Saturday, July 31, 2010

"Climate change" 3 - a solution?

In the first post in this series, I talked about the radical uncertainty, as well as the futility, involved in any serious effort, over the course of many decades, through any and all economic upheavals, and even as most of the world's people are still industrializing, to suppress global carbon emissions to some early 20th century level. In the second post, I talked about how the irrationality of current political moves in this direction might be better understood as the result, not of science, but of a kind of pseudo-science used to cover a quasi-religious belief system. You can see this manifested in the moralistic, even messianic terms so often used to talk about everything from "wasteful lifestyles" (SUVs being a particularly despised symbol) to "saving the planet".  Now, the adherents of such a belief system, particularly given its pseudo-scientific cover, will of course disagree that there's anything irrational about their fervent backing of carbon emission reduction schemes and will insist that they're really just concerned with the potentially disastrous, or at least very costly, effects of AGW. But the test of this is their reaction to alternative possibilities for atmospheric CO2 reduction, an obvious one being direct carbon extraction, as in the Scientific American article cited previously ("Washing Carbon out of the Air", June/10). Such projects typically involve some sort of sequestration of the carbon extracted. But another, and much better possibility, if economically feasible, would be to use the carbon to produce transportation fuel again -- no longer "fossil" fuel now, but re-cycled fuel. And that, as I understand it, is just what a new carbon extraction technology called "STEP" claims to offer -- see "Solar-powered process could decrease carbon dioxide to pre-industrial levels in 10 years":
By showing how to take advantage of both the sun’s heat and light for capturing and splitting carbon dioxide, the STEP process is fundamentally capable of converting more solar energy than either photovoltaic or solar thermal processes alone. The experiments in this study showed that the technique could capture carbon dioxide and convert it into carbon with a solar efficiency from 34% to 50%, depending on the thermal component. While carbon could be stored, the production of carbon monoxide could later be used to synthesize jet, kerosene, and diesel fuels, with the help of hydrogen generated by STEP water splitting.
“We are exploring the STEP generation of synthetic jet fuel and synthetic diesel,” Licht said, “and in addition to carbon capture, we are developing STEP processes to generate the staples predicted in our original theory, such as a variety of metals and bleach."
No doubt there are a lot of problems to be solved yet, and a serious decrease in atmospheric CO2 would in any case be a costly project even if and when they're solved.  But for eco-True Believers, a process like this isn't even a potential solution but a threat, since it seems like it would take away the biggest opportunity they've yet seen to have a serious impact on "wasteful lifestyles", "the consumer society", etc. -- why, SUVs might proliferate like rabbits! So there's the test: if you think there's a rational basis to be concerned about carbon emissions -- and I do, for example -- then a process such as this and/or other extraction possibilities both known or yet to be developed should give you serious hope. If, on the other hand, your real concern is this quasi-religious moralizing about waste, and the concomitant desire to impose a personal ethos on everyone (everyone else, as a rule, as we can see from Al Gore's mansion), then you'll want to give serious effort to finding ways to debunk and otherwise undermine such a hope.

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