False Hope? Greenpeace on Carbon Capture and Storage

     Earlier this month Greenpeace released a report entitled ‘False Hope’ attacking carbon capture and storage (CCS) on the grounds that it ‘wont save the climate’ and that it therefore presents us with a false hope. (See: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/press/reports/false-hope ). Greenpeace argue that we should abandon attempts to develop CCS technology and that we should devote our efforts to reducing energy demand and developing solar, wind and wave power instead. It seems very odd that an organisation that devotes itself to saving the planet should spend its time trying to attack an emerging form of technology that is being developed to help reduce carbon emissions especially at a time when, as Greenpeace are quick to stress, the carbon we emit is causing environmental damage to the planet – damage that may be irreversible.

     Precisely because climate change is such a threat we need to try all possible means to reduce carbon emissions. We can’t afford to choose between CCS and solar, wind and wave power. We need to try to develop all of these. Unfortunately Greenpeace don’t think this way. They basically see CCS as a costly scam which will not succeed and which only serves to divert our attention from their favoured sources of energy. But these other sources of energy come with their own side effects (E.G. see my earlier post on the Lewis Wind Farm controversy http://www.practicalethicsnews.com/practicalethics/2008/04/the-lewis-wind.html#more ). Furthermore, CCS is a new type of technology and it is preposterous that Greenpeace’s representatives presume to know how this technology will develop. Fortunately governments around the world are making the sensible choice of ignoring Greenpeace and other CCS doomsayers and investing in research on CCS. Small scale CCS schemes are already in operation in the coastal waters of Norway, in Canada and in Algeria. Jointly these already store several million tons of CO2 per year. The Australian government has recently offered parts of the Australian seabed for tender for new CCS ventures. (See http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,23744410-30417,00.html ).

     The case against CCS developed in False Hope is based on five arguments, all of which are flawed. Below are the conclusions of these arguments and my responses to them.

[1] CCS cannot deliver in time to avoid dangerous climate change.

This is mere speculation because Greenpeace don’t know what the needed time frame is and they don’t know how successful CCS will be after further research has been conducted. In any case proponents of CCS do not expect it to do all that is needed to reduce carbon emissions by itself. They hope that CCS will make a significant contribution to the reduction of carbon emissions at a time when we need all the contributions we can get.

[2] CCS Wastes Energy.

It’s true that current CCS technology is not very energy efficient. However, further research may lead to much more energy efficient CCS technology.

[3] Storing carbon underground in risky.

There are risks on all sides. Refusing to use CCS technology and relying only on Greenpeace’s favoured energy alternatives is also risky as these may prove to be insufficient to reduce carbon emissions to an acceptable level.

[4] CCS is expensive.

Current CCS technology is expensive. Further research may lead to the development of CCS technology that is much less expensive than it is now.

[5] CCS carries significant liability risks.

A failure to reduce carbon emissions carries an even greater risk, the risk of irreversible climate change.

     Greenpeace are genuinely concerned abut climate change and they do us all a good service by drawing attention to the threat of climate change. Unfortunately they seem to have a puritanical attitude towards some technologies. This attitude is coupled with the delusion that they can accurately predict how successful or unsuccessful particular technologies will be in advance of research on these technologies being conducted. It also leads to them wasting time producing reports like ‘False Hope’ which carry the dangerous message that we can afford to focus all of our effort in the struggle to reduce climate emissions on a few technologies that they happen to favour.

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