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Climate Hustle

The Quest for CCS

Posted on 13 January 2016 by Andy Skuce

This article was originally published online at Corporate Knights and will appear in the hard copy Winter 2016 Edition of the Corporate Knights Magazine, which is to be included  as a supplement to the Globe and Mail and Washington Post later in January 2016. The photograph used in the original was changed for copyright reasons.

Human civilization developed over a period of 10,000 years during which global average surface temperatures remained remarkably stable, hovering within one degree Celsius of where they are today.

If we are to keep future temperatures from getting far outside that range, humanity will be forced to reduce fossil fuel emissions to zero by 2050. Halving our emissions is not good enough: we need to get down to zero to stay under the 2 C target that scientists and policy makers have identified as the limit beyond which global warming becomes dangerous.

Shell boasting about its government-funded Quest CCS project, on a Toronto bus. (Photo: rustneversleeps) "Shell Quest captures over one-third of our oil sands upgrader emissions"

Many scenarios have been proposed to get us there. Some of these involve rapid deployment of solar and wind power in conjunction with significant reductions in the amount of energy we consume.

However, many of the economists and experts who have developed scenarios for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) believe that the only way to achieve the two-degree goal in a growing world economy is to invest in large-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects. These technologies capture carbon dioxide from the exhausts of power stations and industrial plants and then permanently store it, usually by injecting it into underground rock layers.

Even with massive deployment of CCS over coming decades, most scenarios modelled by the IPCC overshoot the carbon budget and require that in the latter part of the century, we actually take more carbon out of the atmosphere than we put into it. Climate expert Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester recently reported in Nature Geoscience that, of the 400 IPCC emissions scenarios used in the 2014 Working Group report to keep warming below two degrees, some 344 require the deployment of negative emissions technologies after 2050. The other 56 models assumed that we would start rapidly reducing emissions in 2010 (which, of course, did not happen). In other words, negative emissions are required in all of the IPCC scenarios that are still current.

One favoured negative emissions technology is bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). This involves burning biomass – such as wood pellets – in power stations, then capturing the carbon dioxide and burying it deep in the earth. The technology has not yet been demonstrated at an industrial scale. Using the large amounts of bioenergy envisioned in such scenarios will place huge demands on land use and will conflict with agriculture and biodiversity needs.

Even the relatively small use of biofuels in Europe that relies on North American wood pellets is already causing land-use impacts in the southeastern United States (John Upton of Climate Central has recently published an excellent report on this titled Pulp Fiction). The European demand for wood pellets is driven by an EU policy that deems biomass use to be carbon-neutral. However, evidence is mounting that this is not the case. It takes energy to collect, process and transport the pellets. It also matters whether the wood used is waste that would otherwise be left to rot or burn, or whether it is taken from mature trees. And, of course, it can take many decades for a forest to regrow to its previous size.

Six thousand feet under

The scale required of CCS and BECCS in most two-degree emissions scenarios is staggering. Humans consume vast amounts of fossil fuels at present, and the basic chemistry of combustion, which takes up oxygen, means that the mass of carbon dioxide produced is 2.8-3.7 times the mass of the fossil fuel itself. To get to zero emissions using CCS requires that three times or more matter be put back into the ground than was originally taken out.

trash1

At present, North Americans produce about 40 times the mass of carbon dioxide than we do of household garbage. Already, many cities and towns struggle to find sufficient landfill sites for their trash. Relying on CCS and BECCS for mitigation will create a much bigger need to find room in safe storage sites underground.

Carbon dioxide is stored as a supercritical fluid at the temperatures and pressures of the geological disposal layers, typically at a depth of 1,000 to 3,000 metres. This fluid has about half the density of water, but has some physical properties closer to those of a gas, allowing it to be injected into rocks with small pore spaces. [Graphic by John Garrett]

Even though the volume of the compressed carbon dioxide fluid is much less than the volume it takes up as a gas at the surface, the quantities are still colossal. Calculations based on the most detailedpublished two-degree mitigation scenario by Detlef van Vuuren and others at Utrecht University in 2011 estimate that the volume of carbon dioxide in need of disposal by the end of the century is more than 60 billion cubic metres per year. That is equivalent to disposing of the volume of the water in Lake Erie every eight years.

Injecting such a high volume of fluid into the ground is not without consequences. Existing subsurface fluids, mostly brines, will be displaced and there may be effects such as increased chances of earthquakes at some sites where there are faults nearby.

The injected carbon dioxide must not be allowed to leak, not only because even slow leakage defeats the object of storage, but also because a rapid leak could pose a health hazard. The majority of the best storage sites are in sedimentary basins perforated by many tens of thousands of old oil and gas wells. Many of these wells have not been abandoned properly and could provide conduits for carbon dioxide to migrate to shallow aquifers or to the surface.

If CCS is proposed in populated areas, one can expect there to be widespread public resistance to CCS projects in the same way that there are objections today to fracking and nuclear waste disposal. Widespread implementation will not simply be a matter of technology and economics. 

The carbon treadmill

There are currently 14 CCS plants in operation around the world. All but three of these are associated with enhanced oil recovery (EOR) projects, in which the carbon dioxide is injected to force more oil out of an oil field. This brings up more carbon to the surface to be burned, making it disingenuous to regard such projects as mitigation solutions. In the absence of a carbon price or a government grant or mandate, there is currently no commercial case for CCS apart from EOR.

The average capacity of the current 14 projects is about two million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. According to some IPCC scenarios, we will need to dispose of 40 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year by 2090. That means that if we started in 2020 we would have to build 250 such plants every year, about one every working day for 70 years. University of Manitoba energy historian Vaclav Smil has argued convincingly that it is impossible to imagine that such a rapid transformation of the global energy system could take place.

Canada currently has two major CCS projects underway. The Boundary Dam in Saskatchewan captures carbon dioxide from a coal power station and sells the gas to Canadian oil company Cenovus, which uses it for an EOR project. However, there are reports that there are serious technical problemswith the project and it has so far only been able to capture a fraction of its one million tonnes per year capacity.

Secondly, Shell has just started the Quest project in Alberta. This project is designed to capture one million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year from a heavy-oil upgrader and inject it into a deep, Cambrian-age sandstone layer. According to Shell, the estimated cost of this project works out to $72 per captured and stored tonne of carbon dioxide. The project has received $860 million in government support.

The emissions of greenhouse gases emitted in Alberta’s upstream sector (the emissions involved in producing, but not consuming, Alberta’s oil and gas) amount to 73 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. So, roughly speaking, 70 Quest-sized projects would be required to make the Alberta upstream industry carbon neutral, assuming no future growth.

