It was good to read Bob Sandford’s letter in the March 2 Outlook “Threat of global climate change real” expressing his concerns about carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a method of addressing the climate crisis.
CCS means using machines to capture CO2 from either an industrial process or directly from the atmosphere, and storing it someplace secure, like an abandoned mine. Although it is an unproven and still developing technology, CCS is being hailed by fossil fuel corporations and governments – including Canada’s – as a key addition to the climate chaos toolbox.
Critically, however, CCS is also enormously controversial, identified by leading climate scientists, energy research institutes, economists and non-governmental organizations as a technological non-starter, a false solution, and a corporate-backed financial con.
With those opposing views in mind, I Zoomed into the Feb 27 CCS presentation at the Canmore Public Library, expecting a lively discussion of pros and cons. What transpired, unfortunately, was an hour of bright green CCS cheerleading.
Yes, we were told, technical and economic challenges lie ahead, but we can do it. Shockingly, there was no mention of the eminently credible professionals who, if asked, would have said: ‘no, in fact, you almost certainly can’t do it. It’s a terrible investment and you should just drop it.’
Two recent studies, one by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and one by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), make it clear the odds are approximately zero that workable, cost-effective CCS projects can be built at a large enough scale and in time to help Canada meet its emissions reduction targets.
Ten of 13 current flagship projects are either underperforming, failing, or mothballed. In and of themselves, they require exorbitant amounts of money and energy to build and operate. They handle insignificant quantities of CO2 and, ironically, the CO2 they do capture is mostly used to push yet more CO2-producing oil out of the ground.
The real kicker is the projects are risky enough that oil companies are hesitant to invest meaningful amounts of their record-setting multi-billion-dollar profits in them. Rather, they insist governments augment those profits with billions more in subsidies to underwrite the construction of CSS experiments they suspect probably won’t deliver. In an absurd twist of fate, the experiments are meant to suck back out of the atmosphere a substance that was initially pumped into the atmosphere courtesy of the products sold by those same fossil fuel companies.
At a time when climate catastrophe requires all able-bodied hands on deck, we need to ensure those deck hands are, in fact, able-bodied enough to do what they claim they can do. To make informed decisions about the best use of our precious time, wisdom and wealth, we need balanced, responsible discussion.
As public engagement, the CCS evening let us down. The hosts and presenters need to take what was surely a well-intended idea back to the drawing board and try again.
Bart T Robinson,