Wednesday, March 20, 2013

next, please

Stop the presses, lose your Twitter password, push over windmills with bulldozers, smash your rooftop solar panels with a tire iron. For Joe Nocera has found, at long last "A Real Carbon Solution." (Spoiler alert: It's coal!!!).

The specifics are quite interesting and hopeful. They're building a CCS (carbon capture and storage) plant in Texas. Texas being Texas, their "storage" plan, besides making some fertilizer, is to use the injected CO2 to extract more oil from dying wells.

Joe is excited by this. Finally, "Environmentalists could call off their war against the coal industry, thus saving tens of thousands of jobs." 

That's a huge relief. War, as we know, is hell. I am particularly anxious for the war to be over because, as you may know, I impregnated a coal miner during an extended tour, and I am now trying to get her and my child out of the apocalyptic hellscape that is the West Virginia countryside, but it's hard to get seats on the last chopper out of Charleston.

Mr. Nocera's raptures are of a piece with his, and his fellow travellers', determination to do nothing about climate change. Or really, not so much the determination to do nothing as the need to justify their "war" (to borrow Mr. Nocera's overwrought analogy) on the evil environmentalists and their job-destroying ways.

Nocera recognizes that the status quo, that of thousands of "climate-destroying coal-fired plants," is destructive and wrong. But he has staked out a prominent position as a strong advocate for "climate-destroying" fossil fuel burning. To his credit, he does not pretend that CO2 emissions do not cause climate change or that climate change is not dangerous and destructive. But that leaves him with a couple of options, one more palatable than the other:

  1.  1. He could admitt that yes, it has been evident for some time that we need to stop burning coal ASAP. Those nasty environmentalists were right, and Joe Nocera and friends were wrong.
  2. A miraculous new technology is going to save us! Joe Nocera and friends were right to eschew useless pain as we await the un-midwifed, self-funded, market-driven coal-burning "Real Carbon Solution"!
Let's hope this new experiment with CCS proves to be everything Nocera thinks it is, and more. The cynic in me expects that it, like most innovations, will take longer to build, cost more to operate, and be less perfectly effective than planned. The cynic would similarly like to place a small bet that Nocera and his ilk will soon after find a new miracle solution, which will again obviate in their minds the need to undertake collective political action to cut our emission, wunderwaffes notwithstanding.


  1. So then I assume he called for a carbon tax or something, right?

    We can say for certain that without some carbon regulation in place, there is just no way that this will pan out at a large scale. That's because it isn't possible to make it cheaper to burn coal and sequester the CO2 than to burn coal and release the CO2 into the air. And that applies to all CCS: their success is completely dependent on whether carbon dioxide is regulated. That doesn't mean this will pan out if it is, but this definitely won't pan out if it isn't.

    That actually makes me optimistic about the possibilities for CCS. Currently demonstrated methods don't look too promising, but that may just be because there is no money in getting it to work, and much more research would be done if some sort of carbon controls were in place.

  2. "So then I assume he called for a carbon tax or something, right?"

    Either that is sarcasm, or I have failed in my primary mission to track idiocy.