Myles Allen’s proposal to bury the carbon problem

A guest post by Rachel
————————————
Because Wotts is very busy at the moment and because I’m quite keen for a post about Myles Allen’s proposal to bury carbon and because Wotts, I think, has quite different views to me about this, I thought I’d write a guest post.

Myles Allen has an article in the Guardian today, Green levies may be ‘crap’. The way to deal with carbon is to bury it. This article follows on from a similar one he wrote in June this year, Climate change: let’s bury the CO2 problem.

Myles Allen is proposing that rather than pricing carbon, we should make it compulsory for anyone who extracts or imports fossil fuels to sequester the carbon. His suggestion is to start sequestering a fraction of the total carbon emitted and to gradually increase this to 100%. His logic is that we need to reduce emissions to zero; pricing carbon is not achieving this fast enough, and the people with the best resources for sequestering carbon are those in the fossil fuel industry. Yet they have no incentive to do it unless we force them to.

I really like Allen’s idea. It solves the problem without the need for a complex tax or emissions trading scheme; it puts the responsibility squarely where it belongs: with the fossil fuel companies themselves; and if the challenges of deploying carbon capture and storage technology increase the cost of fossil fuels – as will likely happen – then it will make carbon-free energy sources much more competitive and that is surely what we want.

The other advantage I can see is that regardless of how we solve this problem, we *need* carbon capture and storage. Atmospheric CO2 is already at 400ppm and humans in the future may decide that we need to go back to 350ppm.

Allen is going to get lots of criticism for this article. One criticism will be that he has stepped over the line from science into policy. I don’t have any objections with him stepping over this line. I *want* climate scientists to take a more active role in policy decisions that are related to climate change. They are the ones who understand the problem better than anyone else and so it follows that they know better than anyone else what needs to be done to solve it. We need solutions coming from the people who understand the problem. As Allen points out, the economic solution – pricing carbon – is not going to solve climate change unless emissions are reduced to zero.

Furthermore, Universities and the people who work in them play a role in society known as critic and conscience. This means that academics have an implied duty to criticise aspects of society and they should be allowed to do this without fear of repercussions. This is recognised by law in New Zealand under the Education Act 1989 which says, they [universities] accept a role as critic and conscience of society.

A report written by the New Zealand Academic Audit Unit explains it very well:

These aspirations are based upon a number of features. The first is that universities have a responsibility towards society, to work for what they view as the good of society, even at the cost of passing judgement on aspects of that society. To function in this manner, dialogue has to occur between universities and society, dialogue that will only be possible if university staff act with integrity and if this integrity is widely respected outside universities. Implicit within this role of universities is the freedom of academic staff to critique ideas both within and beyond the universities themselves. This freedom is to be exercised by academic staff, both directly and indirectly: directly, for the good of their academic disciplines, and indirectly, for the good of society. As such, it appears to be a highly specific kind of freedom, with clearly articulated boundaries, determined by the academic expertise of the staff and the close relationship between this and their areas of responsibility within the university.

About Rachel M

impatient, opinionated, easily excitable, eats plants.
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63 Responses to Myles Allen’s proposal to bury the carbon problem

  1. I went along to Thomas Stocker’s presentation at Imperial this evening, http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/naturalsciences/climatechange/eventssummary/event_13-9-2013-15-6-39

    There were a few hundred there. He spoke well, drily and calmly. And if you weren’t alarmed at when he finished you weren’t thinking very hard. His presentation followed this article of his, http://www.climate.unibe.ch/~stocker/papers/stocker13sci.pdf

    We’re running out of time to stay within any reasonable projection. Myles’ suggestion suits my mood this evening.

  2. Thanks, Rachel. Far too tired tonight for a post of my own :-)

    I have a few issues with Myles Allen’s article. One is technical. He says

    My neoliberal economist colleagues assure me that putting a price on carbon is the most efficient way to reduce emissions.

    My understanding (and someone like Chris Hope could clarify) is that a carbon tax isn’t explicitly about reducing emissions. It’s about determining the future cost of carbon and then pricing carbon today to reflect the true cost. Hence, it only reduces emissions if that turns out to make fossil fuels uncompetitive. So, Myles seems to be suggesting increasing the cost of fossil fuels by an amount equal to the cost of carbon capture (much more, I believe, than current estimates for a carbon tax). Firstly, why would anyone go along with this especially as a carbon tax is so strongly opposed and seen by some (Roger Pielke Jr for example) as completely unrealistic. Secondly, if you can regulate to force CCS why not consider regulating for other options too.

    Another issue is to do with the the implication that CCS is the only sensible option (which is what I assume the all eggs in one basket section was implying). I can’t really see why this is sensible. Firstly, adding the cost of CCS to fossil fuels costs will make it very expensive so presumably there will be an incentive to find alternatives (this would be good in my opinion). Also, presumably fossil fuels will continue to get more expensive, so why is it sensible to suggest that CCS is the only sensible option? Surely we have to consider alternative for more than simply carbon reduction reasons. Maybe, however, I’ve missed what Myles is actually suggestion.

