Although this short post was written almost ten years ago, it remains an excellent guide to fighting climate change. Among the topics covered are 4th generation nuclear power, carbon capture and sequestration, and carbon taxes.
An excerpt; "It is essential that hardened 'environmentalists' not be allowed to delay the R&D on 4th generation nuclear power.... Of course, deployment of nuclear power is a local option, and some countries or regions may prefer to rely entirely on other energy sources, but opponents of nuclear power should not be allowed to deny that option to everyone."
This BNC Discussion Forum thread is for the comments related to this BNC post.
Published on Dec. 2, 2008 on BraveNewClimate... guide to fighting climate change...
It was an appeal to the then-incoming Obama administration. Many hoped that Obama would perform miracles, and Hansen's supplication would have been echoed by people all over the world. In the passage of ten years the political statement has inevitably aged.
I notice that Hansen was trying to achieve what was politically possible, rather than what is scientifically necessary. Jim Hansen was among the first people to sound the alarm, that we must stop releasing fossil carbon, including all coal, oil and gas. However the people he was gathering to his cause largely believed that the root problem is coal, as if it is coal dioxide that is overloading the greenhouse. He avoided saying that we must stop extracting oil, which would have worried car drivers. Too, he avoided saying that we must stop extracting gas, which would have offended everyone who believed that renewables alone can energise society, backed up discreetly by gas. Such persuasions were for later. For the meantime, he called on all allies to deal with the enemies that we had in common:
"That [carbon] tax will cause unconventional fossil fuels to be left in the ground, as well as much coal and some oil and gas that resides in remote regions." Er, unconventional, much, some, remote... What happened to "all"?
People afraid of newfangled things were given the impression that he was only condemning unconventional methods and unconventional sites, confident that they really can have conventional fuels as usual, and came on board the movement. Coherent or not, the alliance did not prevail. Had the carbon tax been installed by the Obama administration, it would have averted the subsequent closure of a series of large nuclear power stations, unable to compete with cheap gas. Carbon emissions are thus millions of tons per annum greater than they would have been. But I'm glad Jim Hansen tried.
Good comments, RC. Yes, some of the specifics of Hansen's post are dated. But the basic prescriptions still apply: We still need 4th generation nuclear power, workable CCS (carbon capture and storage), and carbon taxes--except now we need them more urgently. Here is how Hansen describes the current situation:
"Global temperature now exceeds +1.25 deg.C relative to 1880-1920, similar to warmth of the Eemian period [the last interglacial warm period]. Keeping warming less than 1.5 deg.C or CO2 below 350 ppm now requires extraction of CO2 from the air. If rapid phaseout of fossil fuel emissions begins soon, most extraction can be via improved agricultural and forestry practices. In contrast, continued high emissions places a burden on young people of massive technological CO2 extraction with large risks, high costs, and uncertain feasibility." Short summary, Abstract page, "Young People's Burden..." paper. (The summary is on the right of the page.)
Addition (Apr. 4): I just saw my first Tesla Model 3 "in the wild", i.e. on public roads. Our clean energy future is coming--perhaps more quickly than is commonly supposed. So Dr. Hansen's efforts, and those of the rest of us, have not been in vain.
Here, then, is a very short summary of Dr. Hansen's current roadmap:
If rapid (at least 3%/year) phaseout of global fossil fuel emissions begins soon (by 2021), most CO2 extraction from the air can be via improved agricultural and forestry practices (~100 gigatonnes of carbon), and less than ~150 GtC of costly technological extraction will be required.
Post by Roger Clifton on Apr 12, 2018 14:08:48 GMT 9.5
It is still politics rather than science. There is a committee of visions in that roadmap, with Hansen acting as spokesman. So the writing isn't "Hansen" so much as "Hansen et al". About the only thing that all those authors in the "et al" would believe in common, is the "phaseout of global fossil fuel emissions", their variations of vision being left to be sorted out by the future. However their individual voices would have been welcomed, as each of them represents another vote, another marcher to wave a placard. That's politics.
