One consistent feature of human progress throughout history has been that science will come up with creative answers to current problems. When ancient people living in small tribes were running out of game to hunt, some leaders thought rationing and mitigation were the answers. They would have created a culture of despair. Domesticated livestock was the answer instead and then efficient agriculture and even terraforming.
Based on that confidence, a lot of people, me included, assume that global warming can be solved by some 'future technology' as yet undeveloped. Killing our economy by 25% now (yes, imagine it 25% worse) to stave off a .5 degree warming problem in 50 years is positively un-scientific.
But hope is not how things get done. People point to Y2K and say 'it was all hype, nothing happened' but they forget that's because we spent billions prior to that fixing problems. Likewise, acid rain was a huge concern in the 1980s and is not now because problems were addressed squarely.
Capturing and storing carbon dioxide is a solution the anti-global warming contingent (read, political pundits and bloggers using science to attack Democrats) say can keep us in an SUV Promised Land today. Then future technology can deal with it permanently.
To those people (in this case, Republicans) I say, 'Pretend a Democrat is saying Social Security will take care of itself in the future. Would you be skeptical?' Well, that's how I feel when they insist nothing needs to change and it will all be okay.
As an interim solution while we wait for future magic bullets, C02 Capture and Storage is all the rage but, lacking any reliable testing on a large scale, we have to assume it is more hype than solution.
The UN Climate Panel released a report on CCS last year and it was unanimously supported by the research community. It's easy to get unanimous support on UN committees. You just throw off the people who disagree. The Climate Panel says CCS can account for a reduction of between 15 and 55 percent of greenhouse gases by 2100. 15 to 55 percent is so broad it is almost meaningless, which is another way to get unanimous agreement.
The EU also promotes CCS as a solution, even going so far as to say that captured carbon dioxide placed in the Earth's crust would count as never having been produced.
Yes, that semantic wizardry would mean coal power plants are now the same as solar energy when it comes to 'sustainability.'
Currently, CCS is storing a few million tons but to have a meaningful impact on global warming would require the storage of several billion tons - and an entire transportation industry would have to be created just to store carbon dioxide. We would basically be storing carbon dioxide we created in the transportation of ... carbon dioxide. The world's largest transported good would not be food, people or oil - it would be CO2.
Only the EU could think of that as a good solution. The economic calculations, even over a hundred-year horizon, don't factor in that the costs for virtually every government project ever created were hugely underestimated. To save us in the future, CCS would have to be paid for and running in 15 years but only 20 percent of the general public has even heard of CCS today. What kind of PR campaign would it take to get awareness and implementation of a multi-trillion dollar, multi-national project in the next few years?
“CCS needs to become known and be debated,” says Anders Hansson, who is defending his dissertation at the Department of Technology and Social Change, Linköping University in Sweden, on this topic. “Otherwise there is a risk of a backlash similar to what happened with nuclear power.”
He's right. Here in California protests stopped a law about carbon dioxide storage last year. Granted, this is California, where protesting without knowing what they are talking about is a cultural pastime, but the nuclear issue still resonates here.
There are two primary concerns: first, that CCS will be a bandage that prevents the real problem from being cured; second, that an untested technology will be implemented on a large scale at a cost of trillions of dollars, and perhaps not work, or perhaps create a new government industry that adds greenhouse gases.
One thing optimists have right - science will find an answer to the greenhouse gas problem. That doesn't mean one solution we know of today will be a cure-all until that happens. CCS is a fine idea and it should be used along with other creative ways to reduce the impact of emissions and, yes, we could all do with few less greenhouse gases anyway, but we can't roll the dice when we're dealing with the planet.