C&C Forum

An ecosocialist case for CO2 removal technology

Direct air capture module at the CarbFix2 test site in Iceland

David Schwartzman argues that we can’t prevent catastrophic climate change without technology that removes carbon dioxide from the air


Biogeochemist David Schwartzman is Professor Emeritus at Howard University. He is co-author, with his son Peter Schwartzman, of The Earth is Not for Sale, which includes more discussion of this issue.


As always, thoughtful and respectful responses are more than welcome.


by David Schwartzman

After twenty nine years since the last issue appeared, Science for the People magazine was relaunched with an online issue devoted to Geoengineering and Environmental Capitalism. In particular, the critically important issue of negative carbon emissions (NEC) was confronted by two papers, Holly Buck (2018) and Linda Schneider (2018). This issue is directly connected to the challenge of keeping warming below 1.5 deg C above the pre-industrial level. So I am interrogating their papers to look deeper into the question of whether NEC technologies need to be implemented along with the obvious requirement for early and radical reductions in GHS emissions.

I am not quite as pessimistic as Holly Buck regarding the remaining chances for keeping warming below 1.5 deg C, recognizing of course that radical changes in both the physical and political economies will be necessary to reach this goal. For a variety of assessments see Xua and Ramanathan (2017), Millar et al., (2017), Walsh et al., (2017), Goodwin et al., (2018),  Robinson and Shine (2018) and Lenton et al., (2019). In particular, Betts and McNeall (2018) point to the uncertainties in climate modeling regarding reaching this goal which was driven by the global South at Paris, COP 21.

And in an historic report, the IPCC (2018) strongly backed this goal, recognizing that meeting a 1.5 deg C target is still possible, requiring deep and early carbon emissions reductions and obviously far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society. In their model pathways with no or limited overshoot of 1.5°C, global net anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero around 2050.

Further, this report recognized that implementation of NEC technologies is imperative, coupled with radical and early reductions in carbon emissions. Since this report, though still possible, the latest assessments point to an even greater challenge to keep warming at the 1.5 deg C target (The Real News Network, 2019; Harvey, 2019; Lenton et al., 2019; The IMBIE Team, 2019).

In their review paper, Hilaire et al. (2019) argue that a rapid large-scale deployment of negative carbon emission technologies are imperative to have any chance of achieving the 1.5 deg C target.

Holly Buck makes a strong case for the necessity of implementing NEC technologies, i.e. carbon sequestration from the atmosphere also known as CDR (carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere), but only coupled with rapid and radical curbs on carbon emission and other greenhouse gases coming from fossil fuel combustion and current agriculture (for an updated discussion see Buck, 2019).

She is challenged by Linda Schneider (2018) who argues that “Geoengineering schemes — still largely hypothetical — not only fail to address the underlying causes of climate change; they carry their own profound political, economic, and ecological risks,” and these geoengineering schemes include NEC implementation. I strongly favor the latter, but not any other well-critiqued geoengineering approaches.

The greatest challenge facing humanity now is the implementation of massive prevention program to confront the ever growing threat of C3.  Further, as an ecosocialist, I submit that this prevention program cannot wait until fossil capitalism is replaced globally by ecosocialism. This prevention program must prioritize rapid and radical curbs on GHG emissions coupled with NEC and the rapid transition to 100 percent global wind and solar power supplies.

Without negative carbon emissions humanity will still face a climate hell future much worse than the horrors we now witness from climate change. A Global Green New Deal, increasing inspired by an ecosocialist perspective is arguably a path forward: see e.g., Aronoff et al. (2019) and Schwartzman and Schwartzman (2019).

While class struggle in every dimension informed by an ecosocialist agenda is still too weak to prevent the all deficiencies and risks identified by Linda Schneider in this transition, as the global climate and energy justice movement gains strength, then the opportunity to create a more sustainable and just solar transition will grow. But the creation of a wind/solar energy infrastructure and a NEC  capacity should be welcomed now. We cannot wait for the end of the rule of capital to start building these imperative technologies, it will be too late.

The atmospheric level of carbon dioxide, now a bit over 410 ppm, will not go below the safe level of below 350 ppm and kept there unless ongoing sequestration from the atmosphere into the crust is done for the foreseeable future because the ocean with its vast stores of carbon will continuously release it back into the atmosphere.

As one climate science group put it, “…CDR can be a game changer for climate policy in the sense that it significantly improves feasibility and cost considerations for achieving stringent climate stabilization. It is, however, a complement, not a substitute to the traditional approach of mitigating emissions at their source”  (Kriegler et al., 2013, 55).