Flattering the irrational thinking of a wing of American politics, the team Jacobson et al asserted that a low cost rollout of renewables and storage would provide 100% non-carbon power without nuclear being part of the mix. The paper seemed to vindicate the beliefs of the renewables community all the way up to Bernie Sanders. However, the team Clack et al demonstrated that the proposed storage is not feasible, that 100% noncarbon at reasonable cost does indeed need nuclear being included as part of the mix. Perhaps Jacobson alone might have argued it out in the leisurely scientific manner of published rebuttals, however backed by his "et al", Jacobson attacked the other camp with a legal suit. Impossibly costly for the academics to fight, the suit has been appealed as being intended to silence or intimidate, and is expected to be thrown out. Where did those heavies come from? That sure is politics!
Post by Roger Clifton on Apr 14, 2018 12:49:13 GMT 9.5
Huon drags up the old question, "Is it feasible to sequester  gigatonnes of CO2?". - No, it is not!
So many of us really want this to be possible that pulling the concept apart is a bit like deriding The Lord's Prayer. For many of us it something we reassure the kiddies with while we to continue to use gas-fired electricity and gasoline powered cars. The renewables community needs to believe in it so that they can use gas-fired backup for their windmills. For others, it is something that the politicians promise when they give the okay to new fossil-powered plant.
Okay, let's look at just the first sentence in the link: "Geological sequestration refers to the storage of CO2 underground in depleted oil and gas reservoirs, saline formations, or deep, un-minable coal beds"…
"CO2": the author doesn't say how much CO2. To him it is an entity, not a quantity. If he said "some CO2", it would be easy to show that only a negligible quantity is feasible. It would have to be "all emitted CO2" to rescue the greenhouse, but handling that quantity is absurd. Remember that 550 gigatons, even rendered as a liquid, would be about 550 km³. As a gas, handling it would be up to a thousand times even more absurdly impossible.
"Depleted oil and gas reservoirs". Any oil patch engineer could explain to you that there is no such thing as a fully depleted reservoir, only one whose further extraction has become temporarily uneconomic. Mind you, the oil patch would be delighted to have some idiot pay to pump CO2 into a non-yielding reservoir. Some of the residual oil would suck up CO2, become less viscous, and flow more easily to the wellhead. There, the oilmen would dump the released CO2 back into the atmosphere and sell the oil on the ever-hungry market.
"Saline formations". That's a reservoir containing saturated brine rather than hydrocarbons. Saturated with a variety of solutes unwelcome here if pumped out. Under the same pressure as the surrounding rock, the brine helps to hold up hundreds of metres of rock above it. When fluid is pumped in, necessarily at greater pressure, the hundreds of metres of overburden is jacked upwards in the vicinity of the injection point. Attacked by the acidic liquid, parts of the reservoir crumple. Failure of the nearby seal is inevitable, and leakage begins to return the CO2 back up toward the surface. The author admits that it may be back in the atmosphere within hundreds of years, which is much too soon.
"In un-mineable coal beds". The willing believers are under the delusion that mining technology is fixed and the coal it can mine is running out. In fact, no coal is un-mineable, it is just gets more expensive than the going market price. Tomorrow's miners will be robots, working under pressurised water.
That's just the first sentence! But as I say, the document is not intended to survive technical scrutiny. It is just a prayer by the faithful, to the faithful. I must admit however that I'm a little worried, Huon, that you are listening to these people. They are doomed by their own actions to forever make excuses for the crimes that they continue to commit. Like zombies in the parade, their numbers are welcome but their preaching will be condemned by history.
We agree on most things, RC, but on this point we have a night-and-day difference of opinion. I'll concentrate on "saline formations" because these have the greatest (putative) capacity for CO2 storage. Could you supply one reference showing that deep saline formations cannot store gigatonnes of supercritical CO2? That way readers can decide for themselves.
After that, If we want to discuss the matter further, I'll start a new thread in the Climate Change section specifically for the purpose.
Post by Roger Clifton on Apr 15, 2018 21:18:28 GMT 9.5
Huon, perhaps there are indeed more formal papers demonstrating that the idea of such massive carbon sequestration is technically baseless, but I think I've already refuted it in my recent comments.
By all means put the idea out and invite the public to decide for themselves. But I think you'll find that thoughtful people can see that the idea of burying more than 500 km³ of corrosive liquid above its boiling point is ridiculous.