In contrast, the recent report from Alberta’s Climate Leadership Panel on emissions mitigation mentions CCS just three times. The provincial plan unveiled by the province in November was similarly scarce on any mentions of CCS. There does not appear to be the political appetite within Alberta to launch such an ambitious adoption of CCS, even with the government’s embrace of a $30 per tonne carbon tax by 2017.

Even if it were possible to get to 2100 with a mix of CCS and BECCS, it would not constitute a sustainable solution. Humanity would find itself stuck on a treadmill of increasing fossil and biofuel use with a growing need to sequester carbon dioxide. Sooner or later, either fuel resources or the resources of disposal sites would be exhausted.

At best, CCS and BECCS would be able to provide a stopgap to a more sustainable future.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 78:

  1. Interesting post Andy. From the big picture point of view, the thermodynamics of CCS seems to be quite a problem. The sheer size of the undertaking is another.

    I think it is worth mentioning the CCS potential offered by Hot Dry Rock systems. The MIT report on HDR indicates there is definitely possibility there, in addition to all the other advantages of HDR:

    https://mitei.mit.edu/system/files/geothermal-energy-full.pdf

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  2. My understanding is that Statoil has been injecting CO2 for sequestration from the North Sea Sleipner Gas field into a saline aquifer since 1996, roughly a million tons/yr.  They found that it was economic because Norway was charging $100/ton for CO2. 

    Another problem with CCS is that the CO2 has more mass than the original hydrocarbon/coal. For each ton of coal, one develops 2.7 tons of CO2. Nevertheless, it is worth continuing to investigate how much we can bury and for what price. 

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  3. Approaches using natural processes (accelerated olivine weathering, etc) seem to be a lot more promising. Below is a brief (2010) claiming it is possible to capture global annual carbon emissions for B$250/year. The second is using weathering to produce energy and materials using carbon dioxide as a major input.

    LINK

    LINK

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    Moderator Response:

    [RH] Shortened links.

  4. As current events in California indicate, gas 'stored' in underground wells does not necessarily stay there. If the gas escaping from Porter Ranch had in fact been CO2, and if had been a quiet night, there may have been no need for an evacuation--everyone in the valley below would have been suffocated to death in their sleep. (As happened at Lake Cameroon's Lake Nyos in 1986.)

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  5. Wouldn't the use of biomass be somewhat self defeating as the use of living trees not only has an impact environmentally but also reduces the global  carbon sink capacity

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  6. wili:

    The potential for catastrophic leakage from CCS wells that fail is certainly a serious concern. There are, though, some differences in scale and rate between what is happening at Porter Ranch and the tragedy at Lake Nyos. I understand that the rate of gas release in California is about 1200 tons per day (please forgive the Wiki references), whereas, the Lake Nyos release was a very sudden eruption of 100,000-300,000 tons of CO2, basically three months to a year's worth of the California gas leak in less than a day, as the entire lake catastrophically degassed like a shaken Champagne bottle.

    I'm not exactly sure what would happen in the case of a CCS well blowout and I suspect nobody else is either, since it has never happened. There have been CO2 blowouts from mines and wellbores (and some have caused fatalities), but a CCS blowout might be different because the CO2 is likely stored in the form of a super-critical fluid. My understanding is that when such a fluid is subjected to depressurization and changes to the gas phase, it causes a refrigeration effect (the Joule–Thompson effect), which slows the degassing process and forms ice, dry ice and hydrates which may also block or slow the flow. See Bachu (2008). I believe that the expectation is that a failed CCS well will sputter out gas, seal itself and then sputter out more gas in a cycle, as the rock and wellbore cools and warms up again. 

    In other words, a failed CCS well might not  be as bad as Porter Ranch and is very unlikely to be a catastrophe as bad as Lake Nyos. Having said that, I'm probably not alone in not wanting to live in a valley below a big CCS operation, because might not be as bad and very unlikely to be a catastrophe is not reassuring enough. If CCS is ever to be deployed at the scale that some of the modelers envisage, then among the required tens of thousands of projects, involving who-knows-how-many injection wells, unexpected disasters are certain.

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  7. ryland:

    Yes.

    See John Upton's excellent series Pulp Fiction and the UK DECC report on biomass life-cycle impacts.

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  8. Ryland

    In principal no since you grow trees, sequester their carbon and crow more trees. However, there are still lots of issues with BECCS. The land area required that competes with agriculture, nutrient requirements to maintain the growth potential of that land, then the need to transport the biomass to the power stations, then transport the captured CO2 to another site for sequestration.

    In one sense BECCS is a misnomer. It should actially BECCRRS - Bioenergy Carbon Capture, Release, Recapture and Sequestration.

    When we harvest the plant crop we have already captured the carbon! Then we take it to a power station, release it through combustion, recapture it (but not all of it) from the smoke stack, then sequester it.

    Maybe a simpler approach is to simply take the organic matter and directly sequester that! The tonnage required would be lower - by mass organic molecules such as cellulose have a higher proportion of carbon than CO2 does.

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  9. Ryland @5, no.  Trees sequester more carbon per annum when growing to maturity than when mature.  If you cut down mature trees to allow regrowth, and bury the carbon so it is not released back to the atmosphere, you will sequester more carbon than by leaving forests undisturbed.

    Glenn Tamblyn @8, intuitively better yet would be to cook the wood in a charcoal oven which:

    1)  Allows you to capture the energy of combustion of the hydrygen in the cellulose as an energy source;

    2)  Reduces the sequestered mass still further by eliminating nearly all but the carbon from the tree mass.

    Whether it is actually better than burning the wood and capturing the CO2, or just burring the tree depends on the specific details of the actual process used, which depends on available technology.  It may be that burning the entire tree, capturing the CO2 and burying can actually give a net energy surplus per tonne of Carbon sequestered relative to other methods.

    More probably, it may give an economic advantage in that the wood can be burnt in coal fired power stations fitted with CCS and the costs avoided in early write offs of those plants as we move away from coal may make an otherwise less efficient process better cost wise.

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  10. Academic: 'CCS laughable' (13min) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S8-85Q46Lw4

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  11. Thanks for the replies to my post @5 on the use of living trees as an energy source. I got a "Yes" @7, a qualified "No" @8 and a "No" @9. Intuitively I tended  to favour the "yes" as it takes a long time to regenerate forests that, comparatively speaking, are felled in an instant. Thus large mature living trees are felled and replaced by immature trees with a consequent significant fall in carbon sequestration.  This is discussed in some detail in John Upton's series "Pulp Fiction" referred to by Andy Skuce @7 and from that it seems  "Yes" may well be correct.  

    From this series it also seems the EU are not being entirely kosher on their emissions, as wood is classed as carbon neutral. Consequently emissions from wood are not counted.   In addition power generators burning wood avoid fees levied on carbon polluters and to add insult to injury,  receive "hundreds of millions of dollars in climate subsidies"

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  12. ryland @11, you get your 'yes' answer only by assuming the wood used will be hardwoods felled from old growth forests.  More likely they will be softwoods from plantations.

