[Note: This is the fifty-eighth sample from my rough draft of a far from finished new book, Wild, Free, & Happy. The Search field on the right side will find words in the full contents of all rants and reviews. These samples are not freestanding pieces. They will be easier to understand if you start with sample 01, and follow the sequence listed HERE — if you happen to have some free time. If you prefer audiobooks, Michael Dowd is in the process of reading and recording my book HERE.
[Continued from Climate Crisis 03 Sample 57]
Peter Wadhams, the melting Arctic expert, is totally freaked out by the expected impacts of the approaching climate catastrophe. He notes that there are a number of proposed techno-responses, but none of them provide an effective cure for the nightmare we’ve created. An effective cure, if there is one, will be something that has not yet been invented.
Meanwhile, he thought that we should desperately throw all caution to the wind, and do whatever we can that might slightly slow the disaster down a wee bit, until the miracles arrive. He even suggested building more nuclear power plants. I disagree. Let’s take a peek at a few of the proposed “solutions.”
Some folks advocate for nuclear energy because reactors emit no greenhouse gases while they operate. Like solar panels, wind turbines, and hydroelectric dams, reactors also have a limited lifespan. Building new nuke plants requires large quantities of materials that require fossil energy for their production — cement and steel for example. Like coal and oil, uranium is not a renewable resource. Like coal and oil, the use of uranium has serious long-term negative impacts.
If the objective is to reduce current carbon emissions, building numerous new nuke plants is not the most effective approach. Every power switch has an OFF position. Satellite photos of the Earth at night reveal tremendous amounts of wasted energy, and this waste is just the tip of the iceberg. [LOOK] My grandparents and mother were born in homes without electricity, as were 300,000 years of their ancestors.
The expiration date for our maximum impact lifestyle is approaching, as we smack into more and more immovable limits. Even if we immediately and permanently turned OFF industrial civilization, the ice would keep melting, the Arctic would keep warming, the permafrost would keep melting, atmospheric carbon would continue increasing, etc., etc. Do we need electric cars? Can we live without cars?
Paul Dorfman pointed out the embarrassing fact that climate change is leading to rising sea levels. The Greenland ice sheet is approaching a tipping point that would make accelerated melting inevitable. If miracles don’t rescue us, we’re going to see more coastal and inland flooding. “With 41 percent of all nuclear plants world-wide operating on the coast, nuclear may prove an important risk.” May? At least 100 of these plants are just a few meters above sea level.
“The near-term effect of rising mean sea-levels at coastal nuclear installations will be felt most profoundly during extreme storm conditions when strong winds and low atmospheric pressure bring about a localised increase in sea-level known as a ‘storm surge.’” Inland plants also face warming-related risks — wildfires, river floods, low river levels. If river temperatures get too warm, their ability to properly cool reactors is diminished. Worldwide, more than a half billion people live within 50 miles (80 km) of a nuke plant.
William and Rosemarie Alley wrote the book on nuclear waste storage. In 2012, the U.S. had generated lots of high-level radioactive wastes — 70,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel, and 20,000 giant canisters of military material. Waste was stored at 121 sites in 39 states. William worked for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and it was his job to find a secure place to safely store this stuff forever.
At first, folks thought it would become harmless in 600 years or so. Eventually, they realized that some of the waste would be dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years. It needed to be stored in a geologic repository, in strong deep bedrock that would not collapse if a future ice age put a mile thick ice sheet above it. It had to be dry, seismically stable, accessible to transport, and inaccessible to terrorists.
After 25 years of research, costing $10 billion, Alley recommended the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada, which was as close to perfect as possible. President Obama got elected, and promptly rejected the site, for political reasons. President Trump tried to revive the project, but failed. Now it’s 2021, and there is far more high-level waste sitting around. The U.S. has 60 nuclear power plants, and there are 443 in the world. Guess how many nations are using geologic repositories. Zero. One in Finland might open in 2023. People like using electricity, but few fully trust the honesty of corporate interests, and the integrity of their government servants.
Edwin Lyman wrote a 148 page report on the new generation of “advanced” reactors that may be put into commercial use at some point in the future. He works for the Union of Concerned Scientists, an organization dedicated to objective analysis. It is financially and politically independent of the nuclear power industry’s interests. The industry makes a number of impressive claims about the technological advances of the new reactors. Lyman has reservations. Different is not the same as better. He labels ten claims, including improved safety and security, to be “misleading.” The report is a free download. Enjoy!
Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Sequestration (BECCS)
BECCSs was another big idea. Instead of burning filthy coal, we could grow, gather, and burn lots of “replaceable” biomass fuel — grasses, trees, crop residues, etc. These fuels would absorb CO2 as they grew, and then we could burn this renewable resource to make happy green electricity. The chimney smoke from the burning would be processed to remove the CO2, which could then be safely stored underground forever in some way. The technology for capturing the CO2 is expensive, guzzles lots of energy, and is not yet feasible for full scale deployment.
