Goodell on coal gasification
My officemates are furiously packing, washing, dusting, and hauling in preparation for the Big Grist Move (you could help out by sending a few dollars our way!). I fled the scene to come home, using the excuse that somebody has to keep the blog going. So I guess I better blog about something …
On Wednesday, I had a long, fascinating conversation with Jeff Goodell, author of Big Coal. I hope we can get it up in a week or so. In the meantime, check out the great op-ed Goodell just wrote for the NYT, which echoes many of the things we discussed. It’s mainly about the big push behind coal-to-liquid plants.
In theory, carbon dioxide can be captured and sequestered underground in tapped-out oil fields or deep saline aquifers. But this method will work only in regions where the geology is suitable, and even there, good sequestration space is limited. Moreover, injecting carbon dioxide underground can set off earthquakes. And the gas is an asphyxiant: we risk deadly accidents should the millions of tons we would need to bury escape their underground prisons.
What he doesn’t mention, but did in our chat, is that to really ramp up sequestration to levels that would halt or reduce our CO2 emissions, we’d have to site, approve, and build thousands of sequestration projects. It’s just not realistic, economically or culturally.
Which brings us to the best bit:
The biggest problem with our bounty of coal is not what it does to our mountains or the atmosphere, but what it does to our minds. It preserves the illusion that we don’t have to change our lives. Given the profound challenges we face with the end of cheap oil and the arrival of global warming, this is a dangerous fantasy.
If we had less coal, we might replace the 19th-century notion that we can drill and burn our way to prosperity with a more modern view of efficiency and sustainability. Instead of spending billions of dollars each year to subsidize tapping out yet another finite resource, we’d pour that money into solar energy, biofuels and other renewable resources.
We’d be creating jobs in new industries, not protecting them in old ones. And we’d understand that the real fuel of the future is not coal but creativity.