This is why carbon sequestration from the atmosphere into the crust is absolutely imperative and it will require a rapid replacement of fossil fuels by a global solar power supply. We estimate a requirement of this energy (in power units) dedicated to this mode of sequestration to be on the order of 4 trillion watts for a strong carbon emission reduction of 6% per year scenario (Hansen et al., 2017), with the present primary consumption being 19 trillion watts (Schwartzman and Schwartzman 2019).

Now estimates point to the  need for even more aggressive reduction per year to achieve the 1.5 deg C target (e.g., Lenton et al., 2019).  A greater global energy supply than now is also required to eliminate energy poverty afflicting the global South as well as having the capacity to address climate adaptation and other challenges such as cleanup of the legacy of the military industrial complex (Schwartzman, 2016, 2017). Buck (2019) likewise argues that a massive increase in global renewable energy capacity will be needed for climate mitigation.  So even with eliminating carbon emissions, forgoing this form of carbon sequestration is a recipe for climate disaster.

Carbon sequestration from the atmosphere, mainly into the crust is absolutely imperative but only coupled with rapid curbs on carbon emission, starting with the fossil fuels with the biggest GHG footprint, coal, natural gas (methane leakage directly to the atmosphere) and of course tar sands oil, and using the minimum amount of conventional oil to do away with itself as an energy source for a global solar power infrastructure (see Schwartzman, 2017).  Thus, I strongly agree with Schneider’s point, “We need a rapid phaseout of global coal, oil, and gas production and a rapid deconstruction of fossil fuel infrastructure. We need a shift to one hundred percent decentralised renewable energy production and supply from solar and wind,” except there will be also big state and transnational created renewable energy production too, it’s already underway.

However, in their 2018 articles neither Holly Buck nor Linda Schneider mentions the most promising carbon sequestration approach, reacting carbon dioxide and water with mafic rock, basalt, with a pilot project in Iceland; see Oelkers et al., 2016; Schwartzman, 2016 and Perasso, 2018 for more on this approach (Buck does discuss this approach in her 2019 book). This is not the same as “Global-scale Enhanced Weathering”; I share Schneider’s critique of this mode of CDR.

Schneider claims that “The additional emissions that arise throughout the entire life cycle — from industrial-scale mining to processing, transportation, and distribution — cast doubt on the ability of proposed CDR [carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere] technologies to ever effectively remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere”. Yes, of course this will be the case if the energy sources for this life cycle are derived mainly from fossil fuels, precisely why the transition to wind/solar power is imperative!  Further, CDR technologies removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere are now achieving higher efficiencies (Keith et al., 2018; von Hippel, 2018; Tollefson, 2018) but must be used to facilitate permanent underground storage by reacting carbon dioxide and water with mafic crust producing carbonates.

Promoting sequestration into the soil (permacultures, agroecologies, reforestation) will supplement this approach but cannot replace it because warming has already reduced the capacity of soil carbon storage (it partitions back into the atmosphere); note that the potential sequestration flux of regenerative agriculture is commonly exaggerated (see Schwartzman, 2015 and Schwartzman and Schwartzman, 2019).

In conclusion, carbon sequestration from the atmosphere into the crust is absolutely imperative and it will require a rapid replacement of fossil fuels by a global solar power supply.  So forgoing NEC is a recipe for climate disaster.


References cited

Aronoff, K.  et al. 2019. A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal. Verso: London.

Betts, R.A.  and D. McNeall, 2018 ‘How much CO2 at 1.5 °C and 2 °C?’, Nature Climate Change 8: pp. 546-548.

Buck, H.J. 2018. ‘A Best-Case Scenario for Putting Carbon Back Underground’. Posted at: https://magazine.scienceforthepeople.org/geoengineering-environmental-capitalism/.

Buck, H.J. 2019. After Geoengineering: Climate Tragedy, Repair, and Restoration. Verso: London.

Goodwin, P., A. Katvouta, V.M. Roussenov, et al. 2018. ‘Pathways to 1.5 °C and 2 °C warming based on observational and geological constraints’, Nature Geoscience, DOI: 10.1038/s41561-017-0054-8.

Hansen, J., M. Sato, P. Kharecha, et al. 2017. ‘Young people’s burden: requirement of negative CO2 Emissions’, Earth Syst. Dynam. 8, pp. 577–616.

Harvey, C. 2019. ‘Climate Models Got It Right on Global Warming’. Scientific American,  December 5, Available at: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/climate-models-got-it-right-on-global-warming/.

