The new climate deniers

The new climate deniers no longer deny that climate change is happening. It’s become too obvious that it is.

It used to be that climate change deniers could ridicule the notion that the Earth was warming by pointing to cold snaps like the one in Texas where thousands of cold temperature records are being broken.

Saskpower’s Carbon capture plant

But climatologists have said all along that global warming will mean more chaotic weather: hotter, colder, dryer, wetter, stormier. The obvious makes it hard for climate change deniers to dismiss wildfires, droughts, and loss of arable land to deserts.

Instead, climate deniers have surrendered to fatalism, wishful thinking, and individualism.

Sure, Big Oil hopes that we continue to dump C02 into the atmosphere but the new climate deniers are not disingenuous. It’s just that the problem seems insurmountable. People of goodwill have come to believe that it’s too late to do anything about the problem.

Not true, climatologist Michael Mann told CBC’s Quirks and Quarks:

“That’s very dangerous because first of all, it’s not true. The science indicates otherwise. The science indicates that if we reduce our carbon emissions dramatically, we can avert the worst impacts of climate change. For example, this idea that global warming is now unstoppable, that warming is going to release so much methane from the Arctic that it will warm the planet beyond habitable levels. There is no scientific support for that contention.”

The new climate deniers are not anti-science. On the contrary, they look to technological solutions. Count me in. I wish it were true, not just because I hope that science and technology will come the rescue but because my fossil-fuel lifestyle is comfortable and I wish it would continue. If only there was some way to fix the problem without inconveniencing me.

Carbon capture is wishful thinking. The plan is to keep dumping CO2 into the atmosphere but pump it back into the earth where it came from. But the future of carbon capture doesn’t look good.

Look at Saskatchewan’s Boundary Dam carbon capture plant that cost $1.5 billion to build in 2014 and still hasn’t reached its target to store 800,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide due to technological problems. Even if the technology worked, we would need 38,000 such plants. And that’s assuming that CO2 emissions remain low because of the pandemic.

Another way in which otherwise well-meaning climate deniers can paralyze global action is to advocate individualism. It’s a popular notion in the “me era”; that if we change our habits individually we can collectively accomplish great things.

But what did we, as individuals, do to remove lead from gasoline and paint -a toxic element that was causing neurological development in children delays? What did we, as individuals, do to reduce the chemicals that were thinning the Earth’s protective ozone layer? Nothing. We accomplished these things through our governments and international agreements.

The idea that individual choices and technology will save us is wishful thinking. The actions of individuals, no matter how heroic, cannot accomplish what we can collectively do through our governments.

Don’t despair. We can still keep global temperate increases less than two degrees Celsius through international cooperation. Now that the U.S. is back in the Paris Accord, there is hope that cooperation will work.

Why carbon storage won’t save us

Politicians can be expected to act irrationally during election years. By that measure, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is acting as expected.

SaskPower

A rational, albeit flawed, argument is that Saskatchewan can produce clean electricity from dirty coal by capturing the carbon and selling it. It’s the equivalent of selling your garbage.

Carbon capture holds promise to rescue Premier Wall from a problem of geography. Unlike B.C., Saskatchewan has few hydro dams and lots of coal. In promoting carbon capture, Wall attempts to position himself both as a climate defender and friend of Big Coal.

At first glance carbon capture seems magical. The technology works some of the time and Cenovus Energy of Calgary agreed to buy the carbon dioxide from Saskpower. The plan is for Cenovus to buy all of the CO2 produced by the Boundary Dam generating/capture site, a total of one Mega tonnes a year. Cenovus use some of the CO2 to pressurize old oil wells near Weyburn, forcing the remains up to the surface and some would be simply be stored in underground caverns.

Irrationality number one: CO2 would be captured, then used to recover more fossil fuels which would be burned to produce more CO2.

Then there’s Wall’s obstinate posturing in advance of the meeting of the premiers with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for talks on a national climate strategy on March 3. The feds hope to have a deal in place for a minimum carbon price that would allow provinces to use their own mechanisms to achieve the pricing. They aim to have a deal with a minimum of $15/tonne in six months.

Wall flatly rejects a broad-based carbon tax: “I’ve already made it clear … that if we’re re-elected, our government will not be pursuing any tax increases or new taxes, and neither would we support any new national taxes.”

Irrationality number two: The Saskatchewan premier doesn’t want a level playing field. He wants other provinces to pay for carbon pricing so his province would have a competitive advantage. Alberta has plans for a price of $30/tonne. “I don’t want a level playing field for our province. I want this to be the most competitive place that it possibly can be … and that does not include a new carbon tax, especially now, given the state of the economy.”

That leads to the third irrationality. My question is this: “If your carbon capture technology works so well, premier, why worry about pricing carbon that you won’t produce?” Carbon in the ground won’t cost producers anything.

The embarrassing answer is that the technology doesn’t work that well. When the plant is working properly, it captures 90 per cent of the carbon dioxide but, in fact, because of mechanical issues, the facility has only operates 45 per cent of the time. It works so poorly that Saskpower has to pay penalties to Cenovus for not supplying enough CO2 as specified in their contract.

The problem is not unique to Saskatchewan. There are only 15 such sites in the world. China has abandoned theirs. The costly, complicated technology is wishful thinking. Its chief product is political irrationality in election years.