Embracing the madness
On Monday, under the title ‘More fracking madness’, I published a recent exchange of emails I sent to and received from Professor Robert Mair (who chaired the Royal Society/Royal Academy of Engineering 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 sustainability issues surrounding carbon capture and storage (CCS).
It was therefore a happy coincidence that I should happen to read in this month’s Geoscientist magazine a book review by the former President of the Geological Society, Dr Bryan Lovell (son of the World-famous astrophysicist Sir Bernard Lovell who died recently). This prompted me to write to the Editor of the magazine and, the rest, as is often said, is now history (or at least it has been published on the Society’s website). Therefore, today, in reproducing this exchange (between me and Dr Lovell), the story comes full circle as I finally come to terms with the essential inevitability of CCS as our most likely means of avoiding climate catastrophe… Hence the title ‘Embracing the madness’…
My email to the Editor:
Sir, I have just read, with great interest, Bryan Lovell’s review of a new book Clean Energy, Climate and Carbon by Peter Cook, in Geoscientist. Having double-checked, it would seem that the esteemed former President of the Society is very much a climate change realist. Nevertheless, Dr Lovell would appear to agree with Cook that Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) must now be an essential part of human strategy for avoiding excessive climate change. This would appear to make my hope that CCS not be relied upon as an excuse for perpetuating “business as usual” look hopelessly optimistic.
However, in view of the email I sent to Professor Mair and his reply (i.e. both published on my blog yesterday), I would be extremely interested to know if and/or how Dr Lovell thinks we can avoid tracking inevitably towards at least 4 Celsius increase in global average temperatures if we make no attempt to phase-out fossil fuel use and or leave some of them in the ground?
Dr Bryan Lovell responded very promptly, as follows:
Sir, Martin Lack reassuringly describes me as a climate change realist. He and I agree that, realistically, it is unwise to continue to burn fossil fuels and to dump the carbon directly into the atmosphere once we’ve had the use of it. We can also agree that, realistically, coal and gas will continue to be burnt in large quantities for many years to come, to provide the electricity so eagerly consumed around the world. The carbon that is produced by burning that coal and gas cannot with impunity be dumped into the atmosphere. So we need to capture and store that carbon, by developing a 21st Century CCS industry on a scale comparable to that of the 20th Century oil industry.
This prospective CCS industry is nothing like ‘business as usual’. Its development will require the adoption of an attitude that the fossil-fuel industry is no more simply the problem then we, the consumers of its products, are simply the problem. Carbon is the problem. Managing the transition we now have to make to a low-carbon economy is going to be even trickier without CCS. CCS is going to be even trickier without the skills of the fossil-fuel industry: new business and new thinking.
Although it has not been published, in addition to thanking Dr Lovell for responding so promptly, I felt it was necessary to clarify my original meaning (as I suspect he misunderstood):
I should apologise for the way in which I use the phrases “status quo” and “business as usual”. I say this because I did not mean to infer that I think CCS will be anything less than the revolution you describe: My concern is that CCS has been used by the fossil fuel lobby to perpetuate the moral and/or social acceptability of fossil fuel use; and to put off the day when fossil fuel subsidies (ten times those given to renewable energy) are eliminated.
This then remains our greatest challenge: To establish a level playing field. However, here we are in severe danger of going around in circles because, unfortunately, this is going to be very hard This is because (can you guess?)…