Sunday, June 10, 2018

Carbon Capture Receives Support from Both Sides of the Aisle

Grass (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Is there any hope for pro-fossil fuel conservatives and beleaguered conservationists to find common ground and do something – anything - about climate change at the federal level?  As it turns out, there is at least one major area of violent agreement:  investing in and developing carbon capture technologies.

In a sign of just how big the carbon capture tent truly is, the storied wildlife advocates at the Audubon Society recently joined the “Carbon Capture Coalition” that also includes the coal, gas, and oil industries.  Audubon defended its decision by pointing to climate change as the number one threat to global bird species.  As President and Chief Executive Officer David Yarnold said:  “While some may be holding out for a perfect solution to climate change, we know that it will take an array of approaches to reduce planet-warming pollution.”
Just because the political support is there, however, does not mean that widespread adoption of carbon capture technologies is a done deal.  First developed nearly 50 years ago, their use in climate change mitigation only began in the 1990s.  Scaling up carbon capture projects hasn’t thus far proved easy or economical.  Many environmental activists argue that carbon capture technologies amount to a “moral hazard” that make governments complacent about fossil fuel use.

And yet those fossil fuels don’t seem to be going anywhere anyway.  Coal, for one, will not be leaving the global energy mix anytime soon.  Today, about 30 percent of total world energy (and 40 percent of the world’s electricity) is supplied by coal.  Deborah Adams of the International Energy Agency notes the world’s demand for coal actually increased in 2017 “because coal is a relatively cheap, readily available, secure, and reliable source of power.”  While the Paris Climate Agreement set a global goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2060, even the head of the International Renewable Energy Agency is skeptical about the prospects of reaching that goal.

Most energy researchers believe carbon capture and storage will need to be a significant piece of any realistic plan to slow down climate change and prevent temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius in coming decades.  With coal and other fossil fuels remaining very much part of the global energy mix, carbon capture represents the most realistic middle ground between two sides that otherwise stand miles apart.

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