Getting All Our Lemmings in a Row

By Peter Montague of Rachel’s Democracy & Health News

G8The G8 nations -- the world's eight richest countries -- meet in Hokkaido, Japan this week to put the finishing touches on their plan to pass their carbon dioxide (CO2) problem along to all the world's children.

The G8 plan -- now fully spelled out in official documents -- is to bury carbon dioxide in the ground, hoping it will stay there forever, but in any case making it our children's problem, not ours.

The G8 is an exclusive club that includes Canada, England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the U.S. Since 2005, the G8 has been systematically putting together the pieces of its CO2-burial plan, which will be endorsed again at this week's meeting in Japan.

Burying carbon dioxide in the ground is called "carbon capture and storage", or CCS for short. CCS is being promoted as a "silver bullet" to the global warming problem, as a kind of speculative bubble of expectations has developed around it. CCS has been used for 35 years on a very small scale in oil fields, to loosen up sticky oil and help
force it to the surface (the CO2 comes back out with the oil). But on a large scale CCS is untested and untried. Despite this fact, CCS is the basis for claiming that "clean coal" is a viable energy option for the world's future.

The U.S. had been building a coal-fired power plant to demonstrate large-scale CCS (and thus "clean coal") at Mattoon, Illinois - a project called Futuregen - but runaway costs forced the federal government to abandon the project in January.

In early June, at a meeting in Aomori, Japan, G8 representatives agreed to start 20 large-scale CCS projects by 2010 - just two years from now. This extremely aggressive schedule perhaps indicates that the pressure on major CO2 emitters is becoming intolerable and they are growing desperate for a way out.

"We strongly support the recommendation that 20 large-scale CCS demonstration projects need to be launched globally by 2010... with a view to supporting technology development and cost reduction for the beginning of broad deployment of CCS by 2020," the G8 said in a statement after the Aomori meeting.

Notably, the Aomori meeting was attended by not only Britain, Canada, Italy, Japan, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States, but also by China, India and South Korea.

In late June, 80 chief executive officers (CEOs) of transnational corporations issued their own endorsement of CCS as the "solution" to global warming. Their report, "CEO Climate Policy Recommendations to G8 Leaders, July, 2008" acknowledged that CCS is essential, but also that free markets would not provide CCS, so taxpayers would have to do it:

"For non-mature technologies, however, markets will not be sufficient and enhanced RDD&D [research development, demonstration and deployment] policies will have to be encouraged. Photovoltaics, fourth generation nuclear and the area of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies for coal are good examples. Acceleration of the
demonstration and deployment of a range of CCS technologies is particularly important because if all new coal fired electricity generation plants are not operating with CCS by 2015 to 2020 onward, it will be difficult to realize the target of 50% reduction in global emissions by 2050." (pg. 16, emphasis added)

Still, no one has ever addressed the most fundamental question about CCS: what would constitute a demonstration of "success?"

To make a dent in the global warming problem would require burying trillions of tons of CO2 a mile our more below ground thus creating a reservoir of hazardous gas that could leak back into the atmosphere at any time and begin to cook the planet and acidify the oceans. Even if only 0.01% of it leaked out each year -- a suggested industry standard - two-thirds would escape in 10,000 years. Even CCS advocates acknowledge that this would be a catastrophe. How could a leak of only 0.01% per year be measured? How could humans remain alert to this enormous underground threat for centuries to come? Even if 0.01% leakage were detected, could anything be done about it? Who would be responsible for taking action? Who would pay?

The plain fact is, if the goal is to bury CO2 forever, success will be impossible to demonstrate. On whatever day such a demonstration is declared a "success," leakage could begin the following day. So any such demonstrations will be meaningless. Everyone involved knows this is true. This raises the possibility that the G8's goal isn't actual scientific verification of the technology -- but 20 "demonstrations" intended merely to lull the public into thinking that it's OK to build more coal plants because somehow someday CO2 will be safely captured and stored forever. By the time this bit of fakery is widely understood, the present generation of CEOs and politicians will be
long dead and all the world's children will be left holding the bag.

By definition, the G8's CCS plan is intended to force future generations to deal with the consequences of our present-day cupidity - a position that is morally indefensible.

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  • Posted on July 8, 2008. Listed in:

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