    Further, pulp fiction does not address the issue with biomass and CCS.  When biomass is burnt in a CCS facility, 75%+ of the CO2 produced is captured and sequestered.  That means the replacement trees need only grow to 25% or less of the mass of a mature tree before additional growth draws down excess CO2 from the atmosphere.  With a pine tree, that can be five years or less growth.

    Finally, the pulf fiction analysis is mistaken in any event.  In a mature biomass industry, there will be plantation timber in all stages of growth.  Assuming a time to maturity of 20 years.  Then for each km^2 of wood harvested and burnt, there will be 20 km^2 of wood at various stages of growth the annual sequestration by the full industry will equal the annual emissions (without CCS).

    The pulp fiction scenario would apply where old growth forest is harvested for biomass on a non-renewable basis.  Even there, however, the pulp fiction story gets the accouting wrong.  In such a scenario, the full CO2 emissions from clear cutting the forest will be accounted for as LUC.  Requiring that it be accounted for again at point of combustion would simply require that it be accounted for twice.  Thus, while it would a bad, very unsustainable mitigation policy to burn biomass from old growth forests, the CO2 emissions from such a practice are still accounted for (just not at the power plant).

    Further, while I say it would be bad to burn biomass from forestry (as oppossed to plantation) timber, that does not necessarilly apply to wood waste for which no other suitable use (including composting) can be found

    And finally, in my home state (Queensland, Australia) the vast majority of biomass burnt is wast cane from the sugar refinery process which is used to power the crushing and refining operations.  The cane takes only a year to grow.  Equivalent rapid growth biomass is no doubt found in many locations, and completely undercuts the (faulty) logic of the pulp fiction scenario.  Fitting CCS to the cane powered refineries would be a positive benefit to the environment without question (though probably not economic).

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  13. Andy, thanks for the thoughtful answer at #6. I found the last bit particularly well put:

    "I'm probably not alone in not wanting to live in a valley below a big CCS operation, because might not be as bad and very unlikely to be a catastrophe is not reassuring enough. If CCS is ever to be deployed at the scale that some of the modelers envisage, then among the required tens of thousands of projects, involving who-knows-how-many injection wells, unexpected disasters are certain."

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  14. "... for most species mass growth rate increases continuously with tree size. Thus, large, old trees do not act simply as senescent carbon reservoirs but actively fix large amounts of carbon compared to smaller trees; at the extreme, a single big tree can add the same amount of carbon to the forest within a year as is contained in an entire mid-sized tree. "

    www.nature.com/nature/journal/v507/n7490/full/nature12914.html

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  15. wili @14:

    "Second, our findings are similarly compatible with the well-known age-related decline in productivity at the scale of even-aged forest stands. Although a review of mechanisms is beyond the scope of this paper several factors (including the interplay of changing growth efficiency and tree dominance hierarchies) can contribute to declining productivity at the stand scale.We highlight the fact that increasing individual tree growth rate does not automatically result in increasing stand productivity because tree mortality can drive orders-of-magnitude reductions in population density. That is, even though the large trees in older, even-aged stands may be growing more rapidly, such stands have fewer trees. Tree population dynamics, especially mortality, can thus be a significant contributor to declining productivity at the scale of
    the forest stand."

    (Stephenson et al, 2014, "Rate of tree carbon accumulation increases continuously with tree size")

    That is, as trees get bigger they crowd out the competition, which fact more than compensates for the increased carbon accumulation per tree.

    While this may raise tricky questions as to the best time to reharvest renewably harvested natural forests, it does not void my analysis above.

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  16. "Wild untouched forests store three times more carbon dioxide than previously estimated and 60% more than plantation forests"

    www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2008/08/05/2324476.htm

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  17. wili @16, which is why we should not cut old growth forests for biomass, nor to convert them to plantations or other agricultural use.  On the other hand, converting agricultural land to plantations (or some more rapidly growing crop) for biomass mass may be beneficial.

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  18. Sorry, not "which is why" but "which is one good reason (among several others related to conservation)".

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  19. ryland.

    The assumption that BECCS is about trees is perhaps even less valid. The best crops for BECCS are likely fast growing species. Trees don't always fit that bill. Various grasses have been considered. The impressive growth rates of Bamboo for example might recomend them.

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  20. Yeah Tom, old fashioned charcoal-burner technology is a possibility. It could be done quite locally to the harvest point and reduce the captured carbon to a more concentrated form. And also a form that is less likely to breakdown when sequestered.

    But that is adding another processing step with its own costs, losses, inefficiencies etc.

    All these things are cost/benefit trade-offs, whether those things are measured in dollars or joules.

    But ultimately all technologies that involve bulk materials handling of gigatonnes of something may turn out to be too inefficient.

    I still think approaches that use nano-technology, natural processes, pre-existing natural matter and energy flows etc. are the more likely to succeed at scale.

    If we have to build an industrial revolutions worth of kit to do it, it ain't gonna work.

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  21. Glenn Tamblyn @20, I don't think the charcoal burning needs to be old fashioned (which is labour intensive).  I do agree that CCS can only be a bit player in reducing emissions to zero; and CCS of biofuels is likely to also only be a bit player in generating net negative emissions or compensating for fugitive emissions in a zero net emissions regime.  The fun thing is, however, I don't have to make any predictions on the issue.  If we get a well established carbon price, the market will sort it out.

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  22. Glenn Tamblyn @20.  Advertisements from various suppliers of wood pellets state they are from trees.  As an example this ad from CPL (see here) states "The wood used for biomass wood pellets either comes from wastes from industries such as sawmilling or from virgin trees that have been specifically grown for the purpose of creating pellets".  This extract from a letter from  Save americasforests to the Senate shows the concerns expressed about the use of trees for biomass. (reference).  The extract states:

     "However, this legislation goes even farther in contributing to global climate change. It instructs the Forest Service to take the wood logged from these forests and burn it in wood-energy plants. Nothing could possibly contribute more to global climate change than increasing logging on our national forests and then burning the wood in biomass plants".

    I'm sure there are many sources of biomass but at the moment trees appear to  figure prominently as a biomass source 

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  23. Tom Curtis @ 12. What's "LUC"?

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  24. Indeed in addition to CCS we have to move to BECCS. But given the enormous amounts required (and thereby the land requirements) even BECCS won't be sufficiently.

    As JWRebel noticed there are indeed more ways for Carbon Dioxide Removal:

    - enhanced weathering: spreading Olivine and let it react with CO2. The cost are mainly depending on buying the olivine (and therefor the logistics).

