Atmosphere of Hope
Pirate TV (2015)
Atmosphere of Hope is a recent talk in which Australian environmentalist Tim Flannery summarizes the prospects for limiting and reducing atmospheric CO2 levels. Flannery is a new breed of environmentalist who questions the value of climate alarmism.
The upcoming COP21 conference in Paris will be very different from past climate conferences in that participating countries have already committed to specific emission reduction targets. Because these commitments have been made public (see How COP21 commitments stack up) environmentalists can already predict the effect they will have on total CO2 levels.
Thanks to the recent “decoupling” of reduced fossil fuel use and economic growth, Flannery is extremely confident that most governments will keep their commitments. While these targets are inadequate to limit global warming to 2 degrees centigrade (and preserving civilization as we know it), Flannery is extremely confident that new carbon capture technologies will make up the shortfall.
Successfully Decoupling Fossil Fuels and Economic Growth
The main argument our political leaders give against reducing fossil fuel consumption is the negative effect on economic growth. Thanks to a big drop in the cost of renewable energy (and a big increase in energy efficiency), this argument no longer holds water. Between 2013 and 2014 there was no increase in global fossil fuel consumption (causing an oil glut that dropped prices to $40 a barrel). Yet the global economy continued to grow, thanks to the substitution of cheap renewable energy for fossil fuels.
Flannery also believes that “wavy energy” technology also played a big role in this decoupling. “Wavy energy” refers to a distributed grid technology (developed in Germany) that compensates for the intermittent nature of solar and wind energy – at any given moment some place in Germany is generating some form of renewable energy.
The Role of Carbon Capture Technologies
For me the most interesting part of the talk was the discussion of all the new carbon capture technologies being developed. Flannery divides geoengineering technologies into two categories. The first, which he refers to as “second way, “involves blocking sunlight by injecting sulfur based chemicals into the stratosphere. In his view, this is highly dangerous due to the risk of climate rebound effects (to say nothing of the health effects of the chemicals).
In contrast, “third way geoengineering” technologies remove CO2 from the atmosphere and sequester it. There are further subdivided into biological (natural) and chemical (industrial) based technologies. The latter require external energy input, which means they only reduce CO2 concentrations if they employ renewable energy.
Examples of biological third way technologies include
• Biochar (charcoal produced from plant matter and stored in the soil as a means of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere)
• Wood waste based plastics
• Carbon farming – Australia rewards farmers for replacing annual grasses and crops with perennial varieties that store carbon.
Examples of chemical third way technologies include
• Carbon negative concrete which absorbs CO2 over its lifetime
• Crushed serpentinites – minerals that capture CO2 as they weather and can be used for beaches, playgrounds, smoke stacks and carbon negative roof paint.
• CO2 based plastics
• CO2 based carbon fiber (used in the Boeing dream liner and carbon fiber cars) – would be cheaper than current carbon fiber, aluminum or steal
• A South Korean technology that employs used coffee grounds to capture methane.
• Chiller boxes in Antarctica – powered by wind energy, they would cause CO2 to solidify and fall as snow and then bury it under regular snow.