    As Rachel suggests in the post, this does also cross the line between science and policy. I have no real issue with that as I don’t think scientists should really be discouraged from discussing policy (although there is a time and a place). I have yet, however, to hear the howls of protest from those who typically object to such behaviour and who suggest that it diminishes public trust in scientists. Of course, I may just have missed this or it just hasn’t started yet. My cynical self, however, is beginning to think that it’s only objectionable if it’s a scientist suggesting we reduce our use of fossil fuels.

  3. OPatrick says:

    Stoat had quite a succinct response to this:

    “Its a pile of donkey’s dildoes. MA is clueless”

    I thought it deserved a bit more consideration, but I’m still confused as to how a carbon tax is considered too expensive but regulation which achieves what a carbon tax would and at teh same cost, assuming CCS turns out to be the cheapest option, would somehow been seen as acceptable.

  4. jaimecastor says:

    How does he propose to capture the emissions from the billions of mobile and decentralised sources (vehicles, heating systems etc)? Capturing the emissions from electricity and industrial plant is all well and good but it’s a part of the problem.

  5. Jamie, it’s always been my understand that carbon capture was likely to be extremely difficult and likely an unrealistic (or unachievable) option. I, however, don’t know enough to know if that impression is correct or not. Also, many things that we think are unrealistic or unachievable, turn out to be possible. That argument could, however, apply to any possible technology associated with reducing carbon concentrations in our atmosphere.

  6. OPatrick, you highlight one of the problems I have with this. Those who oppose a carbon tax typically claim it’s just too expensive and too unrealistic. Hence, why would they suddenly support regulation that would effectively increase the cost of fossil fuels by an amount that is quite likely much greater than that proposed for a carbon tax.

  7. Tom Curtis says:

    Starting at the beginning, the only reasons carbon taxes or emissions trading schemes have not been implemented to large extent around the globe are political. Politicians cannot muster the political will to do it, either because they are captured by industry interests or because carbon prices are an issue in which more voters will reject them on just this one issue than will vote for them on just this one issue, if they pursue a carbon price. There is no reason that compulsory carbon sequestration will get around this political block. On the contrary, as it is likely to be a more expensive response to reducing net emissions, it will likely face more opposition.

    Further, carbon sequestration is an undesirable technical response IMO in that, in gas form, CO2 leakage is a likely problem such that carbon sequestration will likely only delay the problem, not solve it. Delaying the problem is itself a good thing, but better to solve it rather than leave problems for our descendants.

    Rather than a response by regulation (compulsory carbon sequestration, compulsory minimum renewable energy targets), a far better approach is a carbon price that rises automatically in proportion to how much CO2 emissions exceed global targets for emission reductions. Currently global emissions need to reduce by 2-3% annually. Ideally we should:
    1) Set national targets such that each nation has an equal per capita emissions target, set relative to their population in 1990.
    2) Reduce global targets and hence national targets by 2-3% per annum.
    3) Allow trade of emissions quotas between nations, but only between nations that set emissions targets/or prices as per clause 5 below, and only if their emissions are well policed.
    4) Require that a fixed percentage of money received from trade of emissions quotas between nations be used to establish low emissions energy supplies, or to fund adaption projects.
    5) At a national level, each nation should have a carbon tax or emissions trading scheme.
    5a) If a carbon tax, the rate of the carbon tax should increase automatically (ie, the legislation should contain the provision allowing, and compelling the increase) as a function of how much the prior years emissions exceeded the nations target.
    5b) If an emissions trading scheme, the tradable credits should be reduced each year to match the reduction in national targets. Further, all credits should expire within 18 months of purchase.
    6) If a nation should exceed its target in any given year, it should be required to purchase emissions quotas from other nations in the following year or face an automatic tax on all imports and exports from all participating nations until such time as half of said tax purchases said quotas equal to the shortfall, with the excess funding a UN agency regulating the agreement. (IE, if you exceed the target, you’ll buy the excess quotas voluntarily cheaply on the market, or involuntarily, and at much greater expense through treaty provisions.)

    Such a scheme, if implemented would bring us to zero emissions; or to a point where the switch to zero emissions will be cheap and market driven within a reasonable time frame. It has the advantage of being fair to all nations, and because initially excess quotas must be bought from western nations from third world nations, will fund development of cheap energy and adaption in those nations without extra provisions.

  8. Tom Curtis says:

    OPatrick, William Connolley has been captivated by the ideas of one writer on economics, Tim Worstall. He is a fellow of the Adam Smith Institute which describes itself as “The UK’s leading libertarian think tank”, so (as is evident from his writing) his economic views are reductionist and simplistic. Put another way, they are “… a pile of donkey’s dildoes”. Consequently consulting Connolley on matters economic is largely a waste of time.

  9. AAshleySharp says:

    On a practical level, the infrastructural changes necessary to implement this policy would make the mass roll out of ‘ready to go’ renewable technologies simple by comparison. Would we move thermal power stations close to the burial sites, or would a vast network of transfer pipelines be required to connect up our existing stations? Look at the political difficulty we are having trying to get High Speed 2 off the ground if we think that this suggestion can deliver the emissions reductions in time. CCS isn’t exactly proven on an industrial scale, and if we decided to bet the farm on this one solution and costs spiralled, we’d be left somewhat high and dry.