Those are the thoughtful people. And there are also the naive and trusting youngsters in Hansen's army. There are however, the PR people of the fossil industries, professional deceivers, who would be delighted to distract the proper anxiety of young people with a fraud of historical proportions. I think that by entertaining this idea, you are "sleeping with the enemy" rather than helping Hansen's movement.
Thanks again, RC, for your thoughtful comments. I'll answer you, at least briefly, on Open Thread in the Climate Change section. So here we can move on to other matters--advanced nuclear power and a carbon tax--which Hansen also highlighted in his original post.
Well, for continuity, it wouldn't hurt to discuss carbon sequestration a little more here.
If the goal is to sequester 500 gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2 by technological means, then oil and gas reservoirs and deep saline aquifers should be more than adequate (see Apr. 12 comment above). Bur an additional possibility exists:
Important as CO2 drawdown and storage may be, our most urgent task is to stop emitting CO2 in the first place. Here are some of Hansen's latest thoughts, from an interview in the Globe and Mail of Canada:
What course do you recommend?
We have to go to carbon-free electricity. That's the fundamental requirement. If we could get all of our electricity carbon-free, we could solve the problem. And we probably can't do that without the help of nuclear power....
What is your message to environmentalists?
We have to put a price on carbon in a simple way and if we did that it would give an honest chance to all the carbon-free alternatives.
Thirty years ago James Hansen, then a senior NASA scientist, sounded the alarm about climate change. But since then humanity's actions to address the problem have been inadequate. So what should we be doing? Dr. Hansen continues to spell out the solutions for us. From a recent opinion piece:
"It's not rocket science. As long as fossil fuels are cheap, they will be burned and emissions will be high. Fossil fuel use will decline only if the price is made to include costs of pollution and climate change to society. The simplest and most effective way to do this is by collecting a rising carbon fee from fossil fuel companies at domestic mines and ports of entry."
"A carbon fee is crucial, but not enough. Countries such as India and China need massive amounts of energy to raise living standards. The notion that renewable energies and batteries alone will provide all needed energy is fantastical. It is also a grotesque idea, because of the staggering environmental pollution from mining and material disposal, if all energy was derived from renewables and batteries. Worse, tricking the public to accept the fantasy of 100 percent renewables means that, in reality, fossil fuels reign and climate change grows."
"Young people are puzzled that, 25 years ago, President Clinton terminated R&D on next-generation safe nuclear power, the principal alternative to fossil fuel electricity. It is not too late. My advice to young people is to cast off the old politics and fight for their future on technological, political, and legal fronts."
Post by Roger Clifton on Aug 11, 2018 18:20:14 GMT 9.5
Many of us agree that a carbon tax should be applied. The tax should be applied at the mine gate, at the wellhead, and at the port of entry. Some years ago the World Trade Organisation specifically allowed a carbon tariff to be applied on international trade, despite it appearing to contradict the spirit of globalisation.
Getting every country in the world to apply a carbon tax on fossil fuels is problematic. Especially those with significant oil reserves. Seeing as the idea of a carbon tax is to make consumers prefer the non-fossil alternative, those fossil-rich countries might be brought into the fold by making synthetic fuel cheaper than extracting and refining their own fossil fuels. That would have to be pretty cheap.
A major effort by the rich countries into developing processes for cheap synthetic fuel from recycled CO2 would go a long way further to mitigating climate effects on poorer countries, than the flood of guilt-money that was promised at the Kyoto and Paris Agreements.
Post by Roger Clifton on Sept 17, 2018 10:43:00 GMT 9.5
It is true that a sufficient tax on fossil emissions would help the existing US reactor fleet avoid closure for being uncompetitive with ever-cheapening gas. While coal plants (otherwise very cheap) continue to provide token "reductions" as they are closed down, increases in the tax would be supported by the Left. However, once any expansion of nuclear begins to gain ground on the current rate of expansion of gas-fired generation, we must expect that the Left will obstruct further increases in the carbon tax. After all, renewables need gas-fired turbines for when the wind slows down.
The Left is weak-kneed when it comes to the replacement of gas. Notice that the Hansen et al document (at the head of this thread) fails to speak of taxing carbon "at the wellhead". Replacing coal is easy, but they abdicate from converting the gas industry to non-carbon power.
