If we had some eggs we could have ham and eggs if we had some ham

Which is about what Myles Allen has managed to say here:

So the only thing that really matters for long-term climate is that we deploy the technology – carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) – to bury carbon dioxide at the same rate we dig up fossil carbon before we release too much.

Shell, in its latest scenarios, predicts that conventional measures will have only a modest impact on global emissions until about 2040, at which point rising concern about climate change will trigger a crash CCS programme, mopping up over 50% of extracted carbon in only a couple of decades. For the taxpayers and consumers of the 2040s – bearing the full cost, and risks, of such rapid deployment – this is the worst possible outcome.

It is revealing that Shell\’s scenario-builders envisage large-scale deployment of CCS only when it is made mandatory. Two of just a handful of demonstration CCS projects in Europe were recently cancelled, in part because of the collapse of the carbon price. But once you realise that CCS will be needed in the end, it would be far safer, simpler and fairer to mandate gradual deployment, so we can spread the cost over a couple of generations and provide time to evaluate and monitor the storage options.

Anyone who extracts or imports fossil fuels should be required to sequester a steadily increasing fraction of their carbon. The maths could not be simpler: we need to increase the fraction of carbon we sequester by, on average, 1% for every 10bn tonnes of carbon dumped in the atmosphere. This is one regulation, affecting a handful of major companies. The policy can adapt to rising temperatures by adjusting the rate. So start at 1% per 10 billion tonnes and plan to adjust the rate when, say, temperatures reach 1.5 degrees above preindustrial.

Sigh. We just don\’t know how to do CCS in an economic manner. So we cannot and should not mandate the use of it. This is picking technological losers again: we want to have any and all economic methods of dealing with climate change (economic being defined as where the costs are lower than the costs of not doing so) and no non-economic ones. So how does mandating the use of a non-economic solution aid us?

18 thoughts on “If we had some eggs we could have ham and eggs if we had some ham”

  1. TheJollyGreenMan

    Actually, we do know how to do CCS in an economic manner. Its called forestry, just planting trees. Simples.

  2. OK, so we think that rises of up to about 2C are of net benefit to mankind. If we think we can do sequestration, we needn’t emit less now, we don’t need to act until the Co2 levels are high enough that a 2C rise is imminent. Recent estimates of climate sensitivity suggest that a 2C rise, is, what, 100 years away?
    So we can stop all Co2-reduction related spending, as long as we have sequestration working in 100 years.
    I think that’s a problem we can happily leave for our grandchildren, then.

  3. And the Green one, above, indicates why this maybe the only method. For economic read entropic.
    Trees capture carbon & tie it up in cellulose using the energy in sunlight. They’re pushing entropy up hill. Creating order out of disorder. Burning carbon. Fossil fuel or wood releases energy. The carbon is dispersed in the atmosphere as CO2. Disorder out of order The quantity of energy released is the same as the sunlight that grew the trees. Entropy runs downhill.
    CCS requires energy in the same way the trees do. It’s trying to push entropy uphill again. Create order out of disorder. So the energy required is likely to be similar to the energy released by burning the carbon in the first place.

  4. If you want “forestry” there’s no need to plant trees. Just put up a fence to keep grazing animals out, and wait.

  5. Aye, but planting trees would involve admitting that carbon dioxide is plant food, and so good.

    Would interfere with the narrative…

  6. Devil’s advocate here. You can’t plant enough trees to offset the oil and gas drilled out of the ground.

    Figures from the Woodland Trust indicate that a forest stores 400 tonnes of CO2 per hectare. That’s a one-off storage amount, not an annual amount. It assumes the trees are never chopped down, that the forests are left untouched forever.

    The UK emits 0.5bn tonnes of CO2 per year. If we covered 75% of the UK in forest (wiping out our agriculture sector), that would be 7.5bn tonnes of CO2 saved. All the emissions absorbed by planting trees will be overtaken by new emissions within just 15 years; meanwhile we’re left with a starving population.

  7. This is the one I’m impressed with

    “Anyone who extracts or imports fossil fuels”

    So you get them coming and going?

  8. Re Andrew M @6 & what’s the opposite of a Devil’s advocate?
    That’s the sort of answer you get if you reference the enviroweenies. Remember, the proposition is ‘carbon capture’ not creating dinky bits of woodland for Bambi to frolic in.
    If a hectare sequestrates 400 tonnes of CO2, great. Now you’ve sequestrated 400 tonnes of CO2 in 400 tonnes of wood. Cut the trees down, stack the timber, plant some more.
    You’re doing what you set out to do. Capture the carbon

  9. TheJollyGreenMan

    I was just waiting for the ignorance to ooze out.

    Forests used for timber are thinned out every 5 years or so to ensure the remaining trees have enough space to grow, so that the trunks can be logged as usable timber. If we plant a forest for carbon sequestration, we can plant the trees more tightly packed, closer together, to maximise the carbon usage per square hectare. And as our mate in Spain rightly points out, we have a rolling front advancing through the forest, with cutting followed by planting. And Andrew, if we can find room for useless wind mills, we can find room for trees, with creepers going up the wind mill towers.

