Monbiot Today

A quite wondrous column today. He starts off by quoting The Daily Mash, good man, showing some taste at last. Then, well, at the centre of his assertions is this:

A few weeks ago, the green thinker Jim Bliss roughly calculated the environmental costs of this technique. He used as his case study the scheme BP proposed but abandoned last year for pumping CO2 into the Miller Field off the coast of Scotland. It would have buried 1.3m tonnes of CO2 and extracted 40m barrels of oil. Taking into account only the four major fuel products, Bliss worked out that the total carbon emissions would outweigh the savings by between seven and 15 times.

Now I\’ve something of a soft spot for Jim Bliss, he\’s certainly sound on the stupidity that is the criminalisation of cannabis. But I\’m really note sure that I would take his calculations upon matters economic very seriously. A couple of tasters:

We all know by now that late-capitalism has reduced us all, in theory, to mere consumers; units of potential economic exploitation.

Erm, how does one get exploited as a consumer? It\’s producers that capitalism and markets are so good at exploiting, surely?

I believed — as I still believe — that the human race has both the talent and the resources to ensure that millions of us don’t have to live in a condition of extreme poverty on the very edge of starvation. Yet we allow it to happen. More that that, we’ve built a global economic system that positively encourages it. Requires it, even.

Eh? The tired old trope that they\’re poor because we are rich?

Well, let\’s just say we\’ve got a very specific view of the world here, one that might not have all that much connection with it as it really is. As I say, I wouldn\’t rely upon economic calculations from this source.

But the really crucial part of Monbiot\’s assertions is this:

It will take many more years for the technology to be retro-fitted to existing power stations, by which time it\’s all over. On this schedule, carbon capture and storage, if it is deployed at all, will come too late to prevent runaway climate change.

This is the bit that is untrue: climate change is indeed a problem, but it\’s not an immediate one nor a catastrophic one. There is no need at all for a radical change in policies this year or next, nor within five or ten years. After all, we do indeed have the scientific consensus, represented by the IPCC, to inform us, and there is nothing in that compendium of work to suggest that we only have x years to save the planet. There\’s nothing like that at all.

Monbiot here is simply scaremongering. The non- and low- carbon technologies are indeed lumbering along in the background, we really are getting there to such things as low cost solar, low cost fuel cells, low cost local hydrogen generation and the rest. It\’s just that such technologies take years, decades even, to come to fruition and thus Monbiot\’s urgency. For he cannot wait for the technological solution to arrive, for that would obviate the need for the radical change in the structure of society that he so desires.

The urgency therefore is not that of runaway climate change: it\’s that technology will indeed save us, something which would never do. So better get the societal oppression in first, before the technology arrives.

 

9 comments on “Monbiot Today

  1. What about Mark Lynas’ theory that we’re all fucked if the temperature goes up by another couple of degrees because it’ll lead to a nasty feedback situation, and we’ve got five years to do something?

  2. It would have buried 1.3m tonnes of CO2 and extracted 40m barrels of oil. Taking into account only the four major fuel products, Bliss worked out that the total carbon emissions would outweigh the savings by between seven and 15 times

    Does he really suppose that BP would have left the oil in the ground if they couldn’t pump the CO2 down there?

  3. “… climate change is indeed a problem, but it’s not an immediate one nor a catastrophic one”

    No, no, a thousand times no.

    No evidence of change. No evidence that any change is man-made. no evidence that any change is detrimental.

    Three strikes and you need to re-state your arguments. You have assumed the truth of your enemies underlying assumption so you lose from the start.

  4. “low cost” relative to…what, exactly? Wouldn’t recommend holding one’s breath waiting for such.

  5. Hi there, Tim. As you’ve already pointed out, we’re poles apart, ideologically speaking. Nonetheless, I read your blog because you tend to argue in good faith, which is increasingly a rarity in any area of the political spectrum. In this case though, I think you’re being extremely unfair.

    I don’t have a big problem with you having a laugh at my political rhetoric. It’s not like I don’t poke plenty of fun at the absurdities of free market capitalism over at my place.

    But I’m a little miffed at you linking the calculations I carried out with rhetoric from a completely different post. The calculations referred to by George Monbiot are not economic in nature (despite you misrepresenting them as such), but are a simple series of physical chemistry transformations that any first-year chemical engineering undergrad could do in their sleep. The fact that nobody appears to have published this simple calculation online before now (or at least, not in a very accessible place) is the only thing that made my piece reference-worthy.

    We may well disagree with my politics, Tim, but I’m not sure I’ve ever given you reason to question my competence as an engineer. So focussing on the calculations themselves (see this post beginning at the section entitled “How much carbon per barrel?”), I’d be grateful if you could explain why they “shouldn’t be taken seriously”?

    Tim adds: I’m aware of the Peterhead project, have been for some time. My critique of said project was two fold. First, that BP intended to burn the hydrogen. Such a waste, the UK’s (and, in fact, the head of the EU project) main researcher into solid oxide fuel cells (and someone whose research I have subsidised by offering free supplies) is based just along the coast in St. Andrews. As you state, these are an interesting long term alternative and that quantity of H2 would have been, in my humble opinion, better used in testing out such things. But that’s my own interests talking.

    Re the subsidies to the project what BP was actually asking for was not tax subsidy. Rather, they wanted to pay a lower than normal royalty level on that extra oil pumped up. Without the scheme that oil won’t as you say, be pumped. So the Treasury gets nothing. With a lower royalty rate, it would be, so the Treasury would indeed get more than nothing. It’s an interesting example of Laffer Effects, higher tax rates leading to less revenue, or lower leading to higher.

    As to the basis of your caluclations as calculations, they seem fine as they are written. But I do think you’re missing the economic angle to it. Just because *this oil* stays below the ground doesn’t mean that those CO2 emissions will stay below the ground. The demand for that oil is still there and it will be met by oil from somewhere else and the emissions will still happen.

    Think of it this way: your assumption is that the limit to the amount of oil we use is going to be the limit of the physical amount that we can actually pull out of the ground. Thus any advance in technology leading to more oil being recoverable is going to be and increase in usage and thus emissions.

    I don’t think that’s a fair analysis. The limit to the amount of oil that we use is going to be as and when we have an acceptable technological subsitute. A large amount of the oil which is currently recoverable never actually will be pumped, as we’re going to switch to something else before we exhaust the oil wells. Yamani’s “The Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones” if you like.

    As I say, the economic effects, substitution. At the current level of technology the emissions from that 40/50 million barrels will happen anyway, for the energy represented will still be demanded and will be supplied by some other means. Might be coal (ie, oil would save emissions) might be oil from elsewhere (same emissions) might be gas (lower e) or whatever. And the assumption that whatever oil is in fact recoverable will indeed be recovered ignores the fact that we are in the process of substituting away from oil altogether.

  6. Pingback: Dear Mr. Bliss

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