Hilaire, J., J.C. Minx, M.W. Callaghan et al. 2019. ‘Negative emissions and international climate goals—learning from and about mitigation scenarios’, Climatic Change 57, pp.189–219.

IPCC (2018).  (Report). , :  (IPCC). 7 October 2018. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/.

Keith, D.W., G. Holmes, D. St. Angelo, et al. 2018. ‘Process for Capturing CO2 from the Atmosphere’, Joule 2, 1–22, doi.10.1016/j.joule.2018.05.006.

Kriegler, E., O. Edenhofer, L. Reuster, et al. 2013. ‘Is atmospheric carbon dioxide removal a game changer for climate change mitigation?’, Climatic Change 118, 45–57.

Lenton, T.M., J. Rockström, O. Gaffney, et al. 2019. ‘Climate tipping points — too risky to bet against’, Nature 575, 592-595.

Millar, R. J., J.S. Fuglestvedt, P. Friedlingstein, et al. 2017. ‘Emission budgets and pathways consistent with limiting warming to 1.5 C’, Nature Geoscience 10, 741–747.

Perasso, V. 2018. ‘Turning carbon dioxide into rock – forever’. BBC World Service, May 18, Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-43789527.

Robinson, M. and T. Shine. 2018. ‘Achieving a climate justice pathway to 1.5 °C’. Nature Climate Change 8: 564–569.

Schneider, L. 2018.  ‘Geoengineering and Environmental Capitalism: Extractive Industries in the Era of Climate Change’. Posted at: https://magazine.scienceforthepeople.org/geoengineering-environmental-capitalism/.

Schwartzman, D. 2015. ‘Restoring Ecosystems to Reverse Global Warming? A Critique of Biodiversity for a Livable Climate claims’, Available at: http://solarutopia.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Critique. pdf.

Schwartzman, D. 2016. ‘How Much and What Kind of Energy Does Humanity Need?’, Socialism and Democracy 30(2), 97–120.

Schwartzman, D. 2017. ‘100% renewables: ‘wishful thinking’ or an imperative goal?’, October 24,  Posted at: https://medium.com/insurgeintelligence/100renewableswishfulthinkingoranimperativegoal9879a8947d1b).

Schwartzman, P. and D. Schwartzman. 2019. The Earth is Not for Sale: A Path Out of Fossil Capitalism to the Other World That is Still Possible. World Scientific: Singapore.

The IMBIE Team. 2019.  Mass balance of the Greenland Ice Sheet from 1992 to 2018. Nature, DOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-1855-2.

The Real News Network. 2019. ‘New Climate Model Predicts Alarming Levels of Global Heating’. December 10, Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jDJxp1zpdhM.

Tollefson, J. 2018. ‘Price of sucking CO2 from air plunges’, Nature 558, 173.

von Hippel, T. 2018. ‘Thermal removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere: energy requirements and scaling issues’, Climatic Change, doi.10.1007/s10584-018-2208-0.

Walsh, B., P. Ciais, I.A.  Janssens,  et al. 2017. ’Pathways for balancing CO2 emissions and sinks’, Nature Comm., 8, 14856, DOI: 10.1038/ncomms14856.

Xua, Y. and V. Ramanathan. 2017. ‘Well below 2 °C: Mitigation strategies for avoiding dangerous to catastrophic climate changes’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), 114(39), 10315–10323.

 

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13 Responses to An ecosocialist case for CO2 removal technology

  1. Tony Phillips March 9, 2020 at 12:34 pm #

    This is a classic scientific linear thinking. Unfortunately it isnt good enough any more. Where is the circular economics in this thought experiment?
    The above linear argument goes something like this: take 4 Tn. Watt, use this energy to suck CO2 from atmosphere, trap CO2 in basalt, problem solved!

    Lets try to add circular economy and sustainability including biodiversity requirements to this thought experiment. Also I would argue that we need to reframe this considering the adage that in an age of increasing and problematic global heat in the atmosphere (too much energy) the only truly clean energy is less energy.

    Compare this to another thought experiment designed to replicate the same results of less CO2 in the atmosphere such as say planting or rewilding a few billion more native trees. In this case we shall choose fruit trees that also produce excellent wood for furniture and construction and also provide living space (and food and building materials) for animals and human forest human tribes that are currently becoming extinct. We have solved a few problems in a linear fashion but also in parallel, so far so good! But have we reduced the consumption of energy too? What if we sustainably harvest some of this new wood to replace current material production in the cities too? By doing so we have also obviated the need for the associated energy expenditure, processes such as the mining and production of steel and concrete. Now we are thinking sustainably we are thinking in terms of a circular economy not in a linear fashion like the experiment described above which ends with a chemical decomposition of basalt to produce what?

