It’s time to clear the air
To cut carbon emissions, we must switch to renewable energy sources – and get polluting industries to foot the bill
George Monbiot is correct in asserting that “If we behave as though it is too late, then our prophecy is bound to come true.” But it’s not, so let’s not.
I attended the Science Conference in Copenhagen last week, and, like many there I was dismayed by what I heard, but also heartened. As senior researcher to Colin Challen MP I have been listening to pronouncements of the “end of the world is nigh” variety at meetings and conferences for several years now, and continue to be amazed at the intellectual contortionism of our species in clinging to old, dirty technology rather than embracing the means of harnessing resources that are freely available all around us, such as wind and solar power. At these same meetings and conferences I often hear that the UK has the best “wind resource” in Europe – so why not take advantage of this? Instead we try to convince ourselves that we can carry on burning coal as long as we can “bury” the nasty side-effects underground? Haven’t we already realised that this is unsustainable for household waste, and have developed alternatives to “landfill”?
Ironically, it was in a session at Copenhagen on carbon capture and storage (CCS) that I saw positive possibilities for the future. It was not the presentation of a model (there were a lot of “models” at the conference) of risk of leakage of CO2 from a storage site in a former oil well, and the statement that there was no empirical evidence to offer because oil companies would not release such data that was heartening, as you can imagine. It was the presentation on “mineralisation” of CO2, ie, not treating CO2 emissions as “waste”, but as a potential resource, and converting the CO2 into something useful. It transpires that this is already happening in Finland, that a byproduct is iron, which is snapped up by a nearby steel plant, but which I am given to believe is also what the oceans need to counter acidification. The potential benefits of this process are many and various.
Apart from the aforementioned – far from a mere 3% per annum – dramatic, rapid decreases in CO2 emissions are achievable by switching to renewable sources of energy. Industrialists who have risen to this challenge report decreases in CO2 emissions in the order of 60-70% in the very short term – empirical data, not models. Not only good for the human species, but good for their company’s “bottom line”.
So, there are some reasons to be cheerful: the science conference warned us that we must take action, and also presented examples of ways to clean up the dirty act that some industries insist on continuing to follow. I am not suggesting that we allow these industries to think they can continue as usual, and offload the costs of their clean-up onto the taxpayer – we have already contributed massively to their financial success. Rather, such industries and their shareholders must be the ones who pay for cleaning the atmosphere they have sullied, and for the adaptation measures required by people around the globe whose lives are threatened by the consequences.