Citizen Action Monitor

Time may not be on our side, but can we find ways to buy time? – Two UK climate scientists discuss

Most of the quick fix models presented to policymakers falsely assume they can work at a very large scale.

No 1959 Posted by fw, May 17, 2017

Dr. Hugh Hunt

“But you’re saying we’re running out of time – and I agree with you, we’re running out of time — but I’ve been thinking a lot about whether there’s things we can do to buy ourselves time. One side of the equation says we can buy ourselves time by using less energy. But perhaps some of the immediate crises that are going to happen – for instance, I’m very concerned that the polar ice is melting fast and that perhaps when that happens consequences like methane being released from the permafrost in northern Russia and Canada. Are there ways we can perhaps slow that process down to buy some time to get on with what we have to do? Or is that just something that’s a bridge too far? We ought not think about it?”Hugh Hunt

Kevin Anderson

“No, I’m all for us trying to think about those things. My concern is to assume that they work. And that’s what we do – assume that there’s something out there that shows some optimism, or some hope – however vague and tenuous it might be – we latch on to it as if it works and it exists today. In that sense, it won’t be done for a long time.”Kevin Anderson

The two passages above are excerpted from a spontaneous conversation between two of Britain’s most vocal scientists on climate change and engineering: Kevin Anderson, the Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, who holds a joint chair in Energy and Climate Change at the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering at the University of Manchester; and Dr. Hugh Hunt, a professor in Engineering Dynamics & Vibration at Cambridge University.

The 32:40-minute video-recorded conversation between Anderson and Hunt took place in December 2015, at COP  21 in Paris, and was likely moderated by journalist and filmmaker, Nick Breeze.

In Part 1 of this series, Hunt and Anderson emphasized the significance of the recent introduction of carbon budgets, as a measure of emission reduction progress, into the climate change debate: carbon budgets have been a big game-changer in terms of “really big policy implications.” The political repercussions are clear – “the big problem we have is time.” Even with a Marshall style plan to rapidly reduce global CO2 emissions, the maths predict that we will breach our carbon budgets.

In this post, Part 2, Hunt, while agreeing that time is the problem, attempts to inject a note of optimism into the conversation by suggesting there may be ways to “buy time”, enough time to put in place “low carbon energy supply” changes. Anderson quickly counters, calling for “realistic, not optimistic” ideas. The difficult social problem remains – climate change impacts the teeming billions of poor, not the relatively smaller concentration of rich. And it is the rich who are the emitters – and the policymakers — and they will resist any change that impacts their lavish lifestyles or, if a politician, jeopardize their re-election. Hunt and Anderson sarcastically dismiss technological quick fixes like Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and Biomass Energy Carbon Capture Storage (BECCS). Perhaps politicians like them because they’re “so easy to say,” suggests Hunt. This section of the discussion ends on a note of agreement — this technology is not up and running, and working, and it’s very speculative.

Look who’s endorsing CCS

Catherine McKenna

This repost below includes the complete embedded video, my subheadings and text highlighting. As well, my transcript covers that section of the video beginning at 4:10 and ending at 10:44 minutes.

To watch the Video on You Tube, sans transcript, click on the following linked title.

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Dr. Hugh Hunt & Professor Kevin Anderson discussing Climate Change realities uploaded to You Tube by Nick Breeze, December 20, 2015

TRANSCRIPT

Currently, the 7 billion people on earth are burning, on average, 5 tons of CO2 per year

Hunt – I think there is some things when you start looking at the actual numbers – we are, as a planet, burning fossil fuels and producing about 35 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year. With a population of 7 billion, 35 divided by 7, that’s 5 tons, on average, of carbon dioxide per person.

If I ask every individual on this planet to handle 5 tons of waste, whether it be sewage or garbage from the kitchen, 5 tons per year, that’s massive. We do not produce 5 tons of household waste year. And yet somehow we’re allowed to 5 tons of CO2 waste peer year.

“Everything we do is written in CO2 ink”

If we start to think about how do we manage our lifestyle to reduce our CO2 waste to say one-tenth of that, that means you have to do essentially one-tenth of what you currently do – because everything we do is written in CO2 ink.

The top 1% in the US emit over 300 tons of CO2 per person; the bottom 1% of Nigerians emit 0.15 tons per person

Anderson – There’s a slight, I wouldn’t say disagreement, there’s a nuanced difference here I think. The averages can be quite misleading here. We look at the top one percent in the States – they’re emitting over 300 tons per person. And I think the bottom one percent of Nigerians are emitting about 0.15 tons.

The top 10% globally emit 50% of global emissions per year; that’s 25-30 tons per person

If we look at the top ten percent globally, they’re responsible for fifty percent of global emissions. Their emissions are 25 to 30 tons per person.

Ergo, a small percentage of the world’s population must make rapid, radical energy consumption reductions

What we’re talking about is a relatively small percentage of the population who will have to make rapid and radical reductions to their energy consumption, and hence their emissions, in the short to medium term.