    Try this thought experiment? Add the constraint that we need to reduce energy use by as close as possible to 4Tn. Watts and produce other associated social and biodiversity benefits. If you cant do it then get your thinking caps back on and try to find better solutions which include using less energy elsewhere.

    • David Schwartzman March 9, 2020 at 3:59 pm #

      The challenge of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to below the 360 ppm level and keeping it below this limit will not be solved for hundreds of years into the future because as I mentioned the oceanic flux of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere will continue as atmospheric carbon dioxide is sequestered, buried in the crust as carbonates. This would actually trepresent human intervention to close the biogeochemical cycle of carbon on a short term basis, i.e., a version of the circular biogeochemical economy! You are right to emphasis the need for a circular economy. An ecosocialist transition out of capitalism must build the circular economy (industrial and agricultural ecologies) until a steady-state global economy is reached. I called this future stage ‘solar communism” and recently I renamed it the SolarCommunicene inspired by the discourse around the anthropocene (see my Gaia paper). But commenting on your thought experiment, reducing energy use to the equivalent of 4TW (even while solarizing global supplies) will be suicide because of the lack of capacity to mitigate, adapt to climate change as well as eliminate energy poverty globally which is robustly linked to lower life expectancies than the world’s highest standard.

      • David W Schwartzman March 10, 2020 at 9:12 am #

        Sorry, a few typos in my last post. Should read:
        The challenge of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to below the 350 ppm level and keeping it below this limit will not be solved for hundreds of years into the future because as I mentioned the oceanic flux of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere will continue as atmospheric carbon dioxide is sequestered, buried in the crust as carbonates. This would actually represent human intervention to close the biogeochemical cycle of carbon on a short term basis…

  2. David Schwartzman March 8, 2020 at 1:33 pm #

    Replying to Philip Ward: If massive sequestration of carbon from the atmosphere into the crust and soil, coupled with the other requirements outlined in my post should not on humanity’s agenda then tell the world’s children and grandchildren to just accept a future of climate hell because we the living accept defeat. That is what climate science is telling us. You can of course refuse to hear this message as another mode of climate denialism. Please reread my post because I clearly say that the present level of energy delivery is insufficient to confront the climate challenge. Your caveat about power is irrelevant, simply multiply the power by time to get energy. Since I kept below the maximum word limit I suggested readers check out our book and our book website for more detail, e.g., how building a massive solar power capacity can greatly reduce extractivism by efficient recycling in addition to R&D for new technologies that use common rather than rarer elements (e.g., Na S batteries instead of Li). You can also read: https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/100-renewables-wishful-thinking-or-an-imperative-goal-9879a8947d1b

    • Philip Ward March 8, 2020 at 5:29 pm #

      I don’t think you read my comment: I mentioned of course that energy = power x time. If you stick to the basic errors in the paragraph I quoted (and it wouldn’t have taken any more space to make the paragraph scientifically coherent), then I presume you are saying that the world’s electricity generating capacity needs to be increased from the current ~6TW to 10TW in order to allow for your carbon dioxide sequestration scheme. This is utterly ludicrous.

      It has taken about 130 years to build it up to 6TW: good luck in your endeavours to increase capacity by another 65% (at the same time as converting from fossil fuel to renewable generation). Add to your demands the need for electrification of transport and home heating and you will see that an unproven, immensely environmentally destructive sequestration industry is just not feasible.

      If you have to resort to insults about climate denialism, I think that just indicates the weakness of your argument. (Just for the record, you can find my 1989 article on climate change on this site).

      What is required is drastic reductions in GHG emissions (and energy use) and a complete re-orientation of agriculture. These have to be accompanied by environmental justice, so that the basic needs of all of humanity are met (for the first time). This is the only way to reduce the impacts of climate change and protect living ecosystems at the same time.