    - accelerated weathering; making of products with CO2. But this is still in a research phase. Although we want to scale up.

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  25. Joel_Huberman @23, Land Use Change.  More correctly I should refer to Land Use, Land Use Change & Forestry (LULUCF) but that is a bit of a moutful.

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  26. To be clear, I answered "yes" to ryland's question @5 because he/she used the word "somewhat". There are cases, as Tom has pointed out, where biomass use can help reduce GHG concentrations at the same time as providing energy, particularly if/when BECCS is employed. What is wrong, however, is the assumption made by the EU and others that all biomass burning (without BECCS) is carbon neutral. Biomass burning is somewhat self-defeating and it has other mostly nasty environmental impacts, as well, on land use, water use and ecosystem preservation.

    i would urge everyone to look through the DECC report I referenced in @7. This study has the fingerprints of David Mackay all over it. The emissions impacts of different kinds of biomass vary very widely and depend on a multitude of assumptions about geography (where we gather the fuel, where we burn it), counterfactuals (ie, what would happen if we didn't burn the biomass) and the time periods over which we measure the effects. Perhaps the only sweeping conclusion we can draw is that biomass energy, as it is currently practised, is not carbon neutral. 

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  27. Andy Skuce @26, looking at the executive summary of the DECC report, it becomes obvious that the energy intensity of biomass is absolutely dependent on Land Use Change (LUC) over the short period.  Scenario 9b (Deadwood from natural disturbance where the wood would otherwise have been burnt by the roadside) represents an interesting case in that it involves no LUC in the counterfactual.  The report shows an energy intensity of approx +/- 100 kgCO2e/MWh in this case, with the uncertainty arising from whether emissions from processing and transport are outweighed by the more efficient combustion with avoided CH4 emissions.  As emissions from combustion by the roadside and from natural decay will be approximately equivalent (though on a shorter timescale) this scenario approximates to that of biomass energy with no LUC.

    Beyond that, carbon stocks in situ at a given site depend on the current land use, with:

    Old Growth Forest > Naturally Regenerating Forest > Plantations > Agricultural and/or Grassland (a)

    Thus if you cut down naturally regenerating forest to provide space for plantations, there is a large net loss of stored carbon and the biomass generated over the short to medium term will have large effective emissions to compensate for that difference.  On the other hand, if you take abandoned land/grassland/agricultural land and convert it to plantations, there is an increase in carbon storage in the land so that the biomass energy produced has a net negative carbon intensity over the short term, even without CCS.

    Clearly this means that over timeframes required to restore forests to natural conditions, carbon intensity from biomass energy from any source will trend towards the emissions from transport and processing.  Assumed to operate in perpetuity, they will approach that level as an asymptote.  That is, the biomass energy is essentially carbon neutral (ignoring the relatively trivial levels associated with transport and processing) except for the effects on LUC

    Of course, it is unreasonable to plan on the assumption a process will continue in perpetuity.  That is particularly the case as biomass energy is often assumed to be a coal substitute to extend the life of existing plants.  Ergo it follows that the energy intensity will approximate to emissions from LUC from preproject state to final project state/ energy produced over the lifetime of the project.  Thus, biomass from plantations grown on abandoned/agricultural/grassland that is returned to its original state after the end of the project is essentially CO2 neutral, while bioenergy from disturbed forests will have positive carbon intensities, potentially as great as coal in the short term but in the long term >200 years are carbon neutral provided the land harvested is allowed to return to a natural forest state.  And for completeness, bioenergy from agricultural waste do not add to emissions from the agricultural project itself.

    Would you agree this is a fair summary?

    If so it is in agreement with all I have said above, except that I have treated the bioenergy as essentially carbon neutral but noted that emissions from LUC do need to be accounted for (but accounted for separately).  I would agree that the DECC accounting method is better when examining the effects of individual projects.

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  28. Tom, I don't think it's quite right to claim that the transport and processing emissions are relatively trivial. I'm no expert on these matters, so I may have misunderstood something, but it seems that there is a lot of energy used to gather, dry, pelletize and transport the product (wood pellets) used in UK electricity generation. This involves the consumption of natural gas and petroleum. For example, Western Canadian wood pellets used in the UK (made from waste wood), the energy consumed could range anywhere from ~20% to ~80% of the final electrical output of the UK power stations.

    Here is the graph showing the GHG intensity, measured over 100 years, of using waste wood for different sources. As you can see, emissions are mostly less than using natural gas, but are rarely near or below zero. And it's not just a matter of LUC.

    Now, there are counterfactuals that make biomass consumption emissions-negative, for example, when agricultural or abandoned land is reforested, or where the management intensity of existing forests is increased (see Figures 5 and Figure 6, below). Mostly, the resource quantities in N America that qualify for negative emissions are smaller even than the demand for Britain alone.

    And, of course, the life-cycle emissions of other kinds of biomass grown and used in other parts of the world may be entirely different, but these were beyond the scope of the DECC report.

    Perhaps I went too far in saying that all biomass use is not carbon neutral, but, among the scenarios studied by DECC, the majority of them are. However, I think that it is certainly wrong to assume, as the EU currently does, that biomass combustion does not produce net GHGs.

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  29. Andy @28, I do want to emphasize the "relatively" in "relatively trivial levels associated with transport and processing".  To see what that means, compare S4-7 (forest residues, counterfactual: leave in forest), S8 (forest residuces, counterfactual: burn as waste), and the previously mentioned 9b (salvaged dead trees, counterfactual: remove and burn at roadside figure 28 in the report).  These have approximate emissions intensities as follows:

    S4-7: 310 +/- 230 KgCO2e/MWh

    S8: 25 +/- 40 KgCO2e/MWh

    S9b: 0 +/- 100 kgCO2e/MWh

    Natural Gas: 440 kgCO2e/MWh

    Coal: 1020 KgCO2e/MWh

    The difference between scenario S4-7 and S8 is that the branches that constitute the litter decay slowly in S4-7, thereby constituting a temporary carbon sequestration relative to the immediate combustion.  Between S8 and S9b the difference is that combustion of a whole tree is inefficient, resulting the production of methane.  Crucially, the difference between S8 bioenergy usage, and the counterfactual is that the counterfactual avoids all the transport and processing costs.  Therefore, to a close approximation, that 25 KgCO2e/MWh represents the emissions represents the emissions from transport and processing.

    As you can see, it is less than 10% of the cost relative to leaving the litter in situ, which cost is fairly representative of the costs or benefits of different changes in LU.  A beneficial change in LU (barren, grass or agricultural land to plantation of naturally regenerating forest) will swamp that component; while for a harmful switch the transport and processing emissions will be swallowed by the error margin.  

    Hence "relatively trivial".