RC, I suspect that Hansen's omission of the phrase "at the wellhead" in describing the application of a carbon tax was simply a form of shorthand as he quickly reviewed background material (Aug. 9 above). Or call it an inadvertent mistake. Either way, he's no great defender of natural gas. Here is a slightly longer excerpt from the Globe and Mail interview (May 31 above):
What course do you recommend?
We have to go to carbon-free electricity. That's the fundamental requirement. If we could get all of our electricity carbon-free, we could solve the problem. And we probably can't do that without the help of nuclear power."
Isn't that a problem for the green movement?
That's the other group I am critical of: environmental groups that are unrealistic. It's created a fear of nuclear power to the point that it has become difficult for these groups to turn around and say we may have to look at that and see if we can't make it safe."
What is your message to environmentalists?
We have to put a price on carbon in a simple way and if we did that it would give an honest chance to all the carbon-free alternatives. But I'm finding that the environmental groups don't want to let that happen. They want to subsidize their favourites, which is solar panels and windmills. What that does is lock in gas because of the intermittency of renewables."
Post by Roger Clifton on Sept 21, 2018 10:58:21 GMT 9.5
Quite so. Hansen is in my eyes a hero for pointing us toward a carbon-free future and would certainly tax carbon "at the wellhead", i.e. including gas. In contrast, I remain suspicious of the other authors in the "et al" of the "Hansen et al" document at the head of this thread and similar manifestos elsewhere. They are the ones who abdicate from taxing carbon "at the wellhead", not the climate scientist himself. Those guys sell out when Big Carbon puts a gas power plant out the back, as long as they get to have a windmill waving forgiveness out the front.
In your quotation, Hansen says as much – "environmental groups don't want to let [ a carbon tax] happen. They want to subsidize their favorites, which is solar panels and windmills. What that does is lock in gas [to back up] the intermittency...". What's more, it is the fast-responding, low-efficiency single-stage gas turbines that get locked in, and save no gas at all.
From a draft (p. 2) of Dr. Hansen's upcoming book "Sophie's Planet":
"Connecting climate, energy and economics is not rocket science. Economists inform us that an economy is most efficient and strong if prices are honest. Thus when climate science informs us that carbon emissions impose a growing cost on society, the best way to address this is via a simple transparent, rising carbon fee." (See the link at the end of this post.)
"The tragedy of this situation is that it is unnecessary. Honest pricing of energy, economists and common sense concur, would move us toward carbon-free energy. Economists caution that the carbon fee or tax should be imposed gradually but surely, so as to both minimize short-term disruption and provide a price signal that spurs an effective response from our technologic and industrial sectors."
The newly released book A Bright Future shows how humanity can curb climate change with nuclear power (some renewables) and a carbon tax. Here is the blurb by Dr. Hansen on the back cover: "A Bright Future lays out the only viable path that has been proposed for rapid global decarbonization."
From the Forward by Steven Pinker to A Bright Future:
"Among the myriad responses inspired by the threat of catastrophic climate change, the one that I encounter most often these days is a helpless (and potentially self-fulfilling) fatalism: the planet is cooked, and there is nothing we can do about it but mourn for our future and enjoy life while we can. A Bright Future offers a constructive alternative. Human ingenuity got us into our predicament, and human ingenuity can get us out of it. By showing how we can solve the problem, A Bright Future is the most important book on climate change since An Inconvenient Truth and the perfect book for our time--one that could, quite literally, save the world."
An excerpt from Fire on Planet Earth (see above), p. 46:
"Political compromise is still possible, as shown by the new NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). Why not suggest what economists and conservatives agree is the fastest way to phase down emissions, carbon fee and dividend? Such a policy is no cure-all, but it can make the price of fossil fuels honest and spur innovations needed to move us to a clean energy future. [...]
"Large amounts of dispatchable (baseload) energy are needed, especially in countries such as China and India where energy use is still growing, but also in the West, where we want to electrify a larger fraction of our energy use. Renewables and energy storage will help, but we cannot phase out fossil fuels and 'fracking' without the help of modern nuclear power."