Year 4, Month 6, Day 28: The Thrubble With Thribbles

The Washington Post, mouthpiece of the Very Serious People, lacks a sense of irony. Witness Dominic Basulto’s piece, “Global warming is a mess. It’s high time we innovate our way out of it.” Ooooooh! Well spotted!

So, how is it, seven years after Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” woke people up to the dangers of global warming, we’re seemingly back to square one?

One problem, quite simply, is that many of the renewable technologies that we hoped would eventually save us are turning out to be, at best, long-term solutions—longer terms than we can currently afford. According to the IEA, even the most promising renewable energy technologies – solar, nuclear, wind – have done little or nothing to dent our carbon use on a global scale. In Japan, for example, long-term efforts to shift into nuclear power from carbon power were undone in the wake of the Fukushima accident. In fact, most of the gains in reducing carbon emissions, according to the IEA, have simply come from shifting away from dirty coal into energy sources such as shale gas. We’re essentially replacing one form of carbon power with a slightly cleaner (or not, depending on how you look at it) form of carbon power.

So, now what’s the plan?

One of the more radical ideas out there involves a plan to capture all the carbon dioxide that we’re spewing into the atmosphere and either store it underground or transform it into another substance such as sulfuric acid before it becomes a greenhouse gas. Carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) technologies are still incredibly expensive. But they represent one way we may (emphasis on the “may”) be able to reduce our global carbon footprint without completely dismantling our existing energy infrastructure. In some cases, the captured carbon dioxide could be sold to oil producers immediately, who can use it for other oil extraction processes, rather than storing it underground.

While the concept for carbon dioxide capture and storage has picked up some strong supporters at the U.S. Department of Energy, which sees it as a potential way to transform the Department into a “center of innovation”, one of the early full-scale carbon capture and storage projects is actually going into action in Saskatchewan, Canada. If successful, it could create momentum for other carbon capture projects around the world.

Another idea to win the war on carbon is to place a tax on carbon.

Where there’s a Will, there’s no way. June 12:

To assert that we need to “innovate” our way out of the planetary climate crisis is to make a rhetorical virtue out of stating the obvious. Our old patterns of consumption are what brought the problem on in the first place, and it is old patterns of thinking that are blocking forward motion towards solutions. What most people really mean when they talk about technological innovation as a pathway to sustainability is that they don’t wish to give up the conveniences and privileges they experience as wealthy participants in a consumer economy. Fair enough; who would?

But we cannot maintain the luxury of ignorance. New inventions and near-miraculous energy sources won’t mean a thing if our media don’t report on climate change accurately and carefully. Journalistic “innovations” like false equivalence and willful distortions of science have helped stall meaningful action on climate for decades. Let’s begin by telling the truth.

Warren Senders

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