all that is solid melts into air
September 19, 2018 9:38 AM   Subscribe

The Dirty Secret Of The World's Plan To Avert Climate Disaster - Abby Rabinowitz and Amanda Simpson, WIRED.
The UN report envisions 116 scenarios in which global temperatures are prevented from rising more than 2°C. In 101 of them, that goal is accomplished by sucking massive amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere—a concept called “negative emissions”—chiefly via BECCS. And in these scenarios to prevent planetary disaster, this would need to happen by midcentury, or even as soon as 2020. Like a pharmaceutical warning label, one footnote warned that such “methods may carry side effects and long-term consequences on a global scale.”... Today that vast future sector of the economy amounts to one working project in the world: a repurposed corn ethanol plant in Decatur, Illinois. Which raises a question: Has the world come to rely on an imaginary technology to save it?
posted by the man of twists and turns (30 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ah, the ADM Illinois project, the little CCS project that could. Whoever can figure out how to incorporate future climate impacts into a market price for carbon will win a Nobel Prize for economics.

The US is the middle east of carbon capture, but it is just too expensive a process.
posted by Hermeowne Grangepurr at 10:06 AM on September 19


Which raises a question: Has the world come to rely on an imaginary technology to save it?

Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. (Hb 11:1)
posted by Pyrogenesis at 10:13 AM on September 19 [1 favorite]


it is just too expensive a process.

More expensive that not doing it?
posted by chavenet at 10:14 AM on September 19 [9 favorites]


"Whoever can figure out how to incorporate future climate impacts into a market price for carbon will win a Nobel Prize for economics."

Why do I feel like ultimately this will just mean being charged for the air that you breathe?
posted by GoblinHoney at 10:15 AM on September 19 [3 favorites]


More expensive that not doing it?

More expensive than not emitting the CO2 in the first place.
posted by Definitely Not Sean Spicer at 10:19 AM on September 19 [8 favorites]


Since that involves developing time travel on top of a huge alternative energy program, I'm not hopeful on that count.
posted by Naberius at 10:21 AM on September 19 [4 favorites]


What I mean by "too expensive" is that the filtering, compression and pumping of carbon dioxide needs energy for it to occur. So if the cost choice is between "run a natural gas plant with no CCS" and "run a natural gas plant with CCS", the no CCS option is obviously going to win. You and I agree that "no CCS" plan does not take into account the overall economic costs of climate change and too much CO2 in the air, but obviously republicans and the current president doesn't agree. That's why a "price" for carbon needs to be factored into energy & gas/oil production, because otherwise driven by cost, the CO2-emitting projects will always win.

In 2007, communities were falling over themselves to host "clean coal" and CCS plants, which would have been heavily subsidized by the Department of Energy, and almost every single commercial-scale project failed to get off the ground (except for the ADM Illinois project, which is a little different, since it deals with ethanol instead of electricity production). The reason? Cost, basically, and the writing on the wall that congress was not going to do anything about carbon.

Implementation for renewable technologies can be more expensive, and less reliable, so combining them with some natural gas with CCS would have to be part of the carbon neutral solution.

Just another reason to vote Democrat in Nov, of course.
posted by Hermeowne Grangepurr at 10:46 AM on September 19 [4 favorites]


Since that involves developing time travel on top of a huge alternative energy program, I'm not hopeful on that count.

The whole point is that a huge alternative energy program is going to be more cost effective in the long run than trying to recycle carbon with a ridiculously inefficient process.
posted by Definitely Not Sean Spicer at 11:03 AM on September 19 [4 favorites]


One more link on carbon capture: The Economist. Mostly talks about the Carbon Engineering plan. I like it for giving hard numbers on the reality: $94-$232 / ton of CO2, or 10-20x the current European tax on CO2 emissions. The article also pins the cost threshold for "this might actually work" at $100 / ton or cheaper. Mind you, we have to scrub something 10,000,000,000 tons of CO2 a year to get to 2°C. No one is prepared to invest a trillion dollars / year solely in sucking CO2 out of the air.

On my darker days I wonder why people aren't talking more about other options for managing temperature. Specifically some sort of global cooling with reflective aerosols. (As so vividly depicted in The Matrix). The risks of doing this kind of global geoengineering are enormous, but it sometimes feels like it's the only realistic option.
posted by Nelson at 12:02 PM on September 19 [5 favorites]


If we really wanted to avoid problems, we would need _both_ the huge alternative energy program and some carbon engineering using said alternative energy, as far as I can tell.

