CONSUMING CARBON July 17, 2008Posted by wmmbb in Natural Environment.
Global Warming is an existential threat caused by human activities such as carbon emissions and logging that reduces the biospheres capacity to reabsorb carbon dioxide. We should remember when we consider denialists that while public relations companies and cigarette companies make profits, people still die of smoking related illnesses. The failure to recognize the obvious is mind boggling, and warrants some attempt at an explanation.
Walden Bello at Common Dreams identifies global capitalisms problem with climate change, which appears to be a bootstrap problem:
Herman Daly, the renowned environmentalist, calls this attitude — that environmental action stops when it begins to impinge on the economy — “growthmania.” Growthmania, however, goes beyond being a psychological fix. It is a cultivated ideological predisposition that serves as a protective shield for global capitalism. Capitalism is an expansive mode of production, and it can only reproduce itself by continually transforming living nature into dead commodities. This is essentially what growth is all about. This is why ever-increasing consumption is so central to the engine of profitability that drives capitalism.
The G8 — the directorate of global capitalism — is trying hard to avoid just such radical controls on growth, consumption, profits, and the market that a viable strategy to stave off the looming climate catastrophe will necessitate. Voluntary cuts, technofixes, and carbon trading are desperate efforts to prevent the inevitable. Just like the U.S. economy during World War II, it will take planned economies with severely regulated markets and profits, strictly controlled consumption, and equitably shared sacrifice to win the war against climate change.
The problem with climate change is that the tipping points are not known, so like the frog in boiling water it is easy to be decieved. Still economic contingencies can galvanize nations into action, although in capitalist theory companies are supposed to engage in long term strategic thinking rather than focus on short term profits or short term fixes. According to John Mathews on ABC Radio National’s program Perspective, Brazil was faced with a economic crisis with success. He suggests that:
Australia is entering a period of intense national debate over energy issues and the contribution that burning fossil fuels is making to the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. The transport sector provides the key to making the changes needed, since this is where we as a country have become 99.9 percent dependent on oil, and increasingly on imports of oil. It is in transport that Australia’s dependence on oil must end.
A comparison with Brazil is instructive. In the early 1970s Brazil was facing bankruptcy. A world oil crisis helped push the country into recession and like many nations it relied heavily on imported oil to keep its economy on the move. Brazil reacted by establishing an alternative fuel industry based around domestically grown sugar cane producing ethanol. Over the next 20 years that country invested $16 billion on its alternative fuel industry. This investment has saved it more than $120 billion in oil imports. Brazil has no doubt made many mistakes in building its ethanol industry – but the country is taking steps to correct these mistakes, and offers lessons from which Australia can draw.
While the economic return return appears to be impressive, the costs and benefits need to be assessed. Since it is obviously true that moving away from dependence on importing oil is a significant cost saving, you have to wonder why others, not excluding the Americans, have not decided that this course is an imperative, independent of considerations of global warming.
The best solutions, although not unproblematic, may come from existing green technology – the technology that the biosphere has developed on planet Earth. ABC News reports:
As the world mulls the question of how to satisfy a seemingly endless appetite for energy and still slash greenhouse gas emissions, researchers have stumbled upon an unexpected hero in algae.
So-called microalgae hold enormous potential when it comes to reining in both climate change – since they naturally absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide – as well as energy production, since they can easily be converted to a range of different fuel types. “This is certainly one of the most promising and revolutionary leads in the fight against climate change and the quest to satisfy energy needs,” said Frederic Hauge, who heads up the Norwegian environmental group Bellona. The idea is to divert exhaust spewed from carbon burning plants and other factories into so-called “photobioreactors,” or large transparent tubes filled with algae. When the gas is mixed with water and injected into the tubes, the algae soak up much of the carbon dioxide, in accordance with the principle of photosynthesis.
The pioneering technique, called solar biofuels, is one of several novel methods aiming to crack the problem of providing energy but without the carbon pollution of costly fossil fuels or the waste and danger of nuclear power. . . Once the microalgae are removed from the tubes they can easily be buried or injected into the seabed, and thus hold captive the climate changing gases they ingest indefinitely.
And when algae grown out in the open are used in biomass plants, the method can actually produce “carbon negative” energy, meaning the energy production actually drains CO2 from the atmosphere.
“Whether you are watching TV, vacuuming the house, or driving your electric car to visit friends and family, you would be removing CO2 from the atmosphere,” Mr Hauge said.
Instead of being stored away, the algae can also be crushed and used as feedstock for biodiesel fuel, and any residues from this could be used as fertiliser. “You kill three birds with one stone. The algae serves at once to filter out CO2 at industrial sites, to produce energy and for agriculture,” he said.
Microalgae have other advantages including its ability to grow in a wide range of conditions and their high oil yield.
As attractive as it may seem however, the algae solution remains in the conception phase, with researchers scrambling to figure out how to scale up the system to an industrial level. . .
In addition, further work is needed to identify which species of algae is the most effective.
Why have not these posited solutions not been given resources. We need an explanation as to why the life systems of the planet have been ignored, and why damaging and non-sustainable economic and environmental practices have been developed that has lead to the current crisis. Some suggest the root of the problems go back to the development of mechanistic and materialist science in the 17th Century. It is the same culture that lead to the failure to recognize physical violence as an existential threat. For example, the movement to eliminate nuclear weapons has lapsed, and for example Britain still wants to spend enormous financial resources in acquiring Trident submarines.
These considerations lead to the conclusion that the environmental problem will not be changed unless the culture is changed and the problem then becomes culture is long term historical development, whereas the time available to address the climate challenge may be much shorter than is comfortable.
This post has been substantially rewritten since I lost the original one. This time I was careful to save as I went.
Commenter Tony Lovell links to the Soil Carbon site making the point, of which I was really aware except I try to practice “soil management” in my backyard, that improving the quality of soils the carbon load in the soil can be increased while decreasing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. I suspect that retention of water is increased as well. Soil management is particularly important for Australia. To quote Tony’s link:
THE PROBLEM: An increase in carbon dioxide levels in the air, contributing to global warming.
THE SIMPLE SOLUTION: Put the carbon back in the earth where it belongs. Degraded soils can store up to 5 times more organic carbon in their surface layers than they currently hold if the soil management approach changes. Through the application of these types of management methods, Soil Carbon Australia can make an impact on global warming.
THE NATURAL SOLUTION: Carbon is naturally sequested in topsoil via biological processes surrounding actively growing roots of pasture grasses and cereals. Encouraging these processes is cheap, efficient, and ecologically beneficial.
THE ACHIEVABLE SOLUTION: Soil carbon levels can be increased by adopting forms of carbon farming, including time-controlled grazing management, pasture cropping and biologically beneficial farming practices.