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  30. Let me get this straight.  We need to decarbonize by about 2050.  This requires drastic reductions in fossil-fuel use, beginning soon.  Use of CCS, with or without BE, would help.

    If we focus on the next 25 years (to 2040), I suspect that, to be realistic, there will be only a small reduction in fossil-fuel use.  Also, from all I've read about CCS, I conclude that any help in that department will also be small.

    But, considering only the next 25 years, does it matter?  As I understand it, geophysical inertia ensures a delay of 25 to 50 years before average global temperatures reach the level expected for 400 ppm of carbon dioxide.  We have another 0.5 degrees of warming locked in.

    Now, over the course of the previous 25 years there has been a marked increase in extreme weather events.  These have already had an adverse effect on food production, including in North America.  During the next 25 years we can expect these events to become more frequent and intense, leading to even greater damage to food production.  In effect, in the near term we will not be able to deviate from the business-as-usual scenario.

    Meanwhile, the global population continues to increase, implying a greater demand for food, even as the supply is falling.  Global civilization might not survive this.  Indeed, I see that Aled Jones and his Global Sustainability Institute predict a collapse of global civilization by 2040.

    It seems that Jones and company use a souped-up version of the world model used for "Limits to growth".  The model is supposed to be good just for near-term predictions, but I imagine they couldn't resist running it to 2040.  The predicted collapse surprised them, but this scenario seems to me all too plausible.

    I conclude that any action taken on fossil-fuel use and CCS will not have much effect on the climate for the next quarter century.  During this period the worsening climate might well result in the collapse of global civilization.

    What intrigues me is the possibility that, if global civilization does collapse before 2040, the result will be the drastic fall in fossil-fuel use that we couldn't otherwise manage ourselves.  The planet will have done the job for us.

    Please feel free to pick holes in the above scenario.

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  31. Digby

    Not so sure I agree that only modest reductions are likely before 2040 although that is certainly possible. The wildcard in this is the continuing drop in prices for solar, wind and batteries and the potential for serious scaling up when critical mass is achieved.

    For example, Tesla hace built their Giga factory and are considering more. What happens when/if the economics are such that every car manufacturer reads the tea leaves and decides that they need to get into electric cars big time, pronto. Every car company starts building multiple battery factories and retooling their factories. Its a significant investment sure but on the scale of what car companies spend to bring each new model to market now it isn't out of the ball park.

    If they decided it was the right thing to do and was urgent, they could switch 1/2 their model range to electric in 10 years.

    Similarly, how far off is it before all new build power generatiion is renewables. In 2014 it was 1/2 of all new capacity. Chile recently held an auction for some capacity, open to all technologies equally. Renewables scored the lot.

    You might be right. But the next 5-10 years will tell. Either we will see a major shift started, not particularly driven by governments. Or we wont.

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  32. Glenn

    You're implying that, notwithstanding the inertia of the climate system, cutting fossil-fuel use in the next few years will be sufficient to cause a significant deviation from the business-as-usual path.  But will it?  Not being a climate scientist, I don't know.

    Assuming the world model used by Aled Jones is accurate, any change would have to take effect well before 2040.  It has to stop the climate becoming so much worse than it is now that food production suffers.  Andy, can you help?

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  33. Digby, I'm not at all familiar with the work of Aled Jones, so I shouldn't comment. Nevertheless, claims of societal collapse on a global scale in 25 year's time seem implausible to me. Certainly, regional crop failures could lead to collapse in already unstable countries and the effects of that collapse could spread regionally, beyond the country's borders. The unfolding tragedy in Syria provides a model of this.

    I think it's important to distinguish between the inertia of the climate system and the inertia of the global economy. I wrote a blogpost sometime ago that tried to clarify this. The climate system will actually respond quickly to any change in GHG concentrations and if, by some miracle, we could stop all emissions today, then global warming would stop very soon. The problem is, we can no more easily stop our emissions tomorrow than we could stop breathing or eating. To immediately shut down fossil-fuel consumption certainly would lead to global societal collapse.

    It was Hemingway, I think, who wrote about the way people go bankrupt: slowly at first, then quickly. When you look at social revolutions in the past, they too show long periods of slowly simmering inaction followed by periods of rapid, revolutionary change. Looking back, the question "what took them so long?" often springs to mind.

    I'm hoping that the Paris agreement marks a turning point between the 21-year slow phase and a much faster rate of decarbonization over the years to come. It had better.

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  34. Digby and Glenn, Your discussion has gotten me thinking.

    What is needed is a change of attitude in Humanity, not technological development.

    Hopefully, the global acceptance of thoughtful considerate rigorously developed understanding will prevail sooner and quicker. Humanity could rapidly achieve the required results if the biggest impacting people simply changed their mind and accepted that they did not deserve their developed perceptions of prosperity and superiority.

    My MBA training decades ago and my observations of what has been going on based on living and working in Alberta, combined with reading the presentations by others of what I do not personally observe has led me to the conclusion that technological development is not an 'answer to anything'. It is a 'result'. It is a development resulting from human desires.

    Technology is the 'result of choices made about the application of development of better understanding'. And right now the focus is clearly on technology related to pursuits of popularity, profitability and perceptions of prosperity. That focus develops higher technology toys and benefits for wealthy people (and weaponry and security measures) without any conscientious responsible limits on development to ensure it is not contrary to the advancement of humanity to a lasting better future for all.
    And the marketing push for 'more impressive toys' affects the choices made regarding the types of better understanding that are pursued. It also affects how that new learning is 'marketed' (shared and promoted). Research that is focused on potential popularity and profit can be a distraction from research into better understanding how to advance humanity to a lasting better future for all.

    A particular area of research that lacks funding (because its results are highly likely to be contrary to the developed interests and desires of many wealthy and powerful people) is research into why the current socioeconomic system has developed so much damaging and unsustainable activity. The answer is almost certain to be that the system encourages the development and success of attitudes and actions that can be understood to be unacceptable, but are easily made popular and very profitable (for as long as can be gotten away with).

    So, technological development is not 'the answer'. Socioeconomic change is the answer. How quickly that change occurs is anybodies guess.
    The biggest improvement will occur when the people personally responsible for the most impact change their mind and limit their pursuits of profit and pleasure to actions that are clearly understood to develop toward a lasting better future for a robust diversity of life on this planet.
    If all of the currently wealthy and powerful people who do understand this (and I am almost certain that they all do understand it), stopped fighting against it becoming the guiding force of global humanity then improvement could develop very rapidly, because there would be no barriers or distractions.

    If all of the wealthy and powerful will not change their minds (a very likely case), then another path to success is the conscientious responsible wealthy and powerful people collectively working to ensure the gamblers who try to prolong their ability to get away with unacceptable actions quickly become losers. This will take longer and be a slower change.

