Making sense of madness
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”…
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…
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.