However, in the US we are rapidly moving away from doing anything about the problem with the new EPA, so its all just intellectual exercise. The people in power either refuse to believe or do believe but pretend not to because they figure they will avoid the effects themselves.
posted by thefoxgod at 12:16 PM on September 19 [5 favorites]


How the hell can someone understand the situation and think they'll avoid it?
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:54 PM on September 19 [4 favorites]



How the hell can someone understand the situation and think they'll avoid it?

IT crowd Denholm Reynholm exit gif
posted by Damienmce at 12:58 PM on September 19 [6 favorites]


I feel the question "Has the world come to rely on an imaginary technology to save it?" is really misrepresenting things. Limiting warming to 2°C isn't going to "save" us. It's still going to cause serious issues. It's increasing the chance of positive feedbacks to kick in for further warming, things that already happening like ice melt reducing albedo, methane releases occurring that further increase warming, or ecosystem shifts such as in the Amazon, which can become a net emitter of carbon due to increased decomposition.

Limiting warming to 2°C is just trying to make sure that we only get "bad" consequences, instead of "terrible" or even "catastrophic". And we're at the point where we effectively need to already be putting this imaginary technology in place to keep things to only getting "bad".

I'm not saying we shouldn't keep trying to fight climate change in any way we can. After all, the outcomes are all still models and probabilities - the more we do, the higher the chance of the more preferable outcomes. I'm just saying that we should probably start moving forward assuming that we're going well past 2°C, and adjust accordingly. Maybe buy your property in northern British Columbia now, cause that's going to be one of the nicer places to move.
posted by evilangela at 12:59 PM on September 19 [1 favorite]


I wonder why people aren't talking more about other options for managing temperature. Specifically some sort of global cooling with reflective aerosols.

My bet is that eventually this is what happens, and it'll be the Chinese who do it.

They already have a slight national obsession with weather control, so it's not totally out of line. And of course they don't have to worry about people hand-wringing in public over whether or not it's a good idea, precautionary principle, etc. etc. When the Party decides it's cheaper to start flying strategic bombers full of sulfuric acid around than to move all their coastal cities and infrastructure up six feet, they'll do it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:04 PM on September 19 [2 favorites]


I'm sure there's some Dr. Strangelove working right now on the numbers for how big of a nuclear winter we'll need to counteract global warming. No new technology needed; hell, we wouldn't even have to build anything, since we've already built everything we need.

Given our propensity for dealing with disasters by creating other disasters, I wouldn't be surprised if that's what ultimately reverses global warming.
posted by clawsoon at 1:12 PM on September 19 [2 favorites]


We're going to spend billions to figure out how to capture and store carbon dioxide from the air, at the same time as we spend billions on pulling carbon dioxide out of storage and putting it into the air, to dubious economic result.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:16 PM on September 19 [5 favorites]


No one is prepared to invest a trillion dollars / year solely in sucking CO2 out of the air.
OTOH, doubling the current US military budget to deal with the consequences of global warming is all too plausible.
posted by joeyh at 1:53 PM on September 19 [7 favorites]


How the hell can someone understand the situation and think they'll avoid it?

I imagine they're doing the math on their life expectancy.
posted by ODiV at 2:07 PM on September 19 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I mean Trump is not likely to experience any particular problems from climate change, being both pretty old and very wealthy. His children/grandchildren will, but he doesn't seem to care about them too much so its probably fine.

Also, I still think the very rich will be "fine". They can move to whatever the best place remaining is, will have plenty of resources, etc. Or at least this is what they imagine (sufficient global unrest may render their wealth meaningless/inaccessible, but I doubt many are planning that far ahead).

The simple point is probably just age, most of the people ultimately responsible will avoid most of the effects, especially once you factor in wealth (even with billions its possible their descendants will be affected, sure, but not them personally).
posted by thefoxgod at 2:25 PM on September 19 [2 favorites]


(That said, Trump personally probably doesn't "understand" it because he doesn't seem to understand much more basic problems/concepts, but I'm thinking more like other senior Republican leaders, the Koch brothers, etc)
posted by thefoxgod at 2:26 PM on September 19 [1 favorite]


Sulfur aerosols are, as I understand it, extremely cheap in the grand scheme of things. Like, within the means of a single eccentric billionaire, and certainly almost any medium-sized nation-state at all, even a very poor one.

So someone may just do it, unilaterally, and then what? Will the US take military action to stop them? Will we all decide it's a good idea?

My understanding is also that putting these aerosols in the atmosphere is easily reversed (you have to keep spraying them if you want the cooling effect to persist), although probably second-order effects to the climate could be quite complicated and persistent.
posted by vogon_poet at 3:30 PM on September 19 [2 favorites]


And of course they don't have to worry about people hand-wringing in public over whether or not it's a good idea, precautionary principle, etc. etc.