The problem is, the policymakers are among the top emitters

The problem is, they’re the policymakers. But if the rest of the population are going to have lives that are worth leading, then that 10 percent have to make those sorts of changes.

The top emitters will find any reason they can to resist changing their carbon-burning lifestyles

And that’s where we come up with any spurious technique we possibly can to avoid the requirement of people like us – professors and the above in terms of income, with lifestyles related to our emissions – having to make these sorts of radical changes to how we live our lives over the next two decades, while we put this low carbon energy supply in place.

We need realism not optimism

Hunt – But we can be optimistic, can’t we, surely…

Anderson – Realistic. Not optimistic.

It’s easier to make rapid, radical changes when the solution rests in the hands of the few

Hunt – No, no. I figure we can be optimistic. Because if the solution does rest in the hands of relatively few people, then when it really comes to the crunch, can we really make a big difference by persuading relatively few people.

The difficult social problem remains – climate change impacts the poor not the rich

Anderson – In some respects that makes it easier because it’s only about this few. The problem is the impacts are on the poor. This is what makes this quite a difficult problem. What we’re saying is here, rich, genuinely white people, in the northern hemisphere are the high emitters, and poor genuinely non-white, low emitters in the southern hemisphere will suffer the impacts. So there’s this huge, again, another one of these massive disconnects between people like us who have got to change our lives – and change those lives to stop the impacts on people who are not like us – they’re a long way away and we can turn them off the TV channels if we don’t like what’s happening in their parts of the world.

So, there are lots of reasons why this becomes – what looks like, initially, a very technical-engineering problem becomes a social-political problem writ large at the global level.

Yes, time is the problem – but can we buy ourselves time, for example, by slowing release of methane?

Hunt – But you’re saying we’re running out of time – and I agree with you, we’re running out of time — but I’ve been thinking a lot about whether there’s things we can do to buy ourselves time. One side of the equation says we can buy ourselves time by using less energy. But perhaps some of the immediate crises that are going to happen – for instance, I’m very concerned that the polar ice is melting fast and that perhaps when that happens consequences like methane being released from the permafrost in northern Russia and Canada. Are there ways we can perhaps slow that process down to buy some time to get on with what we have to do? Or is that just something that’s a bridge too far? We ought not think about it?

Policymakers, desperate for good news, tend to presume unproven quick fixes already exist and will work

Anderson – No, I’m all for us trying to think about those things. My concern is to assume that they work. And that’s what we do – assume that there’s something out there that shows some optimism, or some hope – however vague and tenuous it might be – we latch on to it as if it works and it exists today. In that sense, it won’t be done for a long time.

Sarcastically, Hunt points to carbon storage as one of those quick fixes that appeal to politicians

Hunt – So carbon sequestration of course works, doesn’t it?

So far, carbon capture and storage (CCS) works only in labs and at very small levels

Anderson – Yeah, it works in the laboratory. It works at very small levels. Whether you can scale it up to the… [Crosstalk]. This is where you suck the carbon dioxide either out of the atmosphere or out of chimneys from power stations, and then you store this almost a liquid CO2 somewhere for the next thousand or plus years. To store those sorts of quantities, that is a huge challenge. And yet that is normalized in almost all of the models that now are advising policymakers. It’s just assumed that it can work at a very large scale.

We can’t capture or store CO2 very effectively – perhaps politicians like it because CCS is easy to say

Hunt – It’s so much assumed that there are these acronyms that trip off the tongue, like CCS – Carbon Capture and Storage. Well, we can’t capture it very effectively and we certainly don’t know how to store it effectively. But somehow CCS is fine because it’s so easy to say.

Even worse than CCS is BECCS, prompting more sarcasm

Anderson – To me, almost worse than that is this idea, this thing called BECCS, Biomass Energy Carbon Capture Storage. As well as growing food for 7 to 9 billion people on the planet, we’re going to grow crops that we will then harvest and then burn in our power stations and capture the CO2. And as the crops grow they suck the CO2 out of the air through photosynthesis to get burned in the power station. We capture the CO2 and store it underground.

There are some minor concerns like we’ve got a certain amount of land on the planet, we’ve got to feed 7 to 9 billion people. Every other sector thinks its going to use this [biomass]: the aviation sector thinks we’ll be flying our planes based on biofuel; the shipping sector thinks the same thing; the chemical energy [sector] wants to use it as a feed stock. We’re going to try and feed 9 billion people. You know, we’re on a round planet. Unless we’ve got another planet somewhere near by we’re not going to grow this level of biomass.

Let’s be clear – this technology is not up and running and working; it’s very speculative

And yet this is again assumed in all of the models that are advising government, because every single scenario being discussed that I have heard so far at this event in Paris has assumed, without mentioning it at any time up front, that this actually works – that this technology is up and running and works. It’s very speculative, at best.

END OF PART 2

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