      • David Schwartzman March 8, 2020 at 6:11 pm #

        Our challenge is indeed unprecedented, yes. Actually the world’s electricity generating capacity will need to reach at least 20 to 25 TW if not more, following the studies of the Jacobson lab, electrification of the global energy supply to also have the capacity for climate mitigation, adaptation (especially for the global South), cleanup of the huge insults to the environment from the Military Industrial Complex, repair and greening of infrastructure etc. A drastic reduction of GHG emissions yes! But an increase in energy use! Otherwise we will be condemning most of humanity (those who survive climate catastrophe) to more misery than they now “enjoy”. The fact that industrial capitalism took 130 years to reach 19 TW of primary energy supply (in power units again) tells us that only an ecosocialist transition terminating the rule of capital, starting with militarized fossil capital, can meet the energy challenges for all of humanity. You demonstrate no evidence that you have read my post here nor the supporting material in what I shared with you. For solar transition modeling go to our website solarUtopia.org. It is not my “endeavors”, it is the supreme challenge to the ever growing global climate justice movement. P.S. I will be happy to send you pdfs of my latest papers, CNS etc., just email me at dschwartzman@gmail.com

      • Daviid Schwartzman March 8, 2020 at 11:46 pm #

        P.S. You misread what I said in my post, i.e., “We estimate a requirement of this energy (in power units) dedicated to this mode of sequestration to be on the order of 4 trillion watts for a strong carbon emission reduction of 6% per year scenario (Hansen et al., 2017), with the present primary consumption being 19 trillion watts (Schwartzman and Schwartzman 2019)… A greater global energy supply than now is also required to eliminate energy poverty afflicting the global South as well as having the capacity to address climate adaptation and other challenges such as cleanup of the legacy of the military industrial complex (Schwartzman, 2016, 2017).” I didn’t say that 4 TW should be added on to the present primary consumption, rather as a component to a greater future energy supply (with wind/solar of course, replacing fossil fuels and nuclear fission power).

  3. Ian Angus March 8, 2020 at 9:53 am #

    Two years ago, in Jacobin, Christian Parenti also argued that carbon capture and sequestration was essential. He argued that the technology was practical and nearly ready to deploy, citing the CO2 removal technology used in US submarines, and the ongoing trial of Direct Air Capture technology in Iceland. I was not convinced. My reply is here: https://climateandcapitalism.com/2017/09/25/memo-to-jacobin-ecomodernism-is-not-ecosocialism/

    • David Schwartzman March 8, 2020 at 1:15 pm #

      Parenti exaggerated with his claim, nevertheless more recent research (see my citations) supports subsurface reaction with basalt rock as a promising technology. Agroecologies, reforestation are of course imperative in themselves but are insufficient because of the further impact of warming, saturation of soil stores and the slower timescale to implement compared to massive industrial sequestration of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the crust, which of course will have the requirements outlined in my post. I think that the label of ecomodernism doesn’t fit my argument since radical changes in both the political and physical economies are necessary.

    • Philip Ward March 9, 2020 at 5:21 pm #

      You are still confusing energy and power, so the stuff you say in the paragraph I criticised doesn’t have any meaning.

      At least in the comment further above you are now saying that the world’s electricity generating capacity needs to more than quadruple. OK, that statement at least has the merit of intelligibility. Jacobson et. al. (2011) envisage 11.5TW of RE electricity generating capacity by 2030:

      This comprises
      Wind turbines 19TW
      Wave Power 0.54TW
      Geothermal 0.535TW
      Hydro 1.7TW
      Tidal 0.49TW
      Roof Solar Elec 5.1TW
      Solar PV plant 12TW
      Conc. Solar Termal 14.7TW

      (Note: this adds up to much more than 11.5TW of plant, as wind and solar are intermittent).

      What is currently installed (note: these figures are from a quick trawl of the internet, so they are very much ball park)?

      Wind 0.6TW needs to expand 32 times
      Wave Power 0.0TW needs to expand near infinitely*
      Geothermal 0.0128TW needs to expand 42 times
      Hydro 1.06TW needs to expand 1.6 times
      Tidal 0.001TW needs to expand 490 times
      Roof Solar/
      Solar farms 0.75TW needs to expand 23 times
      Conc solar thermal 0.005TW needs to expand 2940 times

      *It’s difficult to work out what is actually installed at any one time, as most projects die within a few years. Let’s be generous and say 50MW (0.00005TW) is in place. Jacobson is then proposing this sector becomes 10,800 times bigger than it currently is.

      And the proposal in your comment is for a generating capacity up to 2.2 times more than Jacobson is suggesting. It would be immensely ecologically destructive. Luckily, it won’t happen.

