Written By: - Date published: 2:15 pm, February 11th, 2018 - 35 comments
Categories: capitalism, economy, Economy, energy, Environment, farming, farming, global warming, infrastructure, International, manufacturing, science, sustainability, the praiseworthy and the pitiful, transport, useless - Tags: AGW, false hopes, reality
There’s one situation I can think of where bio-fuel use has a neutral impact on global warming.
I live in a house that’s heated by wood. I walk to the woods and gather fallen branches that I burn to keep my house warm. That’s carbon neutral.
If I drive to the woods, the whole process is no longer carbon neutral. If I use a petrol chainsaw to saw up the branches, the process is no longer carbon neutral.
If I drive to the woods in an electric vehicle and use an electric chainsaw, and if those things are powered by electricity that was generated from wind, water or solar energy, then the process is carbon neutral.
If the branches are coming from a plantation and not some natural woodland/forest or bush, then the process isn’t carbon neutral. (Plantations are carbon time bombs that go off at the time of harvesting. As such, they’re simply a flagrant mis-use of land)
Now upscale that to industrial levels of activity and it should be reasonably obvious that the likes of Fonterra switching its milk powder plants from coal to wood isn’t carbon neutral (in spite of what some literature says).
They will take their biofuels from forestry residue or from other crops that have been specifically grown in order to be burned. Putting a host of environmental questions around land use, water use and ecological impacts to one side, unless the land preparation, planting, growing/management, transporting and processing of those crops/biofuels are all done using power derived from solar, wind or water, then their use isn’t carbon neutral.
That’s why ideas about Bio-Energy Carbon Capture and Storage (beccs) are embedded in bio-energy schemes.
But as I’ve written before, those ideas just don’t stack up. Even if all of the land use, water use and ecological issues could be resolved; and even if all the technical barriers could be over come in the next seven years, we’d need to be planning, constructing and commissioning somewhere in the region of two to four BECCS plants with the power generating capacity of Huntly Power Station every single week for a quarter of a century (from 2025 to 2050) to avoid 2 degrees of warming. And on top of that, we’d need to be laying in all of the necessary transportation infrastructure (getting fuel to the plants and the carbon away from the plants), on top of locating suitably secure geological sinks for the stuff.
Alternatively, we can acknowledge the scientific necessity of cutting energy related emissions by between 13% and 20% every year (it varies across countries but. keeps. going.up.) until zero emissions are attained by some time in the 2040s. That way, we might avoid 2 degrees of warming.
That only leaves, at best, a very short window for utilising any type of bio-fuel by way of a stop gap measure as we come off of carbon fuel sources. Zero is zero. There is no such thing as “good” carbon and “bad” carbon, where “good” carbon somehow doesn’t count in the scheme of things.
So, what does a plan based on current realities (ie, no or very little BECCS) mean for the likes of Fonterra?
Well, their milk drying facilities will have to switch to solar, wind or water or else shut down. Under a regime of rapid carbon cuts, dairy won’t survive at its present scale. For dairy to survive, all the pasture preparation and care, all the milking, all the transportation of cows, final product and importation of feed stuff, plus whatever other energy related aspects of dairy production there are, will all have to shift to energy sourced from water, wind or solar power by the 2040s.
The same goes for all other industries and for society as a whole.
So perhaps that is why government policies around global warming don’t and won’t acknowledge the obvious issue of carbon emissions and our need to cut them. It destroys our current economy and means we have to make huge changes to the ways we live.
Far better then to insist on “affordability” and “cost effectiveness” (as the IPCC explicitly demands); to fold the whole very real issue of climate change into the theoretical concerns of chrematistic economics and assume the ‘invisible hand’ of the market is gainfully clasped and going to ensure the delivery of some impossible nonsense to the corporeal realm. And
if when it doesn’t, well it’s only billions of people not living in rich countries who die.