I’m in favor of carbon capture as a general concept. I’ve written before about using plants for that purpose, and I continue to think that we should be doing that.
Without eliminating fossil fuel use, carbon capture is a distraction we cannot afford.
A new report from Imperial College London has outlined the degree to which carbon capture worked between 1996 and 2020, as well as the degree to which it has been over-estimated:
They calculated 197 million tonnes of carbon were captured and stored between 1996 and 2020, which represents a significant achievement in climate change mitigation. However, the researchers say the lack of consistent reporting frameworks mean current reported rates of carbon capture are overestimated, giving an inaccurate picture of the technology’s contribution to fighting climate change. This, the researchers say, disempowers us in meeting climate mitigation strategies like the Paris Agreement and risks hiding issues that could otherwise be easily solved, such as inefficiencies in facility technology and transport.
Lead author Yuting Zhang, PhD candidate at the Department of Earth Science and Engineering, said: “Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is rightly a cornerstone of climate change mitigation, but without a centralised reporting framework we approach climate change on the back foot when we need to be more proactively tackling the issue with robust and accurate reporting.
I’m sorry, but in light of this report, I have to disagree with the lead author. If this is an example of what carbon capture and storage has to offer, then we cannot rely on it at all. Once again – 197 million tonnes of carbon captured and stored over a period of 24 years. For comparison, we emitted 36.3 billion tonnes in 2021 alone. The decrease in emissions from the 2020 lockdowns was 2 billion tonnes, which is over ten times what was captured during that 24 year period.
Taking this seriously as “a cornerstone of climate change mitigation” feels like declaring a toddler with a bucket to be a cornerstone of our firefighting strategy. This is not the first time I’ve wondered whether industrial carbon capture is anything more than a greenwashing campaign, fueled by a willful detachment from reality. As always, I’m glad for this research. It’s good to have numbers on how carbon capture has been going (as badly as all the rest of our climate “action”), and how the propaganda surrounding it has over-sold its usefulness.
The study authors suggest centralizing the process of tracking and reporting on carbon capture and sequestration. That’s fine. It seems like a good idea. I also think it’s worth noting that it’s not like any of our other climate mitigation efforts have been going any better, so it’s possible that if we ever take the issue seriously (you know, before it kills us all), carbon capture will make a huge difference. Even so, if that happens, it won’t matter if we’re still generating so much carbon dioxide. Carbon neutrality is not enough. It shouldn’t need saying, but freezing CO2 levels where they’re at right now is still a catastrophe – it’s just a slower one.
Carbon capture and storage is rightly a cornerstone of climate mitigation, but without a rapid elimination of fossil fuel use, it will do little more than help our rulers deflect blame for the horrors they have wrought.
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