid increase on atmospheric CO2 concentrations? Fracked gas was supposed to be a game changer….maybe we need to abandon fracking and return to burning coal?

  30. 80
    sidd says:

    Agreed that salt and deliberate broadleaf herbicide spray has screwed roadside vegetation. But the dead trees off 76 near new stanton are definitely remnants of gipsy moth death. Succession growth now is covering some of it up. The swarms went up from there toward erie and were predicted to hook left into ohio, but never did.

  31. 81
    patrick says:

    Tony Patt, 43: You have a gift for clarity. Thank you for sharing it. I wonder if you have any comment on this view from Joe Romm’s (May 10, Climate Progress) article, linked by Secular Animist, 22:

    “For instance, there has been a long-standing, though kind of pointless, “debate” about what kind of balance is needed between deployment of existing clean energy technology and development of breakthrough technologies… It isn’t really much of a debate, though, because those who favor aggressive deployment (as I do) have always pushed very hard for increased levels of research and development (R&D) — while those who favor research into breakthrough energy miracles, like Bill Gates, tend to diss various deployment strategies.”

    I’m interested because this delineates with some precision just what I’ve thought–not just in the case of Gates, but he’s a top example. I’m not asking you to focus on Gates necessarily. But I wonder if you have any comment on what Romm is pointing out (quote above). Also: linked in Romm’s article, or from it:

  32. 82
    Chrstopher says:

    To #81: The most recent denier “meme” goes like this: Oh Yes! There is climate change (my comment: deniers no longer have to defend rejection of science!). We need to study it for 5-10 years before we understand climate change and can decide what to do about it!

    This new line of denial muddies the line between climate science and denial, relieves deniers the need to argue against the obvious facts of global warming, continues to delay action and, most insidious, provides cover for “fence sitters”.

    Where does Bill Gates fit in the world of deniers? Bill is a fence sitter. He has always argued for climate science at the same time that he delays any action while his foundations study what to do about it.

    MIT released it’s Climate Action Plan in October (easily googled). After 18 months of mild discussion that invited the entire MIT community to participate the Plan is a shining star of denier rhetoric. In a 40 page document 5 pages repeat any apology for rejecting divestment in favor of engaging with the fossil fuel industry. That is followed by pages describing the five new schools of study that will be formed to study the issue. WOW! Denier heaven.

    Pages 14 and 15 describe how the MIT community will make every effort to reduce the campus GHG footprint 32% by 2030. 14 years? The fossil fuel industry can hide behind MIT for 14 years without doing anything.

    At the same time that MIT is NOT advertising the Climate Action Plan, they are advertising and moving aggressively towards design and construction of 1.5 million square feet of new buildings including an 880 car underground parking garage. Underground!!!! Underground and surrounded on 2 sides by the Charles River. Do you think the Facilities Department is talking to the Earth Science department about the Northeast Hotspot, gulf stream and sea level rise? Not to mention that 50 buses could easily replace the 880 cars. Parking in that in nearby parking garages sells for $25/day. 880 time $25/day adds up to a lot of revenue.

    After staging a “sit-in” or “occupation” of the hall outside the office of the vice-president the Fossil Free MIT group settled with MIT in return for changing the language of the climate action plan from “32% by 2030” to “more than 32%” by 2030.

    When I survey the campus environment I cannot find any indication of action to reduce the GHG footprint. In 2002 the city of Cambridge (MIT is in Cambridge) announced a plan to reduce GHG 20% below 1996 levels. In 2004 and again in 2006 MIT published commitments to participate. I cannot find any documentation celebrating any programs or recording/celebrating any GHG reduction.

    And so this is how the fight against global warming progresses across the entire US landscape. 10 years ago scared silly by the near collapse of global banking that resulted from … lets not go there… Americans almost adopted small cars. Today we are buying SUVs and PUTrucks in record numbers. Even small cars now advertise power over fuel efficiency. The Prius is the only serious fuel efficient car on the market. All the others are not serious are ridiculously expensive. While wind and solar have been spectacularly successful, they are being installed without any sensible plan to attach global warming and reduce GHGs. And that industry would collapse in a heartbeat without government incentives. The Governor of Maine killed offshore wind that was going to be built by Statoil for free. At the same time dealing a deathblow to a home grown, robust effort to demonstrate offshore wind.

    And so the resistance to action continues. MIT, Bill Gates, the fossil fuel industry and the republican party continue to block action while pretending to acknowledge the climate change might be real. Brilliant!
    So MIT, the Fossil Fuel

    The first climate action

  33. 83
    Chris O'Neill says:

    a carbon tax or cap-and-trade market. We know, from two decades of social-science research, that these instruments do work to bring about marginal reductions in emissions, largely by stimulating improvements in efficiency.

