Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

Making sense of madness

with 3 comments

As promised on Monday, when I published my exchange of emails with the Royal Society’s Professor Mair, I now also publish the thoughts of Schalk Cloete’s (oneinabillion blog) regarding the fossil fuel industry’s apparent determination to proceed to burn all fossil fuels (simply because they are there) and rely on carbon capture and storage (CCS) as an excuse to continue with “business as usual”

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Sure, I definitely agree with your assertion that CCS should be treated as a temporary solution. About the “prolonging the status quo” bit, however, it depends on how exactly you define the status quo. If the status quo is fossil-fuel-based exponential growth, I agree with you, but if the status quo is just the burning of fossil fuels in general, I think we have to be a bit more careful.

Let’s think a bit about this from a societal point of view. Currently, Spaniards are protesting about things like a 3% hike in VAT and a 5% cut in pensions and they will probably oust their newly elected leader as soon as they possibly can. Now let’s just say that, through the wave of a magic wand or something, we manage to convince all the world’s leaders to immediately ban all unconventional fossil fuel exploration. It is very hard to predict what will happen then, but my guess is that market speculators will go crazy and the price of oil and gas will probably double/triple almost instantly and, in doing so, totally crush our highly vulnerable global economy. I really don’t like to be a doomsayer, but this kind of scenario can lead to anything from mass starvation to all out war.

Due to such prospects, I’m afraid that totally banning unconventional oil/gas is completely impossible in a democracy where a 3% of GDP cut in government spending sparks massive social unrest. Frankly, this could only be done in a global dictatorship (which is even more impossible). For guys like you and me, this might be hard to accept, but this is the reality we are dealing with right now. We live in a democracy filled with people stuck in a debilitating mindset of consumerism and entitlement and this type of democracy makes the kind of rapid reforms that you would like to see (a situation where people essentially vote for very harsh austerity) a complete impossibility.

This is where CCS enters into the fray (and why I am working on this topic). The role of CCS is to allow this terribly misguided democracy of ours to transition to a low-carbon economy mostly through natural market forces. In practice, the role of CCS is to minimize carbon emissions in the extended period where renewables become economically competitive, our entire energy infrastructure is totally revamped and, most importantly, the public consciousness is slowly altered from consumerism to sustainability. All of these factors will create a natural market drive towards sustainability and eventually revamp our society as needed, but this will only happen over a number of decades. The role of CCS is therefore to “prolong the status quo” of fossil fuel combustion in order to maintain at least some degree of socio-economic stability through this crucial transitional period.

The only alternatives to this scenario are great shocks to the global societal mindset such as another great economic depression (which will be endlessly worse than the previous one because our global society has become totally interdependent) or another world war (which will be endlessly worse than the previous one because we have lots of nuclear weapons). These kinds of scenarios would greatly accelerate the required loss of faith in our current unsustainable systems (and greatly reduce our numbers), but surely no-one in their right mind could see these things as desirable outcomes. CCS can therefore be seen as the tool we will have to use to preserve the planet for future generations without totally crushing current generations.

This is essentially why I am focusing on the two major areas I am working in now: CCS and personal lifestyle change. CCS is necessary to suppress the symptoms and prevent a true ecological disaster while we work full speed on the fundamental root cause: totally unsustainable lifestyles caused by our debilitating culture of consumerism and entitlement. From my current understanding, this is the only practical way in which we can achieve sustainability without triggering some massive societal disaster along the way.

Well, that’s my two cents at least…

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My reaction to all of that, was this:

Have you considered posting this email on your blog?  Alternatively, can I post it on mine?   It is absolutely brilliant.  I mean it.  James Hansen has recently pointed out to the World that the longer we wait to tackle the problem, the harder it will be to fix.  Then, of course, we have people like Greenpeace disrupting Gazprom’s attempts to drill in the Pechora/Arctic Sea.  In contrast to all of that emotionally-loaded discourse, we have your email:  Realsitic and blunt.  Exactly what people need to read in order to start making calm, well thought-out decisions…

I also asked for Schalk’s permission to send his email to my contacts at Greenpeace (but I have not plucked-up the courage to do so yet).  But, if I should ever decide to do so, I would hope to publish their response also.

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Written by Martin Lack

12 September 2012 at 00:02

3 Responses

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  1. The way I see CCS is at best as a wedge, and a temporary one at that for given the prospect of increasing seismic activity from isostatic adjustment as the planet’s skin adjusts to the shifting loads – loss of ice cover and rising sea levels then how can you be sure that your CCS is going to stay stored. It is just as likely to be released again and suddenly to add to the increasing methane from thawing permafrost, burning bogs and undersea clathrates disassociating as deep water warms.

    What is currently happening in the Northern Hemisphere and in particular in the Arctic is truly frightening as events are unfolding much faster than even the most gloomy estimates in the admittedly conservative IPCC FAR (2007). That our science needs to be quickly revised, even above and beyond that likely to be settled on with the current IPCC thrash-out. is taken up here Arctic warning: As the system changes, we must adjust our science .

    To be sure our world economy needs a major overhaul and our leaders need to be brought to understand that endless growth as they know it is a chimera and if we allow them to continually push that old idea then it is essentially game over and there will be blood in the streets anyway. What CCS must not be seen as is an excuse to carry on this BAU for that would be folly.

    I am not sanguine about our chances for politicians are essentially short term creatures well certainly the crop we have at the top at the moment.

    Lionel A

    12 September 2012 at 17:42

    • Thanks Lionel. I have been on something of an Odyssey to get to where I am today with regard to CCS. I think it is a great shame we have got ourselves into a place where we need CCS; but I think that is definitely where we are. Stay tuned for the conclusion of this saga on Friday; when I will publish – and comment on – an exchange of emails I have had with Brian Lovell (son of the late Sir Bernard) who has just stepped down from the Presidency of the Geological Society. If you can’t wait, you will find both on the Letters page of the Society’s website (link to be included on Friday). If you want to discuss economics, the blogs of Paul Handover or Schalk Cloete may be a better place than here…

      Martin Lack

      12 September 2012 at 18:00

  2. [...] committee that recently investigated the safety of fracking).  On Wednesday, under the title ‘Making sense of madness’, I published an exchange of emails I had with Schalk Cloete (oneinbillion blog) on the [...]


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