There are two techniques that could address the threat of an overheating planet. One is carbon capture; the other is geoengineering. Carbon capture comes in two varieties. One seeks to remove carbon dioxide directly from the air; the other removes it from the flue gases of power plants and manufacturing facilities. Both raise the further question of what to do with the captured carbon dioxide once it is sequestered.
Many voices in the scientific community suggest carbon capture and geoengineering will be essential to keep the Earth from becoming a baked potato — or a boiling cauldron. Pick whichever analogy you prefer. The problem is, carbon capture schemes have never been successful. Chevron has been pursuing one project in Australia for years with mediocre results. And geoengineering assumes that people — albeit supposedly smart people — can manage the millions upon millions of permutations that affect the temperature of the Earth’s ecosystem successfully. Good luck with that, folks.
Oil, Gas, & Carbon Capture
The UK on Monday announced it is ready to award more than one hundred new oil and gas drilling licenses in the North Sea, with hundreds more in the offing in coming years. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that new domestic fossil fuel production would help improve energy security and reduce reliance on states such as Russia. “We have all witnessed how Putin has manipulated and weaponized energy. Now more than ever, it’s vital that we bolster our energy security,” he said in a statement reported by Reuters.
Guardian columnist George Monbiot isn’t buying it. He has penned an op-ed piece with this rather combative title: “Here’s the truth about Sunak’s plans for the North Sea: he will sell out the planet to the dirtiest bidders.” Here’s more from Monbiot’s acid dipped pen:
“To buy himself a few more months of political survival, Rishi Sunak, representing a party that has recently taken £3.5m from major polluters and climate deniers, is threatening the welfare of the human species. He has switched, over the past fortnight, from doing a grand total of nothing to prevent climate chaos to actively sabotaging both the climate programs he inherited and the efforts of other public bodies.
“How can you tell when a politician is doing the work of the oil and gas companies? When they start promoting carbon capture and storage. CCS has been the magic fix for climate breakdown promised by successive UK governments for 20 years – and never delivered. Most of the very few projects brought to fruition around the world have been abject failures.
“The sole purpose of CCS is to justify the granting of more oil and gas licences, on the grounds that one day someone might be able to capture and bury the CO2 they produce. It’s no coincidence that Sunak announced both policies – more licences and CCS – in the same statement. It would be wrong to say the technology doesn’t work. It works precisely as intended, even if it never materializes: it is a highly successful method of buying more time for the fossil fuel industry.”
Tell it like it is, George! No wonder he is one of our most admired journalists here at Casa CleanTechnica.
Reaction to the government’s announcement has been swift. Andrew Forrest is one of the wealthiest people in Australia, having parlayed success in mining iron ore into a sizable fortune. He has become a proponent of renewables and green hydrogen. In the UK, he has invested in equipment manufacturing for the mining industry. His Fortescue Future Industries investment company has signed a deal with heavy equipment manufacturer JCB and is building a factory to produce batteries and electric powertrains for heavy industry vehicles and trains in Oxfordshire.
“I am a major investor here,” Forrest told Bloomberg News on a recent visit to London. “If I see this country steering itself over a cliff backing fossil fuel, I am going to start pulling out. I will push my investments over to North America. I must invest where I know I have proper leadership, not leadership which is on a clickbait cycle.”
Reactions around the world have been swift and universally negative. Michael Bloss, a Green member of the European Parliament from Germany, told The Guardian the UK had lost all credibility. “The UK has lost its leadership on this issue. The International Energy Agency said in 2021 that there must not be new fossil fuel exploration in order to try and keep [the goal of limiting heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels] alive.”
Nate Hultman, a former senior adviser to John Kerry, said investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure was a bad investment for the climate and for a world seeking to decarbonize rapidly. He called it a risky financial bet. “When a country increases its domestic fossil fuel infrastructure, it can further embed the economic interests and political incentives of the fossil fuel industry.
“Instead, countries can invest in new economic activities that will also provide what the planet needs to rapidly phase down fossil fuels over the next two decades. Low cost, low carbon technologies already exist that can supplant fossil fuels for almost all domestic demand in most sectors. These should always be the core of any national strategy to reach net zero.”
Lessons Learned About Carbon Capture
Norway is one of the leading oil and gas producers in Europe. It has two carbon capture projects underway that attempt to sequester captured carbon under the seabed. A recent report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis about those two Norwegian projects called into question the long term viability of CCS.
Its author, Grant Hauber, IEEFA’s strategic energy finance adviser, said the Norwegian Sleipner and Snøhvit CCS fields have been cited as global success stories, but because of the unpredictability of the subsurface conditions they cannot be used as definitive models for the future of the industry. “Every project site has unique geology. Subsurface conditions which exist at a given point on the Earth are specific to that place. Even then, any information obtained about that place is only a snapshot in time. The Earth moves and strata can change.”
Fossil Fuel Lies
What we are witnessing is not carbon capture, but rather the capture of entire governments by the fossil fuel industry. George Monbiot sums it up with precision in a scathing response to the UK’s new oil and gas lease program in which he equates Rishi Sunak with Donald Trump.
“Sunak, Trump, and others know what they are doing. They cannot be unaware of the heat domes and fires, the sea surface temperature anomalies and the shocking news from Antarctica. Their economic and security advisers must have briefed them about the likely civilisational risks presented by the closing of the human climate niche. In response, they double down on their support for the forces causing this destruction.
“People seem mystified by this apparent perversity. But it’s a clear manifestation of the pollution paradox, which I see as essential to understanding modern politics. The most damaging companies have the greatest incentive to invest money in politics (by making donations to political parties, funding lobbyists and junktanks, hiring troll farms and micro-targeters, and all the other overt or covert techniques). So politics, in our money driven system, comes to be dominated by the most damaging companies.
“Sunak, Trump and many others like them are not just desperate politicians who will try anything to retain or regain power (though they are that). Nor are they simply representatives of capital. They are representatives of the dirtiest, most destructive varieties of capital, the varieties engaged in a war against humanity. In the conflict between the two existential crises, they know which side they’re on.”
As George Carlin told us, “It’s a big club and you’re not in it!” And yet many of us cheer and stamp our feet, and whistle our approval for those who would deliberately throw us under the bus in order to hold on to political power. In the final analysis, we are the enablers. No one is forcing us to elect these know nothing bozos — yet.
We are long past the point of taking the easy way out. It is time to be adults and make the hard choices that will allow the Earth to continue being a planet that supports human life. It is time to hold the oil and gas industry accountable for their lies and deceitful manipulation of the political process. It is time to either say no to fossil fuels or admit to ourselves that we are among the last of our species and we are okay with that. In the final analysis, carbon pollution won’t spell the end of humanity, willful ignorance will.
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