    That’s not true. The biggest effect of a Carbon price is to shift energy production away from Carbon burning sources to non-Carbon burning sources because of the change in economics, not an outright reduction in energy consumption due to improvements in efficiency.

    The biggest reason the emission reductions have been marginal is that few countries seriously and competently set about implementing a genuine Carbon price. For example the United States as a whole doesn’t bother with a Carbon price (a small minority of states notwithstanding) and Australia reversed its Carbon price (tax) because of dishonest political opportunism.

    The basic problem is the climate science denialists have won and very few countries take the problem seriously.

  34. 84
    Omega Centauri says:

    Digby @70. I am in agreement with you that the wholesale replacement of vehicle fleets with electric versions is a long way off. I say this as someone with both an EV and a plugin, who does his best to promote them. There is a lot of reluctance around having a vehicle with the combination of limited range, and long refueling times, and even the mid-priced 200mile range cars that are coming by next year will have limited consumer uptake.
    I’m not as worried about airplanes, for the near future, they can be converted to biofuel sources, the magnitude of fuel usage is small enough that that should be feasible, unlike the current ground transport system which use too much fuel for that. If we get battery tech which uses oxygen from the air for one of the chemicals, then we could see a ten X improvement in capacity/weight, and moderate range electric airplanes with several hundred miles of range would then be possible.

  35. 85
    patrick says:

    Christopher, 82: > This new line of denial muddies the line between climate science and denial, relieves deniers of the need to argue against the obvious facts of global warming, continues to delay action and, most insidious, provides cover for “fence sitters.”

    That’s just what I think, after considerable effort to understand Gates, and others. I agree too that the place where Gates’ view fits into the denialist world is on the fence. The view given by the Foreign Policy Institute functions the same way.

    This view provides cover for false concern and leads to mountains of moral hazard–if not to a tower of babel. It sits on a very high fence, and on what sounds like a pretty high horse.

  36. 86
    patrick says:

    Joe Romm adds to the deploy-now topic, with a real world solution that is flexible, scalable. No push-pull (of CO2). No fuel. No fuels. Clean from the first watt. Cutting-edge. No muss, no fuss. “Storing the sun’s energy just got a whole lot cheaper,” May 18:

  37. 87
    Racetrack Playa says:

    Here is what realistic renewable energy-powered conversion of atmospheric CO2 to iquid hydrocarbon fuels looks like, technically speaking. This approach is based on a similar technology, the capture of atmospheric nitrogen (N2) and conversion to ammonia (NH3), as well as on plant photosynthesis. This particular approach has three stages:

    1) Generation of a pure CO2 stream from air. Solar or wind energy is used to drive a multi-step enrichment cascade (much like the enrichment cascades used in the nuclear industry to concentrate D2O out of H2O, or to concentrate U-235 out of U-238). Let’s say one develops a CO2-excluding membrane that allows passage of N2 and O2, for example. In each stage, CO2 concentration rises – if it’s a 10-fold process, we go from 400 ppm, to 4000 ppm, to 40000 ppm, to 400,000 ppm, to pure CO2. That’s raw material #1.

    2) Generation of H2 from H2O. Again, solar or wind power is used to drive the process; there are quite a few approaches, but all revolve around the creation of appropriate catalysts. The ‘artificial leaf’ system uses light and a semiconductor-based catalytic matrix to directly drive photo-separation of H2 from H2O; other approaches use an electric current to drive the process. A lot of progress has been made on this front; but the goal is always the same: a pure stream of H2.

    3) The H2 stream is reacted with the CO2 stream to generate liquid fuels. Again, many catalytic routes are possible; one of the more plausible methods is to first convert the CO2 to CO (carbon monoxide) which reacts with H2 under high pressure in the Fischer-Tropsch reaction, somewhat similar to the Haber nitrogen-to-ammonia process, to form a series of long-chain hydrocarbon fuels identical to gasoline. Other methods produce alchohols like methanol, or just methane.

    This approach, if efficiently optimized and conducted on a large scale, should be able to produce many tons of hydrocarbon fuels at large scale industrial sites. The requirements are lots of sunlight and a source of water (and notice this is a good means of storing solar energy in chemical form).

