Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Why Carbon Sequestration is Probably a Bad Thing

The US Department of Energy is planning to start this week on a large-scale project for carbon sequestration in Illinois. So why is this a bad thing?

Well, let's suppose, in hypothetical candyland where government projects do what they are supposed to, without negative side effects, on-time and on-budget, that this project succeeds. Ok, good for us, we've removed CO2 from the atmosphere. I applaud your efforts DOE.

This does NOT solve the problem of rising energy needs. Rather, I believe the effect may even be in the opposite direction. Psychologically, the idea that CO2 emissions can be reduced "magically" will diminish efforts to change behavior to reduce CO2 emissions in the first place. And that IS a major problem. Fossil fuels WILL run out (or be hideously expensive) within a few decades at current rates of consumption (and growth in consumption). Running out of fossil fuels without the energy infrastructure to replace them is going to cause a major global crisis that will not be resolved easily. Not to mention, petroleum by-products (plastic) have vital uses and are even more important for a lot of products we commonly use.

Climate change is only one of the major global problems that needs to be addressed in the near future (i.e. this century). And CO2 emissions are only one facet of that problem. As reported by Arstechnica from the AAAS meeting, the numbers for replacing fossil-fuel energy production with "renewable" sources is already extremely daunting. The most economical/efficient way to address that problem is to tackle it from multiple directions: improved efficiency (less usage, less waste), increased production from "renewable" sources (e.g. solar, tidal, wind, etc.), and finally carbon-scrubbing to reduce CO2 concentrations back to pre-industrial levels (i.e. 280 ppm atmosphere, and slowly equilibrate the oceans to that level). Introducing a carbon sequestration project is putting the cart before the horse: we should be focusing on the SOURCE of the problem (energy consumption) rather than simply mitigating the aftereffects because it is the most publicly recognized facet of the problem.

But, in the end, I guess Congress is a lot better at punting the problem and buying time, than in spending preemptively to alleviate future problems. Unfortunately, I happen to be one of those young'uns who is going to end up paying for the mistakes of the past. (*cough* war on terror, social security, etc.)

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