  10. > I thought it deserved a bit more consideration

    Yes, and I’m planning to do so. But I’m a bit pissed at the moment, having come back from the Waterman with a few pints inside me. Otherwise, pretty well what Wotts said.

  11. Andy Skuce says:

    My SkS colleague, rustneversleeps, and I threw everything, including the kitchen sink, at a previous Daily Mail article by Allen in our piece A Miss by Myles http://www.skepticalscience.com/MissbyMyles.html

    I do think that CCS will be an essential component of future mitigation, one “wedge” at least. It just can’t supply the entire solution by itself. Indeed bioenergy with CCS is generally agreed upon to be an essential element in any scenario that keeps us under 2 degrees over the longer term, as In the RCP3PD case.

    Indeed, CCS is a huge factor in the narratives supporting all three of the recent mitigation pathways. In the RCP3PD narrative, CCS for fossil fuels and for biofuels is many times bigger for most of the century than any mitigation contribution from renewables or nuclear power.
    http://www.skepticalscience.com/rcp-guide-part3-post.html#97502

  12. cartoonmick says:

    One of the main problems is the tight connection between mega business and the government in power at any one time.
    To please the mega Bs, the government ignores (and condemns in many cases) scientific advice and goes down the path which pleases business and their profits.
    Gotta sever that connection somehow.

    http://cartoonmick.wordpress.com/editorial-political/#jp-carousel-775
    http://cartoonmick.wordpress.com/editorial-political/#jp-carousel-253

    Cheers
    Mick

  13. Andy, I have left a comment on your article regarding some issues I have with your reporting of hazards, I hope you don’t mind.

    Wotts: “Jamie, it’s always been my understand that carbon capture was likely to be extremely difficult and likely an unrealistic (or unachievable) option.” The primary challenges as I see it (as a CCS researcher, and with a CCS MSc to my name ;-) ) are: the CAPEX required to build your capture/transport/storage facilities; public acceptance for underground CO2 storage; and the various legal wranglings on liability post-closure of the storage site. These are not insurmountable, with the right will, and certainly any technical challenges are unlikely to stop CCS from happening. CCS *is* required if we want to significantly reduce CO2 emissions from existing fossil fuel power stations. Given that these plants are on a 40-50 year operating timescale, and say they are at the start of that life cycle (e.g. new plants in developing countries) is it more realistic to retrofit CCS to reduce their emissions or make them stop operating entirely and be replaced with something else?

    Tom Curtis: “Further, carbon sequestration is an undesirable technical response IMO in that, in gas form, CO2 leakage is a likely problem such that carbon sequestration will likely only delay the problem, not solve it. Delaying the problem is itself a good thing, but better to solve it rather than leave problems for our descendants.” What makes you think that the CO2 will leak and defer the problem? Or specifically, given it is inevitable that *some* will escape, if some leaks (say, 1%) surely this is better than 100% leakage which is effectively what we have at the moment? One can’t say how global regs will pan out, but in Europe and the USA at least, storage comes with the belt-and-braces approach of several physical and chemical processes which will sequester CO2 long-term. Once sequestered, especially chemically, then why would this be an issue for future generations unless they are deliberately (or accidentally, I suppose) extracting it back out again? Any researcher in CCS will recognise that there is a risk of leakage, but that this risk is actually very small and the impacts are likely to be minimal. In the same way with e.g. vaccines, this small risk is worth the benefits, IMO.

    I cannot comment on the economics and what will drive CCS deployment. Certainly the biggest barrier at the moment is costs, but various studies (apologies, no links) conclude that coal or gas with CCS can be comparable in terms of generating costs as renewable technologies, and if you look at utilisation of CO2 then it can become very favourable indeed. One thing I will say though, which Myles Allen (and others) haven’t considered is why the fossil fuel industry should shoulder the burden of responsibility alone – surely there should be a requirement on the power generators to capture and store CO2? After all, they’re the ones who are actually generating and emitting it! I’m sure mining and oil companies would point this out, that the burden of responsibility needs to be more equitable.

  14. Tom Curtis says:

    Kit Carruthers, you allow that it is inevitable that some CO2 will escape CCS. Given that, CCS reduces emissions now at the cost of, quite possibly unidentified emissions later through the escape of previously stored gas. That is a gain. Even if we knew that 100% would escape over the period 2050-2100, for example, we are still better of with CCS (ignoring the costs of the CCS) than without in that the delayed total emissions will reduce the absolute peak in CO2 concentration. Of course, in the very long term that would make little difference. However, we would be better of still if we converted to 100% renewable (possibly including nuclear) energy and had zero net emissions by the expedient of emitting no CO2. Hence that is a technically better solution. (Possibly I should say “theoretically better” rather than “technically better”, but that simply begs the question as to what theory is being used.)