    Notice also that coal combustion-sourced CO2, if fed into this process, ultimately ends up in the atmosphere and so does nothing to slow global warming. In addition, coal exhaust, while rich in CO2, is also full of sulfur, nitrogen oxides, and contaminants like mercury which are notortious for poisoning the catalysts used in chemical synthesis. These contaminants would have to be scrubbed out. In contrast, atmospheric-sourced CO2 has no such contaminant issues (assuming were not collecting air downwind from the Los Angeles smog zone, for example).

    In the long run, this should be a viable industrial process, and is a better approach than biofuels because it doesn’t remove agricultural land from food production and can be set up in a wide variety of locations.

  38. 88
    Tony Clough says:

    I’m a bit of a hobby researcher kind of guy here. Love science and also the bible. Was looking for any trace of that global flood and found something we all need to look into. The two say life was different, both say environment was changed. I have found many parallels in geology and biblical records. For now let’s leave bible out. but it does have the last word, the biggest clue we badly need. Learned about polar forests and polar animals that once lived in both ends. Some say there was more greenhouse gases the have a free ice earth at that time. They think the changes happened over long periods of time. Yet others tell us if temperatures increase it will be the next mass extinction event. Only in the polar areas do we find this change. It is thought that in later times (Pliocene) the earth was warmer (THE SECRET OF ANTARTICA –VIDEO). This is where the contradiction lays. If CO2 increases do we life better and longer as the dinosaurs lived, happy and lush environments, or do we all die from extreme heat etc.
    If the bible is right, the kind of greenhouse environment needed for changing the earth for the better does not now exist. The kind we will get from our CO2 we make today could very well kill us all just as they say. Just because the earth was once a paradise of lush plant and animal life, does not mean it could get back to that without divine help. There is where the answer to the contradiction lays – the bible.

  39. 89
    Kimani says:

    It’s fantastic that web sites like Real Climate and Climate Feedback re out there to clear some of the popular misconceptions about how the climate system functions.

  40. 90
    Hank Roberts says:

    > atmospheric-sourced CO2 has no such contaminant issues

    Er, that would be because you’ve used the biosphere as a filter to collect all the heavy metals, etc.

    The value, if you care about it, of collecting fossil fuel exhaust CO2 is you’re getting no carbon-14 from that.

    Sometimes you do want a pure material uncontaminated by any artificial radioactives. It’s hard to find anything that’s definitely pre-Trinity/Hiroshima/Nagasaki/testing and has no trace fission products. points out that ” ionizing radiation due to global fallout from atmospheric nuclear weapons testing was highest in 1963, at 0.11 mSv/yr, and subsequently fell to its present level of about 0.005 mSv/yr …. This source of exposure will decline only very slowly in the future as most of it is now due to the long-lived radio-nuclide carbon-14.”

  41. 91
    mike says:

    RP at 87: Well done. That is the basic layout of how we could address the AGW issue if our species decided to cooperate to mitigate the extinction event we have triggered.

    I don’t know what the Bible, Koran or the other divine records have to say about carbon capture. I am not optimistic about R&D for the scheme you describe unless a lot of folks find something in revelations and its corollaries that endorse the plan. We have to persuade a lot of christians, muslims, hittites and pastafarians to get behind this kind of global endeavor. I pray it may be so.

    Warm regards,


  42. 92
    John Melnick says:

    CCR written off by an author whose CV appears to lack technical depth?

    Here’s my prediction: We’ll see commercial airliners operating on recycled carbon long before we’ll see a 747 on batteries.

  43. 93
    patrick says:

    “Science”: “Inject, baby, inject.” Weather, baby, weather, I say.

    Carbfix Project homepage, includes 10 June 2016 paper in “Science,” on the Iceland invention:

    –Includes Wallace Broecker, “a genius and a pioneer…arguably one of the greatest living geoscientists,” Earth Institute, Columbia. And:

    “Certainly, this epitomizes our approach to this problem: Understand the processes of natural olivine carbonation, and then do as little as possible to accelerate these processes in order to consume globally significant quantities of CO2.” –Peter Keleman group. Hear, hear.

    If the science of geology pursues geothermal and deep-geothermal science in this century with the kind of devotion it pursued petroleum until now–guess what. I’ve been impressed by the elegance of the idea of anthropogenic weathering analogues. But I didn’t want to say so, because it was so–fringe. Glad to find my impression was not anomalous in the context of what’s next.

  44. 94
  45. 95

    Thanks, Patrick, another positive milestone. OT, I know, but I can’t help but wonder about the technology involved–neither story says, though I’m assuming, based on cost, that it’s some flavor of PV (as opposed to solar thermal.)