  10. @ #6 Andrew M
    Woodland Trust is presumably talking about UK woodland rather than the tropical rainforests , the depredation of which is the greatest single contributor to increased levels of CO2.
    Most of the UK land is not suitable for arable farming (only one-quarter of “agricultural area”, which is around three-quarters of the total, is used for crops, with nearly 40% for grass and nearly 30% for rough grazing), so you could in theory cover over 75% of the UK with forest without touching a single field growing crops (in practice, quite difficult to plant forests on the tops of mountains or in flood meadows, but you can keep deer in the forests that replacing grazing land for sheep).
    If we changed back to building houses from wood, which was the norm prior to the Great Fire of London, then the sequestration would be recurring, instead of one-off. Every thirty years the trees would be cropped for timber.
    No, of course I don’t believe that this is a “silver bullet” – just saying that planting more trees will help a little and that you are being a bit too pessimistic. Cutting down on waste, walking and/or cycling to work, wearing sensible clothes instead of turning up the central heating to ridiculous level, eschewing “chelsea tractors” etc etc is remains a priority.

  11. Since less than 10% of atmospheric CO2 is produced by human activity, and CO2 is less than 3% of total greenhouse gases, we might conclude that CCS won’t matter either way. The earth’s climate is primarily determined by solar activity, as the last fifteen years of cooling have demonstrated.
    Also note (@10) that the net carbon capture of an untouched tropical rainforest is zero. CO2 absorbed during growth is released when dead trees decompose.

  12. @ ZT
    The net carbon capture of clearing an acre of tropical rainforest is a BIG negative. Also you are wrong anyway because the native people harvest the rainforest so not all the CO2 captures is released through decomposition

  13. “..the tropical rainforests , the depredation of which is the greatest single contributor to increased levels of CO2.”
    Interesting example that. All vegetation in an area get the same amount of solar input per m2. That’s the energy they’re working with to produce cellulose. The capture of it is simply the surface area of leaf exposed to sunlight. There’s no difference between a m2 of trees or a m2 of grass. Both are capturing the same energy.
    But tropical rainforest is a particularly bad producer of soil*. All the carbon is in the trees. Grassland produces topsoil, which is high in carbon & locks it away.
    So, although cutting down rainforest produces an immediate carbon release, longer term the grassland replaces it captures more carbon.

    *Applies even to UK woodland. Dig in the forest & after a few inches of leafmold you’re down to raw clay or whatever. On grassland that can be many feet. It’s why archaeologists have to dig.

  14. @john77, bloke,
    Here’s a short document (5 easy pages, mostly graphs) from the Forestry Commission comparing the lifespans of various wood products. Wood used in pallets & packaging has the shortest lifespan; wood used in mining has the longest lifespan; and construction-related uses lie in between.
    http://www.forestry.gov.uk/pdf/rin160.pdf/$FILE/rin160.pdf

    Overall, they come up with a figure of 120 tonnes of Carbon per hectare: that’s forever, not per year. That equates to 440 tonnes of CO2 per hectare (near enough the same figure that I used before).

    Sure, you could theoretically store the timber in a dry rot-proof space and pray that nobody touches it, ever; but I can’t envisage an economic system which would achieve that.

    All that said, I’m broadly in favour of more forest. If we’re to spend money on climate change, I’d rather it spent on trees than on windmills or CCS. If a little white lie is what’s needed, then so be it.

  15. @ Andrew M
    Thanks, but the document puts a maximum life span of 100 years for wood used in construction and furniture which is somewhat at odds with observed reality. I can immediately think of examples more than 600 years old. Go round any stately home (or Oxbridge) and you’ll see timber and furniture hundreds of years old
    @ bis
    Are you talking about peat or grassland? I don’t recall ever seeing any additional depth created by lowland grass and *do* recall that when I was a child I found hard yellow clay only a few inches down. Peat builds up several feet in depth
    Replacing rainforest with pasture for beefburgers does not lead to an accretion of carbon capture in soil because the grass is eaten by the cattle. Also there are many examples where the thin soil proved incapable of standing up to aggressive farming/ranching so within a couple of years it turned to waste not grassland.

  16. I suggest that we postpone trying to get CO2 sequestration to work economically and focus on tying the temperature change unicorns to virgins so as to prevent the end of the world.

    It will be far more fun and considerably less ridiculous.

    (And don’t you be telling me that unicorns don’t exist…next you’ll be saying there are no virgins in England and from there it is a slippery slope to believing CO2 poses an essential threat to mankind.)

  17. “I don t recall ever seeing any additional depth created by lowland grass and *do* recall that when I was a child I found hard yellow clay only a few inches down”
    If you can find anywhere on your island that can sustain trees didn t have trees growing on it up until (geologically)recently, you win a prize. Try looking at Victorian parks. Those paths were originally laid slightly above datum to provide drainage. Now they’re generally below. Likely your garden will be the same. And they’re not even particularly good examples of what grass can do in the direction of soil creation, because they’re mowed & rolled.
    And we were discussing CCS. Not uses for timber.
    If one wished to use trees, fell, use some of the wood to charcoal the rest, bury. Very old tech. Carbon duly sequestrated. Or, as the problem’s atmospheric CO2, does it matter where the trees are planted? For the sort of money CCS would cost, one could irrigate areas of the Sahara & forest that.
    But CCS isn’t really supposed to be viable. It’s simply a Green way of imposing costs on energy usage to deter usage. The possibility it can’t economically work’s a benefit.

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