    Is CCS a more economically costly solution? Or not? I don’t need to have an opinion about that. Rather, I need to get a price on carbon and leave it to the market to sort out which mechanism to zero net emissions is best in any given niche. However, if I were to ignore the economics and simply regulate a solution, I would regulate the technically preferable solution of mandatory zero emission power generation rather than mandatory 100% CCS.

    I am not sure whether or not you object to my position with this fuller statement, but I can certainly understand how my abbreviated statement above could have mislead you regarding my actual beliefs.

    Having said that, I am aware of one experimental CCS plant in Queenlsand in which carbon is captured by passing it through algal colonies, and which one of the advertized advantages is that the algae, having fixed the carbon through photosynthesis, can then be converted into cattle feed. It is probable, in this case, that the area used for the photosynthetic capture of carbon would produce more energy than that released by the power plant in burning the coal if used for PV cells. It is certain that if the algae is then used as animal feed, the carbon has not in fact been sequestered. I am sure that the scientists working on CCS would not fall for this sort of shell game; but I am far from confident that the businesses that will actually run the CCS will not. Consequently while I am quite happy for the market to decide if and when to use CCS given a suitable carbon price, I am only content to do so with rigorous regulation paid for by a levy on the companies sequestering the carbon.

  15. Andy Skuce says:

    Kit, thanks. I replied to your comment on hazards at SkS.
    http://www.skepticalscience.com/MissbyMyles.html#99912

  16. Rachel says:

    Wotts,
    Myles seems to be suggesting increasing the cost of fossil fuels by an amount equal to the cost of carbon capture (much more, I believe, than current estimates for a carbon tax).

    Chris Hope has a comment beneath Allen’s article in which he says, Some of us have been arguing for the kind of prices Myles Allen wants for some time. I think the problem that Allen is highlighting is that the green levies currently in operation fall far short of what is required and now the government is threatening to roll them back even further.

    Kit,
    Thank you! I was secretly hoping you would comment on this. I’m with you on the “these are not insurmountable” problems. I actually find it quite frustrating when people say something “can’t be done” and it immediately makes me determined to prove them wrong. It’s this same attitude that contrarians have when we discuss shifting to a carbon-free economy – they say it can’t be done so why bother trying. Well I think that’s BS and I have more faith in human innovation than that.

    cartoonmick,
    Cool! Love the cartons.

    AndySkuce,
    I think you mean Allen’s article in the Guardian rather than the Daily Mail.

    Tom,
    I had also wondered about the possibility of big business pretending to comply with such a scheme but then sneakily dumping CO2 into the atmosphere. This is certainly a risk but not a reason in my view to drop the idea.
    ——————————————————————————————————-
    Some more thoughts to no-one in particular:

    In Allen’s first article he discusses Shell’s plan to deploy large scale CCS *only* when it becomes compulsory. They have no incentive otherwise. He also mentions the cancellation of a couple of CCS demonstration projects because of the collapse of the carbon price.

    The huge advantage of Allen’s idea to my mind, is that we can continue to dig up, sell and burn fossil fuels. The huge industries that have developed around fossil fuels do not face a death sentence under this proposal.

    I am curious as to whether contrarians have objections to this idea? Does anyone know? Or is it just the people who want to tackle climate change who object? If contrarians and the fossil fuel industry are prepared to accept this strategy then why can’t we?

  17. Andy Skuce says:

    Rachel, I actually should have said Mail on Sunday, from May 26 this year.
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2331057/Why-I-think-wasting-billions-global-warming-British-climate-scientist.html

    The recent Guardian article makes a similar argument, but makes it better, with the green-bashing rhetoric toned down for the sensibilities of the Guardian readership.

    I would imagine that contrarians would be dead set against this idea. It would be insane to undertake burying CO2 if you did not believe it posed a threat to the climate.

    I think that many people on the other side, who distrust and dislike the oil industry, are reflexively against CCS. Effectively it means paying the fossil fuel companies twice, once for digging carbon up and then to put it back. If CCS happens, on any kind of climate-significant scale, then the big oil/gas companies are going to grow even bigger and more dominant in the global economy than they are now. Greens who dream of a future with distributed, renewable energy produced by local cooperatives are aghast at this idea. But the alternative of no CCS at all is probably worse, since we likely exceed 2 degrees without it.

  18. Steve Bloom says:

    “If contrarians and the fossil fuel industry are prepared to accept this strategy then why can’t we?” That’s a little careless, Rachel, noting that they are even happier to do nothing. The questions are about technical feasibility and sufficiency to the task. So far, no good case has been made in either regard.

    I refer to Ken Caldeira’s work on CCS, and to Mark Jacobson’s on a near-future renewables-only path.

    Ultimately, as Jim Hansen says, the CCS technology we are likely to need (to get back below 350 ppm) is simply growing and burying biomass, maybe via active air capture but if not the old-fashioned way.

  19. Rachel says:

    Andy,
    Oh right, thanks, I hadn’t seen that article.