      • Philip Ward March 9, 2020 at 5:36 pm #

        I fully agree with the politics of your comment, but please read my comment below (March 8th, 7.34am) about the difference between energy and power and the mess the author of this post makes of them. Energy is not measured in Terawatts: that is a unit of power.

        https://cleantechnica.com/2015/02/02/power-vs-energy-explanation/

      • David Schwartzman March 10, 2020 at 12:55 pm #

        Philip, this post is even more confusing than your previous ones. Let me repeat one more time, today’s global primary energy consumption is equivalent to 19 TW, or in one year the consumption is 19TW year of energy, just as commonly the consumer pays for energy in kilowatt hours of electricity consumed. Since the efficiency of technologies to do the same work (e.g., heating, transportation) will increase, let us assume a 30% gain by 2050 to reach the capacity to eliminate energy poverty, and be able to mitigate and adapt to climate change etc. For 9 billion people with this gain in efficiency and a minimum power requirement per person of 3.5 kilowatts the world will need roughly 22 TW capacity corresponding to primary energy capacity. Can the world reach this capacity and keep warming below 1.5 deg C above pre-industrial using the fossil fuel with the lowest GHG footprint, i.e., conventional oil, noting that 80% of present energy consumption is derived from fossil fuel? Citing Lenton et al. (2018) Nature 575: 592-595, “The world’s remaining emissions budget for a 50:50 chance of staying within 1.5 °C of warming is only about 500 gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2”. This budget is equivalent to 1200 billion barrels of oil. Obviously, even a rapid termination of coal and natural gas use will subtract from how much oil can be used to replace itself and all fossil fuels by creating a global wind/solar power infrastructure, but even with current EROEI ratios of wind/solar there is still a window of opportunity left to reach this goal. With a robust protection regime driven by global class struggle, this path forward can be much less ecologically destructive than the alternative; climate catastrophe.
        EROEI = energy return over energy invested to create and maintain renewable technology over its lifetime.

  4. Philip Ward March 8, 2020 at 7:34 am #

    I’m sorry to say this, but once again an advocate of unproven and potentially disastrously environmentally damaging sequestration technologies confuses power and energy:

    “We estimate a requirement of this energy (in power units) dedicated to this mode of sequestration to be on the order of 4 trillion watts for a strong carbon emission reduction of 6% per year scenario (Hansen et al., 2017), with the present primary consumption being 19 trillion watts (Schwartzman and Schwartzman 2019).”

    Well, if this were true, “this mode of sequestration” would be using over 60% of the world’s current installed electricity generating capacity (power), which is just over 6 trillion watts (not 19 trillion watts: 19,000 trillion watt-hours is about the total annual energy output of the electricity generating industry).

    You can’t express “energy” in units of power, like above. If you could, we would be living in a socialist nirvana. Probably the most “powerful” machine in the world, the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore lab produces 500 trillion watts of power, about 25 times the world’s electricity generating capacity. The point is that it does this for 20 billionths of a second. The resulting energy output (highest so far and about 20% of the theoretical value obtained by muliplying power x time, due to losses in the optics) is 2.1MJ (megajoules) about 1/8th of the amount of energy a 70kg human requires from food every day.

    (I should add, for advocates of nuclear fusion, that the maximum amount of neutron energy got out of nuclear fusion in the LIF is about 1/200th of the energy put in – 50kJ).

    The article elides over the conclusion of Hansen et. al’s paper that it references and now three years old, which is a long time in terms of climate inaction (maybe 60bn more tonnes of CO2 in the atmosphere since then):

    “On the other hand, if large fossil fuel emissions are allowed to continue, the scale and cost of industrial CO2 extraction, occurring in conjunction with a deteriorating climate and costly dislocations, may become unmanageable. Simply put, the burden placed on young people and future generations may become too heavy to bear.”

    This paragraph mentions the key word scale. When considering introducing a whole new industrial sector – along with its supporting energy supply infrastructure – scale is of primary importance. This will be an issue even in an ecosocialist society. Those of us who live in the dominant capitalist societies and are used to the living conditions they have to offer I think find it very difficult to put ourselves in the shoes of the overwhelming majority who are not members of the “one billion high emitters”. We therefore tend to look for solutions that do not challenge capitalist levels of production and consumption. Inevitably, these will bias toward technological fixes, be they ubiquitous electric cars, geoengineering, BECCS or even trying to meet current energy demands through wind turbines, solar power and battery energy storage.

    Left out of the equation are what this wholesale replacement of current technologies with new ones will do to the environment more generally (to say nothing of the spike in fossil fuel use that would accompany the transition). These will trash biodiversity and the lives of those who are forced to extract the necessary minerals and other resources (including water). I anticipate a significant increase in the struggle against extractivism.

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