And they don’t need to worry about half of their political establishment believing that none of it matters because Jesus will return in their lifetimes
posted by moorooka at 3:34 PM on September 19 [3 favorites]


The earth has more sea than land area, and I understand that seaweed grows quickly. Maybe we could sequester carbon by harvesting kelp, or even free-floating species like Sargassum?
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:27 PM on September 19


Harvesting seaweed as a carbon-negative energy production scheme could work... but would presumably be mostly reducing the amount of carbon stored otherwise stored in the sea. Sea carbon is rising, and that's problematic for all kinds of reasons, but it's the air carbon that, through climate change, will kill us first.
posted by avapoet at 11:00 PM on September 19


All the CCS schemes are energetically expensive even if run at theoretical maximum efficiency. After all, it took industrialization some 200 years of burning to produce our current atmospheric anomaly. But not only will we have to capture 200-world-energy years worth of GHGs, but also all the added "natural" emissions already accelerating from permafrost thaw/decay, clathrate destabilization, soil baking etc. We have to build triple-global scale carbon neutral energy infrastrucutre to power civilization and keep stuffing genies back in the bottle and cope with the baked in heating and albedo and landuse changes while its all happening.

We can't.
and even if we could we wouldn't because when we could, we didn't.

Its all who, whom. Whom benefits, who suffers.

So yes, if we had wanted to save human civilization (and agriculture) some form CSS would need massive deployment.

But some powerful actors will instead crashcourse geo-engineering hoping they benefit/mollify their stakeholders while the rest of the world sours and bakes or what not.

We are telling ourselves that there is still time for a miracle, but even the miracles we are hoping for aren't miraculous enough, and plan B is geo-engineering climatic russian-roulette.

Naomi Kleins "This Changes Everything" has a nice section on this and its pretty obvious we're F-ed.

Grow plants because they are awesome. Don't let industry pretend plants will save us.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 11:45 PM on September 19 [1 favorite]


I'm not saying to despair, i'm saying to radicalize your energy and food life style now because the calvary is not coming, the ship is sinking and the life boats are filled with the rich.

solar panels and electric vehicles and tools are great not because they can prevent climate crises, but because to have reliable useful power that you can essential pre-pay for now, while times are good and use later, when times are bad. Victory gardens and efficent homes and local community affinity groups are good for us now and in the future. These actions won't prevent climate change, but will make adapting and allowing some to survive it easier. To action, to action, another world is coming. Don't let the good of this world slip away without a chance, without a fight. Rage, rage against the dimming of the light.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 11:58 PM on September 19 [1 favorite]


There's no reason to despair, if only because it's not useful. The terror is real, but hope still remains. Faint hope, but what else are we going to do.

Make lifestyle changes, sure, but don't do it in the beliefs that individual change will halt matters, do it because you like the changes themselves.

I believe the only thing that will make enough of a difference is state intervention, and I don't expect any of our states as they stand now do that. That can change.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 1:29 AM on September 20 [1 favorite]


After 150 years, a breakthrough in understanding the conversion of carbon dioxide to electrofuels "Scientists have long sought ways to convert abundant CO2 to useful products such as chemicals and fuel. As early as in 1869, they were able to electrocatalytically convert CO2 to formic acid. Over the past two decades, the rise of CO2 in Earth's atmosphere has significantly accelerated research in CO2 conversion using renewable energy resources, including solar, wind, and tidal... Recent research in electrocatalytic CO2 conversion points the way to using CO2 as a feedstock and renewable electricity as an energy supply for the synthesis of different types of fuel and value-added chemicals such as ethylene, ethanol, and propane."

also btw... posted by kliuless at 6:32 AM on September 20


Trump administration sees a 7-degree rise in global temperatures by 2100
Last month, deep in a 500-page environmental impact statement, the Trump administration made a startling assumption: On its current course, the planet will warm a disastrous 7 degrees by the end of this century.

A rise of 7 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 4 degrees Celsius, compared with preindustrial levels would be catastrophic, according to scientists. Many coral reefs would dissolve in increasingly acidic oceans. Parts of Manhattan and Miami would be underwater without costly coastal defenses. Extreme heat waves would routinely smother large parts of the globe.

But the administration did not offer this dire forecast as part of an argument to combat climate change. Just the opposite: The analysis assumes the planet’s fate is already sealed.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:38 AM on September 28 [1 favorite]




« Older 2018 surplus of $45 billion, with a B.   |   Steam men Newer »


You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.