A semi-recent issue of High Country News carried a feature on the deep-rock carbon sequestration potential in the northwestern U.S.: it's maybe possible to inject CO2 captured from power plants into the basalt that underlies the region, producing inert calcium carbonate. If so, there's apparently enough basalt to capture centuries of the region's carbon emissions. It's safe to say the research has its doubters. And carbon sequestration in general deserves the hairy eyeball: even if proven both ecologically and geologically viable and economically feasible, if it leads to the continued destruction of Appalachia and vast tracts of the West for coal, count me out. Elsewhere, a study's findings added to the body of evidence that shellfish, like clams, oysters, and mussels (oh, and plankton, crustaceans, and corals), will start growing more slowly or dissolving altogether due to anthropogenic ocean acidification (from all of the excess CO2 we produce that goes into oceanic solution), which would dissolve their shells. Fewer/smaller/weaker shellfish would have economic effects, but also much greater impacts on marine life: they're an important food source for everything from fish to whales and birds. My point? These critters fix carbon ("biosequestration") in their shells, so we could start losing an important piece of the ocean's ability to maintain its natural alkalinity, plus its tendency to sequester carbon, just when they're most needed. My disinterested and clear-eyed proposal, then, is increased aquaculture of mollusks in bays, sounds, estuaries, sloughs, etc. We're already growing tens of millions of pounds of clams alone each year in the U.S., and unlike most other forms of aquaculture, you don't get the massive energetic losses like with the feeding of fish meal to top-of-the-food-chain finfish.
A national carbon tax in the U.S. appears increasingly unlikely, but all sorts of interesting experiments in emissions pricing are underway regionally. First: the California Assembly this week votes on the California Clean Car Discount Act, a "feebate" system that imposes a direct charge on sales of gas guzzlers and uses the funds to reward buyers of fuel sippers. The way it works it pretty simple. If you buy a Chevy Tahoe, you'll have to pony up a $2,500 fee, which will then go straight to all the folks buying Honda Civics. Fees and rebates are determined on a sliding scale based on the fuel efficiency of the vehicle in question. Although not quite a carbon tax, the system does establish clear price signals for energy efficiency, and such feebate systems are an improvement over CAFE. Unfortunately, some members of the assembly are still sitting on the fence:
Last week, the NYT's Andy Revkin blogged about a federal laboratory that says it can take atmospheric carbon dioxide and turn it into gasoline: One selling point with Los Alamos's "Green Freedom" concept, and similar ones, is that reusing the carbon atoms in the captured CO2 molecules as a fuel ingredient avoids the need to find huge repositories for the greenhouse gas. The only problem with that exciting statement is that it is almost certainly not true, a point I will come back to. Now the NYT has published an article on the subject that also overhypes the technology: There is, however, a major caveat that explains why no one has built a carbon-dioxide-to-gasoline factory: it requires a great deal of energy. To deal with that problem, the Los Alamos scientists say they have developed a number of innovations ... Even with those improvements, providing the energy to produce gasoline on a commercial scale -- say, 750,000 gallons a day -- would require a dedicated power plant, preferably a nuclear one, the scientists say.
A while back, Al Gore wondered publicly why young people aren’t out protesting in front of coal plants. Well, here you go: On Monday, a group of young people chained themselves together to prevent construction of a South Florida power plant — 27 of them were arrested. [UPDATE: According to Matt in comments, it was a gas plant, not a coal plant. Should have read closer.] Those Palm Beach cops don’t look very friendly (pictures from Rising Tide): That takes some balls.
Fidel Castro’s step down after 49 years as Cuba’s leader may have implications for biofuels in the country. Castro was outspokenly critical of U.S. biofuel policy, and blocked a proposed expansion by ag giant Archer Daniels Midland into Cuba in the 1990s. But Fidel’s brother Raul, who will assume leadership of Cuba, is a biofuels supporter. Industry analysts have projected that Cuba has the potential to produce up to 3.2 billion gallons of sugar-cane ethanol per year, and the country recently began overhauling its 17 ethanol refineries. Some see a Brazil — with less internal demand for biofuels, and thus …
A while back, I blogged on the huge number of scientific organizations that had put out position statements supporting the mainstream theory of human-induced global warming. Many commenters on my post and around the internet have suggested that one can't trust a statement put out by a professional organization. They argue that these statements are not voted on by the membership, but generally drafted by an ad hoc committee and adopted by the organization's leadership. If this small clique of members turned out to be advocates, the hypothesis goes, then the resulting statement will not reflect the overall views of the organization. It occurred to me, however, that this is a testable hypothesis. How do we test it, you ask? We have a professional organization try to put out a statement that its members don't agree with. What would happen?
An article published in The New York Times today describes a proposal to use carbon in the atmosphere to make gasoline. The principle itself is quite simple -- similar ideas have been proposed before. According to the article: Air would be blown over a liquid solution of potassium carbonate, which would absorb the carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide would then be extracted and subjected to chemical reactions that would turn it into fuel: methanol, gasoline or jet fuel. This process could transform carbon dioxide from an unwanted, climate-changing pollutant into a vast resource for renewable fuels. The closed cycle -- equal amounts of carbon dioxide emitted and removed -- would mean that cars, trucks and airplanes using the synthetic fuels would no longer be contributing to global warming. The idea is purely theoretical at this point -- no factories or prototypes have been built. But even as pure speculation there's one major hurdle; the process requires large amounts of input energy. And where would this energy come from?
In a bizarre twist, the conservative Washington Times, which would normally be critical of fuzzy environmental strategies like carbon offsets, is actually attacking the candidates for not offsetting all their campaign emissions. Opening with an absurd headline, "Green crusades lot of talk," the Times writes: Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama have called for strict mandatory limits to control greenhouse gases but they aren't leading by example -- each has failed to pay for offsets to cover all of his campaign's carbon emissions. How does not taking (dubious) voluntary actions carry any implications about one's commitment to serious mandatory limits? Advocating mandatory limits is based on an understanding that two decades of the voluntary approach has not reversed emissions trends. And again and again we've seen how offsets provide at best a limited environmental benefit. Surely the WT can find more things stories to write about. I've heard it said that Senator McCain has called for carbon limits that are in fact mandatory, but he refuses to call them mandatory. Nah, no story there ... This post was created for ClimateProgress.org, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Mark your calendar for March 29, when cities around the world will switch off non-critical lights at 8:00 p.m. for an awareness-raising Earth Hour. At present, 24 cities — with a total population of some 30 million people — plan to participate in the energy-saving symbolism, from Toronto to Tel Aviv, Bangkok to Brisbane, Canberra to Copenhagen, and first Earth Hour participant Sydney to copycat event holder San Francisco. Thousands of individuals and businesses have also signed on to come to the dark side.