    The efforts to terminate the success of the irresponsible callous pursuers who have become wealthy and powerful (or want to become wealthy or powerful that way) is the current path. And we are at the low end the scale regarding the rate change of limiting the damaging successes of people who choose to be callous greedy people. Many powerful wealthy nations still elect leaders who are clearly not a conscientious as they know they should be, because they do not want to be, or do not need to be, conscientious when being responsible would be contrary to popular profitable interests and the unsustainable perceptions of prosperity and superiority that such interests can create.

    It is clear that the conscientious and responsible among the wealthy and powerful need the support of the general population. The general population needs to desire conscientious responsible leadership focused on developing a lasting better future for all. That transition of the general population to support such leadership is the biggest challenge, because it is very easy to impress people with scientifically developed marketing appeals to greed and intolerance. In addition to being a big challenge, that change of attitude, not technological change, must be accomplished if humanity is to actually advance to a better future.

    The bottom line is that the focused needs to be on understanding the unacceptable power of misleading marketing. Effectively addressed that damaging development, the power of deliberately misleading appeals to vanity, greed and intolerance, is essential. And that objective relates to far more than the developing better understanding of climate change. It relates to all of the pointless and likely to be damaging distractions developed by socioeconomic pursuits of 'impressions of advancement and superiority'.
    The technology for humanity to live is a sustainable part of the robust diversity of life on this amazing planet already exists. The lack of popularity and profitability of that attitude is the problem. And that attitude problem will not be solved by technological development.

    Skeptical Science is clearly targeting the right issue. It is one of many efforts striving to figure out how to raise awareness of the steady stream of unacceptable developments that have been produced, promoted and prolonged in the current global socioeconomic experiment.

    What is obvious is that the experiment is not producing the 'claimed' results. And the arguments that 'better results will develop if there is more freedom for people to do whatever they want' clearly are not based on a rational conscientious evaluation of what is going on.

    The failure of the 'freedom' experiment and the development of better understanding regarding its failure will lead to changes of attitude. That is why some powerful wealthy people are drumming up opposition to 'leadership guided by thoughtful considerate rigorous developed understanding'.

    Some wealthy powerful people have a lot to lose if the socioeconomic political game actually changes. Developing better understanding of what is required to advance humanity is almost certain to be contrary to the interests of many wealthy and powerful people. And humanity has no real chance of advancing until those undeserving people among the wealthy and powerful change their mind or fail to succeed.

    There are many books out there presenting information along those lines, including Naomi Klein's "This Changes Everything", but so many more. The likes of Shakespeare and Dickens wrote about unacceptable developed attitudes and the required changes. Even many Greek and Chinese philosophers were pointing this out. And it is embedded in almost every religious text.

    At some point that understanding has to become the guiding force for humanity to actually advance. But people will have to get over the belief that they can do whatever they please. And that will require limits on the effectiveness of misleading marketing. It is all about the marketing.

    Marketing that fully presents the best understanding of something is obviously 'better', except in the minds of those who want to benefit from marketing.

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  35. Digby, I am not saying I think commercial developments will change emission levels, quite possibly they won't. But if anything is going to surprise us I think it is that.

    And anything that significantly changes emission levels is by definition a change to BAU.

    Will this be enough. No. But it might buy time to do more.

    As for civilisation collapsing by 2040, I tend to agree with Andy. Later this century is quite possible. 2040 I think it is more likely we are seeing the starting phases of a collapse. If a collapse were to occur, it won't happen overnight. It would be protracted over many decades.

    Past civilisational collapses took time and they were more local. What we might see in a 2040 timeframe is a start to the breakdown of the links of globalisation with our societies reverting more to regional civilisations. Then each of those regional societies experiencing collapses at differing paces through the rest of the century and beyond.

    And we would only really talk of a collapse of civilisation as a whole if all the regions collapse. Countries with good food supply to population ratios, local raw materials supplies, cultural diversity and good education will fare better.

    So Europe & North America, Perhaps China (although it's population is a big stressor), perhaps Russia, Argentina, may fare better. My country of Australia may not fare as well. We tick many of the boxes but we would need to re-establish an industrial base to be more self-sufficient. And the USA's current internal cultural divisions may be it's biggest single weakness and vulnerability.

    Governments have extraordinary emergency powers when times get tough.  So regional civilisations might still survive even if they aren't as democratic.

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  36. OPOF

    Yes and no. Is technology the answer? To what problem?

    If you are in a boat that is unsound and sinking, your long term answer, your strategic answer is to get the boat to dry land. But if it is sinking too quickly you need a short term, tactical answer, something to plug the leaks so that you can make it to shore.

    Technology may not be 'the answer' as you say in the longer term and we need to rethink how we do things. But in the short term we either shut off our entire energy supply and head back to the Dark Ages in which case your rethink becomes moot.

    Or we do nothing while just working on the rethink and we go back to the Dark Ages anyway as serious climate change knocks everything down and again your point is moot.

    Or we do some technological stuff so we still have energy and not too much climate change and thus don't return to the Dark Ages, then/as well we implement your change.

    Now can we put off your change till later while focusing on the short term technological fix? If we try for your change will peoples short term push-back against it also prevent the implentation of the tech fix? Will most people freely embrace your change - I will but I may not be representative - or will they need some spur to do so.

    Personal view, and it is probably negative, and a bit cynical, is that your change is absolutely needed, but it won't happen until most people have had the living beejeesus scared out of them by what is happening. Then they will clamor for all the change to happen overnight.

    A good first step might be changes that reign in the use of the media to promote the entire consumer society dream-machine. Getting control of the media out of the hands of business would be a powerful first step.

    Nothing wrong with advertising (to make known) that company X sells product Y - " Hi, we are General Motors and we make cars. If you need a car come to one of our 'car-buying-places' and see if you like any of ours".  Thats it. Not one iota more.

    But if you want to do more, to 'pitch' your product, sorry, you will have to wait until a potential customer visits your 'car-buying-place'

    Step 1, shut down Madison Avenue. Imagine a life, a world, where we only see an advertisement if we go looking for them. We never ever see unsolicited ads, in any context, ever!

    Give it a generation and how does our thinking start to change?

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  37. Andy

    You pinpoint what I don't understand.  Suppose for the sake of argument that one can expect an average global temperature of two degrees above pre-industrial when carbon dioxide is at 400 ppm.  And suppose also that it takes 25 years for the temperature to rise to the two-degree level after carbon dioxide hits 400 ppm.  Why then, will this not occur if one suddenly stops adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere?

    Glenn and OPOF

    You've given me a lot to think about that I unfortunately don't have time to respond to at the moment.  I'll try later.