    Greens who dream of a future with distributed, renewable energy produced by local cooperatives are aghast at this idea.
    I actually think this works in the favour of the CCS proposal. There was an article in the New Yorker a couple of years ago by Adam Gopnik in which he explains that self-identified conservatives will vote for something if it annoys liberals sufficiently. I’ll copy and paste the relevant bit:

    “…people who don’t want high-speed rail are not just indifferent to fast trains. They are offended by fast trains, as the New York Post is offended by bike lanes and open-air plazas: these things give too much pleasure to those they hate. They would rather have exhaust and noise and traffic jams, if such things sufficiently annoy liberals. Annoying liberals is a pleasure well worth paying for. As a recent study in the social sciences shows, if energy use in a household is monitored so that you can watch yourself saving money every month by using less, self-identified conservatives will actually use and spend more, apparently as a way of showing their scorn for liberal pieties.”

    What contrarians actually think about it I have no idea, but I’ve asked our friend ScottishSceptic for his opinion. Can’t wait to see what he says. :-)

  20. Steve Bloom says:

    Andy, IMO 2C is toast. Underestimated and unknown feedbacks will see to it. In particular, bear in mind the model failure on polar amplification (present and mid-Piacenzian). Also see the recent work of Hansen and others showing that sensitivity increases with warming.

  21. Rachel says:

    Steve,
    It may be careless but I don’t see the same objections to this from the usual groups as I do with things like the carbon tax. The objections are all coming from the corner I stand in. Perhaps this is because I haven’t looked hard enough.

    And yes I understand there are technical challenges to be overcome but this is why making it mandatory is useful. It’s amazing what can be achieved when you have no choice but to achieve. Necessity is the mother of invention.

  22. Steve Bloom says:

    I think Gopnik overstates the centrality of that sort of thinking. The “just world” mindset seems to explain things much better, in particular the willingness of conservatives to work against their clear self-interest, as we see currently with the Obamacare business.

  23. Steve Bloom says:

    Well, CCS isn’t on the table in the same way as carbon taxes. Once it is, I would expect the usual suspects to respond in more or less the same way.

    But if, per Jacobson, we can convert to all-renewables soon, why go to CCS at all? Especially since, as noted above, there are many emission sources not amenable to it.

  24. Pingback: Myles Allen’s proposal to bury the carbon problem | quakerattled

  25. andrew adams says:

    I’m sceptical about the feasibility of CCS both from a practical and economic POV but I have no particuar objection in principle – I don’t think we have the luxury of rejecting any potential means of reducing emissions, and meaningful solution to is likely to encompass a whole mish-mash of different approaches. That’s the other reason I’m sceptical about Allen’s argument, I don’t think there is any “magic bullet” that will be so effective on its own that we can say we don’t therefore have to bother with other, perhaps more politically difficult, policies. Similarly, much as I’m in favour of some form of carbon pricing I don’t accept the argument of people such as Worstall that simply imposing a carbon tax that fairly reflects the externalities of CO2 emissions means “job done”.

    It actually seems fairly obvious to me that rather than being opposing strategies, CCS and carbon pricing could be complimentary – assuming that carbon which is sequestered would not be liable for taxes or permits then generating companies would have an incentive to install CCS facilities if it were more economic to do so than paying the carbon tax or permit cost.

  26. Pingback: Rachel: Bury the Carbon Problem? | ScottishSceptic

  27. It actually seems fairly obvious to me that rather than being opposing strategies, CCS and carbon pricing could be complimentary – assuming that carbon which is sequestered would not be liable for taxes or permits then generating companies would have an incentive to install CCS facilities if it were more economic to do so than paying the carbon tax or permit cost.

    Yes, this is what I was wondering. As far as I’m aware, a carbon tax is calculated on the basis of estimates of the future damage/cost of emitting carbon today. The tax is then calculated by discounting this cost to determine today’s price. This, however, doesn’t guarantee that the carbon tax will incentivise alternatives and, in a sense, a carbon tax is not designed as an incentive. It’s simply an attempt to price carbon correctly. Given that Myles Allen is arguing for regulation to enforce carbon capture, it’s unclear (as I think Chris Hope is arguing in his comment on the Guardian article) why a carbon tax set at this level and that is based only on the carbon that remains in the atmosphere wouldn’t be more appropriate. It could then act to incentivise both CCS and other technologies, rather than the goal being simply to enforce carbon capture. Plus, it would be a market-based approach which would partly satisfy the typical naysayers.

  28. BBD says:

    With Andrew on this. It’s been obvious for a long time that what lies ahead is a messy tangle of compromises and patches which will be determined by regional conditions ranging from per capita wealth and economic stability to annual mean insolation and local geology. No one size will fit all. The logical approach must be pragmatic and opportunistic, not dogmatic and proscriptive. This invalidates renewables rejectionism and nuclear rejectionism as well as CCS rejectionism. Everything needs to stay on the table.

  29. BBD, yes I agree too. I don’t there is a one size fits all solution to this.

  30. Rachel says:

    It actually seems fairly obvious to me that rather than being opposing strategies, CCS and carbon pricing could be complimentary …

    I also agree with this and if it’s possible to have both, then I would be in favour of both. The only problem is that carbon taxes are not working and are currently being rolled back in various places like Australia for example. Australia has much more to lose with a carbon tax since it exports so much coal. A compulsory CCS would mean they can keep their industry and still do the right thing.

