Speaking of sequestration: The journal Science points out today that even if we can sequester carbon dioxide, it may have bad side effects — like, say, poisoning our drinking water. Brilliant.
So the engineering problems for CO2 sequestration are immense, it won’t work with existing plants, and even if it works some time in the indefinite future, it might still kill us all. So of course, this is a serious option being discussed by many in Canadian politics and punditry.
The problem, you see, is a book by Marc Jaccard called — try not to laugh — Sustainable Fossil Fuels. If you’d like to read Jaccard’s synopsis of his book, read the PDF here. Be warned: If you tend to gag at the over-optimistic tone of Exxon press releases, Jaccard’s rhetoric is pretty strong stuff. The USGS estimates that there are maybe 250 years of coal left in America — and Jaccard thinks they’re a bunch of Chicken Littles! (He thinks we’ve got 800 years of coal left.)
Think about that for a second.
Jaccard breezily dismisses any concern over peak oil, claiming that heavy oil, tar sands, etc. will make up the difference. (Incidentally, his PhD is in economics, not geology or physics. When we’re talking energy, I consider that a strike against.) Never mind that costs are already spiraling upward in Alberta, water supplies are getting tight, the environmental destruction may well be irreversible, and there’s been talk of making coal-fired tar-sands plants. In Jaccard’s world, this is just progress.
There’s some non-horrible stuff in Jaccard’s writings. For example, he emphasizes the importance of efficiency. Of course, in this day and age, arguing against efficiency would mark you as an acolyte of Dick Cheney, and what’s remarkable about Jaccard is how he manages to make his entire pitch sound oh so reasonable. Fundamentally, his book advocates a major increase in the use of fossil fuels, combined with carbon sequestration.
Jaccard rejects the fossil-less future because, he says, it is unreasonable to ask industry to walk away from so much infrastructure and capital if it’s possible to use fossil fuels in a less harmful manner.
Well, today’s headlines should put the lie to Jaccard’s work. I don’t believe he’s bought and paid for by the coal industry, but maybe just in love with the contrarian nature of his idea. Carbon sequestration may never work, and almost certainly not on the scale Jaccard imagines it could.
There’s a more fundamental problem with Jaccard’s thinking, though: While he disdains the idea of a (perhaps) more expensive, (perhaps) less efficient renewable-energy future because it would require rebuilding the entire energy infrastructure of western civilization, he neglects the fact that his ideas do the exact same thing. Modern industry is not built to capture and sequester CO2, and in large part it simply cannot be. Moreover, the policies that would make oil and coal cleaner and more efficient are being fought tooth and nail by the very industries Jaccard is championing.
But don’t worry, I’m sure Jaccard will show them the error of their ways. The same way Monica convinced Bill to go back to Hillary.
So we’ve got a choice between two top-to-bottom rebuildings of our energy supply — one where we stay on a destructive, carbon-intense path, only slightly mitigated by the portion (large or small) of CO2 we manage to bury, possibly to see again soon. Or we can choose the path where fossils stay where they belong — in the ground, or in Jaccard’s case, in the school of Resources and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University.
Addicts of all sorts find innumerable excuses for why they can’t quit their habits. (Anybody who’s been to an intervention can attest to that.) But at the root is a stubborn refusal to admit that yes, it’s a problem, and yes, it’s hurting people. Jaccard — and his numerous followers — want to pretend that it’s not our addiction that’s the problem, just the occasional mess it makes.
Or, to put it more bluntly: Our society is currently reaping the consequences of our fossil fuel addiction, flopping around on a bathroom floor with a syringe in our arm and a dirty spoon nearby. And Jaccard thinks all we need is a mop.