    I see that, still, nobody has noticed my sneaky final comment!  Suppose global civilization (not regional) does actually collapse by 2040.  What will be the effect on fossil-fuel use?  Will it fall a lot?

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  38. Digby 

    To keep concentrations constant at 400ppm would require continued emissions, albeit at a much lower rate than today's. These emissions would be required to make up for the CO2 that would continue to be taken up by the oceans and biosphere. In such a low emissions/constant concentration world, temperatures would continue to rise.

    On the other hand, in a zero-emissions world, CO2 concentrations would fall and the temperature would remain roughly stalled. 

    Neither scenario is plausible in the very near future. We have a long way to go before we stabilize concentrations and further still before we reach zero or negative emissions, which we will need to halt the rise in global temperatures.

    Check out the link I posted in #33 above. It's not very intuitive.

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  39. "in a zero-emissions world, CO2 concentrations would fall" ??

    I thought in your piece www.skepticalscience.com/Macdougall.html , that figure 3 shows that temperatures in fact won't fall in a zero-emissions world (except under very optimistic assumptions about sensitivity) because even a partial inclusion of some of the permafrost feedback will at least counter the CO2 absorbed by the oceans. And that was back in 2012.

    Have these calculations changed for some reason, or am I missing something?

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  40. wili @39, see here.  With zero emissions, CO2 concentrations falls (through achieving equilibrium of pCO2 in the ocean) at approximatly the same rate that feedbacks cause a rise in temperature to the Equilibrium Climate Response for a given concentration.  Because the rates are approximately equal, the net effect is that temperatures would remain approximately constant even with feedbacks taken into account.  In the longer term, the rate of fall after ocean pCO2 equilibrium, further falls due to rebuffering the ocean, and chemical weathering approximate in rate the slower temperture rise to the Earth System Reponse, ie, the long term temperature response due to slow feedbacks like retreat of ice caps.  The net effect is shown in this diagram:

     

    It should be noted the errors in these estimates are quite large, and the data is consistent with either slightly rising temperatures, or slightly falling temperatures with constant emissions.  More likely, temperatures will slightly rise at some times, and slightly fall at others due to the rates and relative strengths of the responses not always precisely conciding.

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  41. Glenn,

    My response to your leaky boat example is:

    What if you need to mobilize a group of people to plug the leak you are aware of, but everyone else is enjoying the dance party and maybe a little drunk? Add the likelihood that a few popular loud-mouths who say very appealing things that keep the partires focused on their good-time because they want to party to continue (they know about the leak and understand the importance of plugging it, but do not want it done at the expense of the Party they are enjoying, or do not want it done because the are profiting rapidly at the gamblig tables and think they gave a great hand to win the pot before he real tragedy becomes so apparant to everyone taht it shuts the party down).

    Now, instead of the boat case which has everyone on the boat in personal peril, which is a very different case than climate change, the case is a group of partiers who decide to enjoy something personally enjoyable but potentially very damaging like starting fires. And they initially did it without thinking about the potential for the fire to get out of control so they were starting them anywhere that suited their interests in havig a better time. And you are one person trying to get the partiers to stop lighting those fires because of the chance they could get out of control and cause massive damage to others. But again a few smooth talking personally profiting marketers who understand the risk want the partying to continue because they are making a killing selling things to cook on the fires to all the intoxicated and party addicted revellers. Introducing a fire extinguisher will not be very succeessful.

    Now extend the scenario to a case where none of the partiers believe there is any chance that they personally will suffer any of the consequences of their partying (and they are likely correct that they personally will not suffer serious consequences). How likely are you to be able to develop a technological answer to the problem that does not 'stop the unacceptable aspects of the party' sooner than the partiers are willing to shut it down.

    That last case is the scenario we face. More responsible technology alredy exists. It existed 30 years ago. The partiers enjoying the party the most refuse to change how they party, because it would not be 'as enjoyable' and the liou-mouth people who understand the need to change the party behaviour will continue to appeal to keep the party going until they personally see that they will get even more popularity and profitability from changing the way the paty is enjoyed (and those people will never try to figure out how to 'ensure that everyone on the plant and far into the future can enjoy the party' (there is no money in that and it is hard work and some people will not like you).

    The Promoters of unsustainable and damaging party activity need to be kept from succeeding, even if they have revved up a grand party with lots of people enjoying their good time at the expense of everyone else (and wanting to continue to enjoy their party as oblivious as possible to the damage they are doing ... because understanding that would be a real Buzz-Kill.)

    So my point is that the technological solution envisioned to 'solve the problem' may not be possible (because it has to satisfy the people at the top of the party pyramid that they will be even better off).

    The technology needed has existed for a long time. However, in many cases the answer is a dramatic reduction of energy consumption by the activities of the wealthiest. And anyone who won't dramatically reduce their energy consumption by choosing to pursue the lower impact ways of profiting or doing things, giving up on what they understand is an unacceptable way of enjoying their life, may need global humanity to give them the motivation for a hard-reboot of their 'life perspective'.

    A significant price on carbon would be a 'hard-reboot' and is clearly contrary to the interests of the promoters of the currently most popular way to party. It has been known for decades that it would be required. That massive price on carbon is clearly the best technological solution, if you consider develoments of new financial and socioeconomic arrangements 'Technology'. And if technology is considered to be the way things are done then indeed changes to the financial and socioeconomic system are 'technological developments'.

    And I would propose that it is most likely that such technological developments will create the most rapid change of human activity. And I would even suggest that the technological development you refer to 'limited to mechanical things' relies on the socioeconomic changes occurring (will not be popular without the socioeconomic changes). Without the socioeconomic changes it is possible that no level of 'mechanical technology' will be able to change the way the most fortunate among huamanity choose to try to get away with "Enjoying Their Partying".

    Back to my previous comment. The ability of the people who have undeservingly become wealthy and powerful to abuse misleading marketing to keep the Party going the way they want is the real problem, and needs to be worked on more aggressively than 'mechanical technological development'.

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  42. Andy. In the last few years, almost under the radar, the potential of agricultural, pasture, forestry and horticultural soils to resquester carbon that they have lost over the last couple of hundred years has has been  increasingly recognised.

    I have checked the maths myself and there truly seems to be sufficient capacity to at least offset all current emissions but also, some say, sufficient to actually start drawing "ppms" of carbon back out of the atmosphere.
    Here's an intro...
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2015/12/04/fe22879e-990b-11e5-8917-653b65c809eb_story.html

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  43. Andy

    I should've read your blogpost yesterday, but I've done so now.  I think I now understand what you mean.  Let's see if I can summarize correctly:

    If we boost carbon dioxide to 400 ppm and hold it steady at that level, there is a delay before the climate system reaches equilibrium.  The average global temperature rises to a certain level and then stabilizes there.