  31. Rachel says:

    If ScottySceptic is representative of other contrarians, then it looks like they’re vehemently against the idea.

  32. Pingback: Weasels ripped my flesh, again – Stoat

  33. Rachel, that appears to be because he’s of the belief that cutting CO2 guarantees a reduction in economic activity and hence that we’ll all be poorer. It seems to preclude the possibility that developing alternatives (including CCS) is technically an economic activity. I also wonder what he thinks about the UK importing 30% of our fossil fuels and that this fraction is likely to continue growing.

  34. Rachel says:

    Wotts, yes, I didn’t think it was a very good answer. Are you going to comment there and point this out? It’s a bit of a time-waster I know.

  35. Rachel, I’ve kind of decided not to comment there again. IMO much of what is said there (by both ScSc and some of his commenters) is objectionable. Death penalty for climate scientists? Econazis is okay but denier is fundamentally wrong? I can’t even begin to see how one can have a constructive discussion there.

  36. Rachel says:

    Wotts, fair enough. It is objectionable.

  37. guthrie says:

    CCS was being lined up for Longannet in Scotland (I can see it’s chimney from just up the road from me) but the power company wouldn’t do it without subsidy and the government of the day balked at forking out One Billlliioon pounds!

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/oct/19/david-cameron-longannet-carbon-capture

    http://www.heraldscotland.com/business/company-news/carbon-tax-cost-killed-off-scottishpowers-longannet-ccs-plan.19960931

  38. Tom, thanks for a fuller explanation, and yes I do agree with you. I think the vast majority of those working in CCS believe that it is only a temporary solution until we move onto better things, but a solution that has the potential to deliver deep cuts in emissions at relatively low costs. Unfortunately it’s not as ‘sexy’ as wind turbines and so doesn’t have the political legs for support in the way [I] would like. See guthrie’s post regarding Longannet. The Government (specifically, the Department of Energy and Climate Change) were happy to award the £1bn but after the detailed FEED studies by Shell and Scottish Power, the cost projections (including risk) came to a range of between something like £900m and £1.3bn. The Goverment refused to commit to a possible overspend and Scottish Power’s owners Iberdrola would also not take the financial commitment because their core business is renewables. Neither budged and so what would have been a massive step forward for CCS got shelved.

    Anyway, that’s an aside! Even if we move to 100% renewables, there will still be a need for CCS on the industries which supply steel and cement to build turbines, nuclear plants, etc. and so needs the investment and demonstration of feasibility to encourage uptake within these industries, as well as in traditional power gen.

  39. William Connolley has been captivated by the ideas of one writer on economics, Tim Worstall. He is a fellow of the Adam Smith Institute which describes itself as “The UK’s leading libertarian think tank”, so (as is evident from his writing) his economic views are reductionist and simplistic. Put another way, they are “… a pile of donkey’s dildoes”.

    Slightly strange description of my views on a carbon tax. For my views on a carbon tax are exactly the same as Stern’s in the Stern Review. Pretty much mainstream therefore.

  40. Martin Lack says:

    Nice work, Rachel. I am inclined to agree with you and Miles Allen. Up until now, the myth of CCS has been used by the fossil fuel industry as an excuse for perpetuating business as usual (BAU) and – consequently – policy paralysis. As you imply, if we are to avoid an environmental catastrophe, CCS will have to be made to work. Therefore, as you say, the burden for making it work should fall on the people who have caused the problem – those in the industry itself.

  41. Tim, you’re of course referring to Tom’s comment. Maybe I’ll let him respond to yours :-)

  42. Rachel says:

    Thanks, Martin. The fossil fuel industry does perpetuate the myth that they will simply sequester all the carbon they emit. I think we should call their bluff.

  43. grahamatlinc says:

    It will require all efforts of every kind and it is still going to hurt. Answers will be ugly, costly and inefficient because it has been delayed too long.

    Scepticism, vested interest, argument, singular pet ideas; these are all our enemies. I believe the only way to deal with those problems is to ride straight over them with solid information and positive pursuits. We cannot now find perfect solutions. It is too late. We must accept whatever will help. Otherwise in ten years, the choices wil be even harder and the consequences worse.

  44. Joseph says:

    I think any solution should take into account how it impacts energy costs for the consumer. The more burdensome, the less acceptance their will be politically. I think any revenues generated from a carbon tax should at least be partially refunded to the tax payer (consumer) to offset higher costs. I think this is the most politically feasible version of this approach, even if it may not be the most optimal approach to achieve emissions reductions.

  45. Steve Bloom says:

    I’m curious, Rachel: Renewables experts like Mark Jacobson have done a lot of work showing that wind, sun, small amounts of other renewables, efficiency and a grid that can handle long-range transmission will do the job, so why not give them the challenge? What are the advantages of bypassing them to challenge the fossil fuel industry with trying to make sequestration work?

  46. Rachel says:

    Steve, yes I agree that renewables would be the ultimate solution. It has been a dream of mine to have solar panels on my roof for years and years now. I would love that.

