Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Climate scientist David Lowe is horrified democratic governments like New Zealand are only charging double digit carbon prices – he thinks the true cost of carbon is around $1000 / ton, and should be imposed in a way which spans administrations.
Humans already have the tools to combat climate change but we lack leadership
In this extract, top atmospheric scientist Dave Lowe explains why despite political inaction he believes we can build a sustainable future
Mon 10 May 2021 06.00 AEST
When it comes to the political will and leadership needed to drive the world towards a sustainable future, I’m a pessimist. Time and time again, I’ve heard rhetoric from politicians focusing on short-term goals at the expense of planning for the future. In 2021, the mainstream media promote responsible journalism and take a hard line with climate deniers. Many journalists hold governments to account over climate change goals. However, hard scientific data is often still manipulated and cherrypicked by politicians. I’ve spoken to many and liken the experience to walking through treacle.
Does their bland decision-making have to do with the structure of democracy itself, with its short electoral terms and lack of incentives for incumbent politicians to make hard and binding decisions for the decades ahead?
Crucial to the urgent transition towards a low carbon future will be the skills and experience of engineers. Over the years I’ve spoken to many groups of engineers, including oil and gas engineers, about climate change. You’d think that a climate scientist talking to a gas engineer would lead to an argument, but that has not been my experience.
Their skills are transferable to an economy making widescale use of “green hydrogen”, for example. Green hydrogen, produced by electrolysis of water using excess electricity derived from wind and other renewable energy sources, is already being used in steelmaking, energy storage and transport in Germany and a number of other countries.
If you ask a chemist how, and how much it would cost, to remove a tonne of CO2 from the atmosphere, they would probably throw up their hands in horror, come up with a figure of NZ$1,000 per tonne and a very complex apparatus. A climate scientist would reply to the question with another, like, “How much do you think the 2020 wildfires in Australia, California, Colorado, Siberia and the Arctic cost?” And a New Zealand economist would quote the current carbon price on the New Zealand emissions trading scheme site, which in early 2021 was about NZ$37 per tonne. To me that sounds ridiculously cheap, measuring in crude economic terms the cost of the damage by carbon emissions into our only atmosphere.
…Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/may/10/humans-already-have-the-tools-to-combat-climate-change-but-we-lack-leadership
Here’s a thought Dave. Why don’t you put your money where your mouth is?
Instead of pontificating about how we should all be paying $1000 / ton, why don’t you lead by example, and start a project where climate believers can pay you $1000 to physically remove a ton of carbon from the atmosphere?
Chemical extraction of CO2 from air is simple, not complicated, as you suggested. All you need to extract CO2 from air is to bubble air through a big tank of saturated lime water.
Calcium hydroxide (garden lime) is slightly soluble in water, but calcium carbonate (limestone) will precipitate and drop to the bottom of your tank. This process has been used for centuries to assay the CO2 content of a stream of gas, it is even taught in schools as a basic chemistry experiment – students blow into a tube, and watch clouds of calcium carbonate appear in the bottle they are blowing air into. Lime water is very good at grabbing CO2 out of the air, or out of people’s breath.
Of course, lime production is a very carbon intensive process, so you really need to recycle your calcium carbonate precipitate. Part of your CO2 recovery process should involve regenerating the lime from the precipitated calcium carbonate in a solar furnace, and disposing of the concentrated CO2 recovered from the regenerator. And you will need a rather large tank of lime water to absorb a ton of CO2 in a reasonable timeframe. But the chemistry is simple.
All the components of your plant should be manufactured using renewable energy, but hey lets be generous – since it is a pilot plant, I’ll give you a pass if you use solar panels and structural steel and plastic and copper and whatever else you need, all manufactured in the coal furnaces of China.
I doubt I will be one of your customers – but I assure you I will report on your progress, in winning customers for your $1000 / ton carbon disposal system. You never know, you might even make some money – there are plenty of rich celebrities dumb enough to pay $1000 to dispose of a ton of CO2. You could send customers a nice framed certificate thanking them for helping to save the Earth.