    If we add excess carbon dioxide so as to boost the level to 400 ppm but then stop adding any more, natural processes immediately start removing some of the excess carbon dioxide.  The concentration of carbon dioxide decays exponentially (looking at the shape of the curve), but the average global temperature stops rising any further.

    (Damn, now I don't understand why the temperature doesn't also fall, after a delay, in the latter case also.  I'll have to reread your post!)

    In the real world we cannot just stop our emissions all at once, but the sooner we start cutting emissions the better.  Do I have that right?

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  44. Andy

    I reread your blogpost.  I think I have it now:

    If emissions of carbon dioxide are suddenly cut to zero, the delayed warming resulting from the inertia of the system is almost exactly balanced by the cooling resulting from the declining concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide.  For at least the short to medium term the average global temperature therefore remains approximately constant.

    But in the real world, even if action is taken to begin limiting emissions, carbon dioxide will continue to rise above 400 ppm although at a decreasing rate of increase.  After some time the concentration will reach a maximum and then begin falling.  Right?

    The implication is that in the short term we'll still suffer from a rising global temperature and a worsening climate — enough to cause the collapse of global civilization?  Don't know.  And if it collapses, will fossil-fuel use fall drastically?  I should think it would.

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  45. Digby Scorgie @44, in the short term economic inertia ensures there will be more CO2 emissions.  Consequently the information about zero emissions is relevant with respect to long term targets for emission reductions only.  It is sometimes said that we need only reduce emissions by 50% with the assumption that the rest will be taken care of by the factors that currently remove about 50% of emissions from the atmosphere, but that is not correct.  Even emissions as low as 10% of current values will ensure near constant atmospheric composition by balancing the reduction in CO2 overtime by natural drawdown.  The result would be a further warming equal to about half of the warming todate over time.  Emission rates of 1% of current values will probably ensure a slow long term rise in CO2 levels, with a consequent slow rise in temperatures.  This will not be harmful in the short term because of the slow rate of temperature increase, but in the long term can easilly push temperatures in which the tropics are seasonally uninhabitable (not just uncomfortable, but literally uninhabitable).  Further, even zero net emissions will not stop further sea level rises (although they will limit there scope).

    All of this is important because it means we should be aiming, within 35 years (or 50 years on the outside) to reduce total human emissions to zero.  It does not suggest we can plausibly reduce human emissions to zero in a year or even 15 years. 

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  46. Tom Curtis @45

    I was trying to clarify my understanding of the science.  I think I understand the implications now.  I'm aware that in the long term it is essential that we reduce emissions to zero.  I'm more interested in the short term — the next two decades.  (Let me put it another way:  If I live as long as my father, I've got two decades left.)

    In the next two decades I'm sure we won't get to zero emissions.  I doubt we'd even be able to hold carbon dioxide at 400 ppm.  The implication is continued warming and worsening weather until our efforts to decarbonize begin to bear fruit after 2035.  Is this a realistic assessment or is it too pessimistic?

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  47. Digby Scorgie @46, if the world, or even just the US and China, could muster the political will to tackle AGW with the urgency with which they tackled WW2, we could reach zero net emissions in 20 years.  It is neither technically not economically infeasible.  It is, unfortunately, politically unrealistic; and I suspect we will pushing it even for a 50 year timeline based on politics alone.  Holding concentrations constant requires reducing emissions to about 10% of current values so politically it is no harder than eliminating emissions altogether (though economically and technically it will be substantially more difficult as all the easy emissions cuts will already have been made).  Timewise, however, there will likely be only a decade of difference between the point where we hold atmospheric CO2 constant and the point were we eliminate net emissions.

    What I take from that assessment is that we should never let go of the point that it is technically and economically feasible to reach zero emissions in 20 years.  Doing so lets the politicians of the hook.  It allows them to go slow (or do nothing at all) when the only reason that is necessary is because they are determined to go slow or do nothing at all.  Therefore, that it will probably take 50 years or more to reach zero net emissions is, IMO, an irrelevant fact.  Because economic cost climbs with the rapidity of emissions reduction, we should focus on the 2050 target.  That is because the 2050 target is consistent with keeping emissions below 2 C, and is the longest (ergo cheapest) target that is consistent with that target.  

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  48. Tom

    I'm essentially in agreement with you.  I know it has for some time been technically and economically feasible to fix the climate problem.  And of course it is politics blocking progress.

    Glenn and OPOF

    In belated reply to your points, I have to say that I agree with much of what you both say as well.  Everything depends on our rate of change to renewables, which depends not just on technology but also on societal attitudes.  Fixing the socioeconomic system would help.  We shall see.

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  49. These discussions relate to a form of biomimicry, the attempt to use technological systems to emulate what natural systems do. This is not possible for two reasons. Firstly, the technological systems are expected to do at a high rate what nature does at a very slow rate. Secondly, the materials used in natural processes often recycle while most materials used in technological systems cannot be recycled. The hydrocarbons in oil and gas is one prominent example of the inability to recycle. So innovative technological systems can only provide a very weak temporary response to the devastation caused by the installed technological systesm of industrialization.

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  50. Andy, I've been reading about these CCS projects, and I find this to be a very thought-provoking article. I'm new to this website. I have a few comments.

    I must say, I was a bit put off by the caption under the photo: "Shell boasting about its government-funded Quest CCS project..." The word "boasting" in this context indicates a bias and prepares the reader for a negative spin on the topic rather than scientific objectivity.

    You might want to check with some experts in the industry, but I don't know that it's necessary to cause people to question the safety of CCS. I've heard something about layers of salt that work to "heal" cracks and holes and keep the CO2 from escaping. Also, they do check the integrity of cavities before using them. I'm not saying there are no dangers; I don't know that. I'm just saying there is more relevant information available.

    Personally, I believe CCS is one of many important innovations in our transition to renewables.

    If we "keep the oil in the ground" any time soon, I and my family, and millions of others in the north, will freeze to death before we have a chance to starve to death. We don't have enough sunshine in the winter to heat our homes with solar panels unless we rebuild our homes with huge heat sinks and have a backup heat source. We built a very energy-efficient home in 1983 and used a wood stove, with a gas furnace for back up, but we had to travel far to get the wood for the stove, and the slow burning of wood releases dioxin into the atmosphere. It also caused problems with my asthma.

    A nuclear power plant was proposed for our area, but environmentalists objected. A hydro dam is proposed, but environmentalists are objecting as it would flood some very important agricultural land.

    Even with global warming, it gets down to -40 Celcius where I live. We're hoping people further south won't divest from and turn off the fossil fuel companies until we figure out how to survive without them. Until that time, I think CCS is a very good thing.

    Thank you for your commitment to addressing the problem of global warming and for your work and research and willingness to respond to comments.

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