    I didn’t think renewables alone were viable for somewhere like the UK though? I also know that Australia has just announced it will build the largest coal mine in the country in Queensland. They’ve got so much coal there. Much more than we can afford to burn and I just can’t see them leaving it in the ground. I’d like to be wrong about this though.

  47. Steve Bloom says:

    Have you had your rooftop assessed for suitabilty, Rachel? I don’t pay close attention to the details of this stuff in the UK, but I thought I had seen something about at least one of those long-term leasing schemes having started up.

    As you know, Germany, as northerly as the UK and perhaps similarly cloudy, is making very good progress just now, and a quick search finds that Scotland has a 100% plan (note not really enough for all-renewables due to the unreliability of wind and sun) for 2020! The forward by the energy minister is actually one of the least weaselly such I’ve ever seen from such a senior official on an environmental issue. The remainder of the UK has a similar but less ambitious plan, in any case hard to compare because of nukes. But if Scotland can do it, it seems at least plausible for the UK as a whole, and with the needed long-distance grid interties actual complete coverage by renewables seems possible.

    If anyone knows of relevant academic/NGO work on the foregoing, please point to it.

    Re Oz, that would be primarily export coal, right? The country itself seems well-situated to go 100% renewable. Over time, solar and wind seem likely to squeeze the export market hard.

    Re carbon taxes and CCS, I’d be perfectly happy to see a tax instituted based not on some fictional assessment of future costs, but rather some amount above the likely cost of CCS (plus of course eliminate all the existing fossil fuel subsidies). But that’s a challenge the industry will do everything to avoid, I expect. As pointed out above, they will be strongly opposed to anything of great substance, so trying to sidestep the problem with some clever mechanism seems unlikely to work.

    Not to be a complete downer, I was encouraged by steps taken in the last year to halt new coal plant lending by some of the biggest lenders, and just in the last few days by Tory back-benchers firmly telling Cameron to forget gutting the green energy programs. It’s a very big ship and may yet strike an iceberg, but it’s nice to see a few early signs of it turning.

  48. Steve Bloom says:

    It’s entirely optimal, Joseph, so long as it’s set high enough and combined with elimination of fossil fuel subsidies. My own view re subsidies of renewables is that government would then mostly not need to implement them, reserving resources for the very large task of financing the grid interties, something that needs to be done by governments.

  49. Rachel says:

    Steve,
    Yes, to Australian coal being mined for export. Black coal is Australia’s second largest export. Iron ore its first. I think the mining sector in Australia represents about 10% of GDP. This is maybe not high enough to make it a banana republic but still fairly significant. That they’ve just approved a massive coal mining project for Queensland says they’re in this for the long term. What’s the life expectancy of a coal mine?
    My usual home is New Zealand and there are no subsidies for solar panels there. New Zealand does fairly well in terms of electricity supply with renewable energy making up 70% of the domestic mix. This is mostly hydropower. But they do badly overall and rank about 5th in the world in terms of emissions per capita with emissions on the rise. I think the main culprit is farming and in this case New Zealand is a banana republic with the economy heavily dependent on dairy farming.
    I’m impressed with Scotland’s 100% plan but does this include the stuff they import? I’ve read that although emissions in the UK are going down, this is only because so much stuff gets imported now that they’ve effectively exported their emissions.
    I am in favour of a carbon tax and an ETS. I will happily accept all forms of renewable energy and will accept nuclear power also. I also don’t object to making sacrifices. I am living without a car at the moment and make all my trips by bicycle and I would be very happy to live like this for the rest of my life. I don’t eat animals and I don’t consume dairy products. So it’s not that I am against these other solutions, that’s not the case at all. It’s really that I am in favour of *action* and quite frankly, I don’t see a lot of it. So I am largely in agreement with Graham and BBD here in that we need every solution we can find. It seems like a very neat and easy solution to me: pass a law requiring fossil fuel companies to capture what they emit starting with a small amount and increasing this year on year. Why not? If they can’t do this then they have to close up shop. If they can then we have another solution to play with.

  50. OPatrick says:

    “> I thought it deserved a bit more consideration

    I’m sober now

    I hope you didn’t think I was being critical of you there – I wasn’t necessarily expecting you to give it more consideration, though I do appreciate your additional thoughts.

  51. Tom Curtis says:

    Tim Worstall, that was a description of your economic views in general; not of your particular views on carbon pricing.

  52. Barry Woods says:

    it is hard to square Scotland’s 100% renewables plan (domestically) when they seek to expand the oil industry for export post independence (ie they want/will need the revenues)

  53. Rachel says:

    Barry, I had wondered about that too.

  54. Barry Woods says:

    Just noticed It is in the news today:
    http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/top-stories/salmond-scotland-s-oil-boom-to-bring-billions-1-2829902

    “First Minister Alex Salmond unveiled the government’s first Oil and Gas Analytical Bulletin, predicting that production in Scottish waters could generate up to £57bn in tax revenue over the next six years, compared with an estimate of £31bn by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR).”

  55. OPatrick says:

    If we can’t blame the companies can we blame the countries?