James Dyke, Robert Watson, and Wolfgang Knorr are three venerable climate science elders who have been watching the clan of eco-wizards contemplate possible solutions to the climate crisis for many years. They wrote, “It has been estimated that BECCS would demand between 0.4 and 1.2 billion hectares of land. That’s 25% to 80% of all the land currently under cultivation.” (Land now used to produce food.)
The three lads wrote a fascinating and heartbreaking essay on the elusive goal of net zero emissions. [HERE] The climate crisis is a consequence of having way too much CO2 in the atmosphere, and adding more and more every day. So, the apparent solution involved extracting the excess CO2 from the air, while also sharply reducing the rate of current emissions. The Holy Grail was “net zero” — extracting as much carbon as we emit, creating a healthy balance. In maybe 30 years of net zero, bye-bye climate crisis, hello happy days!
Until 2021, the three professors kept their opinions to themselves. The technosphere is a sacred realm of miracles. Expressing doubts is heresy. Heresy can rubbish your reputation, and jeopardize future research grants. They understood that the notion of net zero was daffy — “burn now, pay later.”
If we plant a bunch of trees, they’ll sequester carbon as they grow, and we can continue living recklessly. This encourages blind faith in future techno-miracles, and it discourages everyone from making big changes in the here and now. Consequently, carbon in the atmosphere keeps increasing. The professors finally came out of the closet, and shared their pain. Hooray!
Bonnie Waring laments humankind’s hallucination that, with a bit of encouragement, the world’s forests can absorb enough carbon to end the climate crisis. “But the fact is that there aren’t enough trees in the world to offset society’s carbon emissions — and there never will be.”
Solar Radiation Management (SRM)
The goal of SRM is to artificially increase albedo by frequently dispersing tons reflective substances high in the sky, year after year, forever. McKenzie Funk wrote about Microsoft billionaire Nathan Myhrvold, who was working on a planet saving miracle. His StratoShield project would spray 2 to 5 million metric tons of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere every year. This would make the sunlight one percent dimmer, and enable life as we know it to continue a bit longer, maybe.
While this might deflect some incoming heat, ongoing CO2 emissions would continue building up in the atmosphere and oceans. Will vegetation be OK with reduced sunlight? Will precipitation patterns change? Apparently the hallucination is that by reducing incoming heat, the Artic would quit melting, and humankind could live happily ever after. Another variant is cirrus cloud thinning — modifying high-altitude clouds to make them thinner, less of an insulating blanket. This would allow the planet to release more heat from the atmosphere.
Direct Air Capture (DAC)
Direct air capture (DAC) is an experimental technology that removes CO2 (but not methane) from the atmosphere. The captured carbon can be permanently stored in the ground, at significant expense, or sold for commercial uses. For example, it could be pumped into active oil wells to enhance oil recovery, or converted into a synthetic fuel, or used to carbonate bubbly beverages, etc.
Alister Doyle reported on a radical DAC experiment. Climeworks, a Swiss business, is developing a DAC facility in Iceland. Big fans suck in air, the CO2 is removed, mixed with water to form a mild acid, and then pumped into basaltic rock that is 2,600 to 6,500 feet (800 to 2,000 meters) below ground. Two years later, 95 percent of what was CO2 is petrified, turned to stone, where it will safely remain for millions of years. The basaltic formations suitable for these operations are only found under about 5 percent of the world’s dry land, but more are available underwater.
This is an energy-intensive process, and Iceland was chosen because it produces cheap and abundant zero carbon geothermal energy. In 2020, there were 15 DAC plants in operation around the world, capturing more than 9,000 tons of CO2 per year, which was “the equivalent of the annual emissions of just 600 Americans, each producing about 15 tonnes of climate-changing pollution.”
Robert Hunziker wrote about a DAC plant in the southwest U.S. that will begin operation in 2024. Powered by natural gas, it will capture one million tons of CO2 per year. Meanwhile, worldwide human activities are emitting 4.2 million tons every hour. In this plant, air is sucked in, CO2 is extracted by a chemical solution (like potassium hydroxide), more chemicals then transform it into pellets of 50 percent CO2, the pellets are heated to 900°C, producing a gas that can be stored underground forever.
By building a global system of 100 million of these processing units (as soon as possible), enough CO2 could be extracted from the air to keep up with global emissions (but not the carbon already in the atmosphere). Extraction could be done at the bargain price of $330 to $800 per ton. DAC is not used for high concentration point source emissions, like those from the worlds many cement factories, or biomass power plants. These operations can use Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) systems.
Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)
Jorgen Randers believed that the excess carbon in the atmosphere could be successfully extracted by building 33,000 large Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) plants, and keeping them running forever. Permanently storing huge amounts of a gaseous compound is far more challenging than storing gold or diamonds. Also challenging is finding enormous amounts of money to build 33,000 plants. CCS was a super-delicious fantasy. We could keep burning coal, remove the carbon from the smoke, and avoid the dreadful need to sharply cut other forms of carbon emissions. Not one coal plant got a CCS system. It was too expensive, and it was not mandatory.
Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR)
CDR is also intended to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. It uses different methods than DAC. Plant more trees. Encourage agriculture to sequester more carbon in the soil. Restore wetlands. Spread nutrients on the ocean surface to stimulate blooms of phytoplankton (tiny plants) to increase their intake of CO2. One study found that oceanic phytoplankton declined about 40 percent between 1950 and 2008. The prime suspect is rising surface temperatures.
Geoengineering (Climate Engineering)
Geoengineering is a word used to describe large scale interventions like SRM and CDR. If one or both turn out to be miraculously successful, humans could, in their wildest dreams, continue burning fossil energy, and living like there’s no tomorrow. In reality, neither is a proven success, nor cheap, easy, or sustainable. Both ideas make lots of people nervous, for a wide variety of intelligent reasons, including expense. Unintended consequences are guaranteed.
Green New Deal (GND)
Every day our minds are blasted with misinformation. Humans have created a way of life that is so complicated that it’s impossible for anyone to understand more than a tiny bit of it. Most folks are clueless about sustainability. This is why U.S. legislators promoting the Green New Deal program are not laughed off the stage. It sounds like a sweet dream.
The GND became a trendy idea around 2018, but legislation to pursue it was defeated a year later. Its primary objective was to eliminate global warming by rapidly moving away from fossil energy, and replacing it with clean, green, zero-carbon renewable energy. Believers shouted with joy and celebration. It’s not too late. We can save the world, and still enjoy our modern consumer lifestyle in an advanced society. Let’s do it!
Mining.com is a news source for the mining industry. Its editor, Frik Els, praised the efforts of frontline GND proponents Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Greta Thunberg — “mining’s unlikely heroines.” Why? Because the Green New Deal would be a multi-trillion dollar godsend for mining and manufacturing corporations. The nation’s power system would require massive changes, and lots of new high-tech infrastructure.
Moving from unsustainable fossil energy to unsustainable “carbon-free” energy would require enormous amounts of minerals to make the needed steel, concrete, copper, lithium, silicon, etc. Mining operations and industrial centers primarily run on fossil energy, not breezes and sunbeams. Fossil fuel is the primary energy source for making solar panels, wind turbines, electric cars, and high capacity batteries.
These “green” devices have limited lifespans, and must be replaced periodically. This regular maintenance requires ongoing fossil energy inputs, and carbon emission outputs, until civilization moves off the stage. Like Siamese twins, industrial civilization and the climate crisis are inseparable components of the same unsustainable monstrosity.
In 2019, Jeff Gibbs produced the documentary Planet of the Humans, which put a spotlight on the GND’s heavy dependence on magical thinking. Powerful corporate interests are dedicated to keeping consumer society on life support for as long as humanly possible, because it is the engine of their growth and profits. They generously fund celebrities that preach the GND gospel of a limitless beautiful future, 100% clean energy, net zero emissions, sustainable growth, and jobs, jobs, jobs!
Max Blumenthal described what happened next. Immediately following the release of Gibbs’ film, a mob of well-known eco-celebrities exploded with bloodthirsty rage, loudly denounced the demonic film, and demanded that it be suppressed. This explosion of hysterical fury had the unintended consequence of stimulating a tidal wave of publicity for the film. On YouTube, it got millions of views in a month. The intense drama also tarnished the reputations of the noisy ultra-righteous (well paid) censors.
In March 2021, Derrick Jensen and team published Bright Green Lies, and Julia Barnes released the Bright Green Lies documentary, based on that book. Having learned their embarrassing lesson, celebrity critics largely took this as an opportunity to quietly go fishing in North Dakota. Both the Planet of the Humans and Bright Green Lies devoted significant effort to describing the dodgy performance of mainstream environmentalism, and its big money supporters.
In May 2021, Alice Friedemann published Life After Fossil Fuels, which filled in important missing pieces. She didn’t spank eco-celebrities, or provide a “solutions” chapter. She directed her full attention to simply explaining, in great detail, exactly why the bright green vision was irrational, impossible, nonsensical, and unaffordable (the inconvenient truth). Her readers are better able to see through the fog of misinformation, and keep both feet firmly planted in reality, where they belong.
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