I was so excited this morning when I got up. Yesterday, I thought I saw a light. Some may remember a not very happy post I did a while back called, Time to Tell the Truth About Global Warming. In it I explain how global warming is so much worse than most people realize because once CO2 gets into the atmosphere, it stays there, to varying degrees, for centuries at least. And I explained how even if we stopped the engine of the world tomorrow, and reduced CO2 emissions to exactly zero, it would not avert the climate catastrophe that has begun, and will continue to get much much worse over the next 40 years and beyond.
This is incredibly important because it means that the only way we can really avoid the climate catastrophe is to not only cut emissions, but to remove the CO2 we've already put into the atmosphere.
The reason I was so excited is because I now believe that that technology is both available, and feasible to actually do just that - remove the billions of tons of CO2 that is threatening our very survival. The reason why we're all going to die is because the people who run the world, and most importantly, our primary form of communication, television, are too stupid, greedy and corrupt to allow it to happen.
The only thing I'm going to say about Reverend Wright is this: Who gives a fuck.
If you combine a few of the most respected and prominent reports--many of which are ridiculously conservative and already obsolete in their optimism--what we are looking at over the next 50 or 70 years is apocalyptic - large continental areas turning to desert, billions forced to migrate seeking water and food, mass extinctions of species, disease and famine. Then the real fun begins as nations compete for diminishing water, food and energy, resulting in massive geopolitical instability and eventually war. It won't all happen at once. It will play out over decades and, in fact, it's already started. If I believed in such things I might be thinking, Cue horseman 1, horsemen 2-4 standby.
But about a year ago I heard about this guy who built a machine that could literally suck CO2 right from the air. His name is Klaus Lackner, a physicist at Columbia University. I didn't take Professor Lackner's machine too seriously at the time because his prototype is really small - it only captures about ten pounds a day.
But last night I saw an article in the LA Times about Lackner's little machine and they had some numbers: "sucking up the current stream of emissions would require about 67 million boxcar-sized filters at a cost of trillions of dollars a year."
Now, if you are like me, you're probably thinking, SIXTY SEVEN MILLION? Trillions of dollars a year? We're all going to die.
But I had a different take yesterday. Why? Because I had coincidentally been reading about how many automobiles are manufactured every year worldwide. And guess what, it's almost the same. In 2005, Earthlings manufactured 65,318,744 cars, trucks, and buses. If I believed in such things, I might think this coincidence was divinely provident.
We make every year about the same number of autos as we would have to make of Dr. Lackner's machines once, over say, ten years. That's actually doable. The other catch though is Dr. Lackner's CO2 removers are quite a bit more expensive than a Toyota Corolla.
According to the LA Times article:
Lackner calculated that sucking up all 28 billion tons of CO2 released worldwide each year would require spreading out his machines over a land area the size of Arizona.
That seems like a reasonable sacrifice to save civilization, until you consider the expense.
Experts estimate that it would cost up to $200 a ton to filter and store carbon dioxide from the air. That means the yearly vacuuming bill could reach $5.6 trillion.
Yes, by all means, let's save civilization. Unless it's going to be really expensive. Then let's just all die. It's cheaper.
Granted, 5.6 trillion a year is really expensive. That's almost 7 times our annual defense budget. But since this is a world issue, we should probably use a world scale. The CIA has the annual Gross World Product (GWP) at around 65 trillion. So while it ain't cheap, we can afford it.
Now, a quick reality check.
As you may have noticed though, even with all 67 million machines, we would only offset our current annual emissions. What about all that CO2 that's already up there. That's where reductions in emission comes in. It would only be through a combination of some serious emission reductions and CO2 removal that we could start seeing a reversal. But with out a device like Dr. Lackner's machine, there will not be a solution to the climate catastrophe. Catastrophe will happen, even if we reduced emissions to zero.
There are, of course, other complications to implementing this technology. These devices require a lot of energy to work. And unless they are equipped with some kind of clean energy supply, they will just cancel themselves out. Again, from the LA Times:
The orchards of filters would have to be powered by complexes of new nuclear plants, dams, solar farms or other clean-energy sources to avoid adding more pollution to the atmosphere.
Notice the word "or". It's a small word wrapped around big words like nuclear and plants. I haven't found the specifics on how much energy these things require, but there's no reason to get the Nuclear Lobby all excited. There are ways to power these things without injecting uranium into the equation.
The bottom line
Dr. Lackner's machine is a prototype. It works, but there can be no doubt the technology will improve dramatically, making them more efficient, and reducing costs. Other brands will come on the market. Competition will ensue. But we need to start building these things immediately. If something better comes along, we'll switch to it. Lackner's little startup company, Global Research Technologies, LLC needs to be bankrolled like they invented the fountain of youth.
And more than anything, especially as it applies here in the netroots, people need to be informed that the climate change we are experiencing now is not just the result of CO2 that was put into the atmosphere this year, or the last, but 100 years ago. CO2 stays in the atmosphere for hundreds, even thousands of years.
Cutting emissions will not save us. We MUST remove the CO2 that's already there AND cut emissions. CO2 vacuum farms like Dr. Lackner envisions are our lifeline. This is a global problem that requires a massive global solution. That is hard enough.
But this problem also requires something else, something that may be even harder. Harder because, in spite of the challenges that we face in trying to develop and implement CO2 sequestration technology on a global scale, I sincerely believe that our time is optimum for taking on this kind of challenge. People can do incredible things, and we actually have the technological and communication infrastructure to pull it off - something we didn't have 50 years ago.
But our biggest challenge is not the task. It is installing leaders who can actually call us to action. The United States has allowed itself to become subjugated to a small, corrupt, and frankly, stupid cabal of individuals. The "global elite" and their fawns in the media. We are witnessing it daily in the coverage of news and the election of 2008. We witness it in the response by the barons of industry who not only fail to act, but actually deliberately prevent us from acting, with their lobbying and PR campaigns to deceive the public about global warming.
The fight to retake our media, our democracy, and our country is no longer just about progress. It is about survival. We simply cannot afford to continue allowing the frivolous, the inane, the self-interested to manipulate our national conversation and our democracy. "Not this time" is not just about getting a good guy elected for a change. It is about our very survival.
Television is the most powerful political tool ever invented. And we have handed it over to people who use it for their own gain, at the expense of the public. They have lied about, distorted and filtered the information essential to a functioning democracy - all in the interests of protecting their interests. Quite simply, they have used our publicly owned airwaves against us. The responsibility to the Common Good for the use of those airwaves was the deal we made. They have abused it.
After watching yet another American election packed into banality by the corporate media, I am convinced more than ever that if we don't retake the national conversation, through the democratic instruments of power, namely our government and the FCC, our nation and our world will see only darkness to come. We will never solve the problems we face. And we, or our children, may very well perish for it.