  56. Pingback: Decarbonization: Perspectives from Public Health | Compromise and Conceit

  57. Barry Woods says:

    not talking about blame, but contradictions

  58. OPatrick says:

    Barry, I agree with you here – it’s a craven attitude on Scotland’s part.

    But I am talking about blame.

  59. Rachel says:

    And not a single person has complained that Myles Allen is putting his policy hat on. Phew.

  60. Steve Bloom says:

    Denialist concern trolling is never interesting.

    Salmond’s inconsistency is common among politicians (although note that as recently as ten years ago politicians at that level who recognized climate change as the existential threat that it is were rare indeed). Here in California we have something very similar with Jerry Brown. This attitude about exports appears to be based on the idea that so long as those fossil fuel plants exist they’ll find a fuel supply somewhere. The response is on the one hand to engage in activism opposing the extraction and export, which becomes much easier as soon the sources are no longer being utilized locally, and on the other hand to maximize renewable development in the importing countries.

    Solar prices in particular are falling so fast that it should be at grid parity within a few years in sunnier places like California. Add affordable local storage technology, currently the subject of intensive R+D, and it’s a global game-changer, although the large problems of fossil infrastructure sunk costs and transportation fuels will remain.

    So i’m pretty optimistic about this, although much less so about the amount of damage we’ll have committed to by the time we stop adding to it.

  61. Beobachter says:

    I am not convinced by Myles Allen’s arguments and they are IMO at some levels very flawed…

    Even if we do cut down on unnecessary emissions, there will always be productive uses of fossil carbon, no matter what the carbon price. [..]
    The only way a carbon tax, or the price of a carbon trading permit, is going to get net carbon emissions to zero is for it to rise high enough that it makes more sense to bury carbon dioxide rather than pay the tax or buy the permit.

    So, Myles claims, that putting a price on carbon will only avoid “wasteful” use of fossil fuels, but that the “productive” use of fossil fuels will still continue, unless burying the carbon dioxide will be cheaper than emitting the carbon and paying the price/tax for that.

    This is IMO simply not true and it does not make sense either, because he omits the most natural solution:

    Using something else to achieve your goal.

    Nobody burns fossil fuels just for burning it. You want to achieve something, e.g. heating a building, moving a car, generating electricity, etc. Naturally companies (and individuals) try to minimize their costs. Today, fossil fuels are very cheap, because their external costs (like health or climate effects) are not part of their price, but paid by society in other means (or with climate shifted to be paid in the future any by later generations). But as soon as something else allows them to reach their goals with less cost, why on earth would anyone keep using fossil fuels for that?

    Just think of heating your house. Of course, most people today (at least in Germany where I come from) use oil or gas to achieve that. But that is, because oil was very cheap until 10 years ago and with rising oil prices people are now using other technologies more and more when building new houses or when renewing their heating system. Newly build houses in Germany more and more use e.g. a geothermal heat pump often in combination with a solar thermal collector to heat their house. Together with good insulation, you can heat your house this way without even the need for one drop of oil. The same principle can also be used to cool houses in warmer regions.

    And those technologies become cheaper and cheaper (in total), as they are produced in higher number of units and as their production process is optimized more and more. On the other hand they get cheaper (relatively) as the price of oil rises. We are now at a point where they are probably on par with a oil heating system in Germany over the run of 10 years and already cheaper when calculated over the lifetime of the heating system (lets say 30 years). But in the future, with higher oil prices and cheaper alternatives, the cost advantage becomes more and more obvious and at some point it simply wouldn’t make sense, that somebody would even consider putting a oil heating system in their house. Putting a price on carbon would help accelerate this process and would simply make alternatives competitive earlier and thus allowing us to decrease our CO2 emissions earlier and faster.

    Secondly, Myles argument would require all other nations to sequester their carbon too, thus requiring a worldwide agreement on that. That won’t happen very likely in the near future. But if alternative technologies are becoming cheaper than fossil fuels, those technologies will be adapted worldwide without any policy necessary. Just because they would have lower costs and would have many other benefits that countries like China would embrace, e.g. lower air pollution and less dependence on oil supply from foreign countries.

    Third, Myles “just-use-fossil-fuels-but-sequester-it” argument, does not take into account, that fossil fuels are not available endlessly. We have to extract more and more oil from ever deeper, more dangerous or more remote locations, to satisfy our *current* need. But if 2 billion Chinese and Indian people would decide that they want to drive fossil-fuel based cars as we do in the developed countries, we would have to produce not 90 million barrels of oil per day, but 120 million barrels, and all that would have to be sequestered. To make this happen, we would need to vastly expand our oil extraction or use coal-to-liquid in a really big way *and* we would need to find enough space below ground to bury all that carbon (which is not so easy as it might seem and not every country has that room, so some countries must store carbon for other countries). That sounds very unlikely and to say it with Myles Allen’s words: “Do not fantasise otherwise.”

    Last but not least: I am not against carbon sequestration. But I don’t think it is the best option in most cases, it is not more feasible and it certainly is not the only option as Myles article suggests.

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