Excerpt from Climate and Capitalism, 25 Sept 2017
…The idea that removing the CO2 exhaled by 150 sailors in a closed system is comparable to removing billions of tonnes from the open atmosphere is more than a little absurd. Parenti should have checked with the US Navy: last year it issued a request for proposals for new CO2 capture systems in its submarines because the systems now used “are relatively energy intensive,” and “the material has a short lifetime, requiring replacement underway, and hazmat wastes are complicated to handle.” Obviously, expanding that technology to cover the globe is not in the cards!
There is only one commercial plant in the entire world that captures CO2 directly from the air. According to the journal Science, it takes in just 900 tons of CO2 a year, roughly the amount produced by 200 cars. The company that built it says that capturing just one percent of global CO2 emissions would require 250,000 similar plants. “Fairly simple” just doesn’t apply.
As for the Icelandic experiment in storing CO2 in basalt, Parenti doesn’t seem to have read beyond the gee-whiz headlines. Geophysicist Andy Skuce reports in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that the experimenters only buried 250 tonnes of CO2, and the gas had first to be dissolved in “almost unimaginable amounts of water” — 25 tonnes of H2O for every tonne of CO2. Not only is that unsustainable, “it is unknown how well the results in Iceland can be applied at large scale in other locales.” As Joe Romm of Climate Progress says, “CCS simply hasn’t yet proven to be practical, affordable, scalable, and ready to be ramped up rapidly.”
In his eagerness to promote a technical solution to climate change, Parenti fails to consider whether the technology will do the job, not to mention how we might convince governments to spend the 24 trillion dollars (133% of US GDP) that he thinks it will cost. Unfortunately, such lightmindedness is a common failing in this issue of Jacobin.
The views expressed in this issue of Jacobin are similar to those promoted in the Ecomodernist Manifesto, which claims that “meaningful climate mitigation is fundamentally a technological challenge,” and that “knowledge and technology, applied with wisdom, might allow for a good, or even great, Anthropocene.” Clive Hamilton describes this as “a form of denial or at least evasion, one that selectively permits certain facts through the optimo-filter while blocking or downplaying others.” We see it, in different forms, in the pronouncements of the anti-green Breakthrough Institute in the US, which wrote the Manifesto, and in Spiked-Online, an even more vehemently anti-environment group in the UK.
Is Jacobin becoming a voice for ecomodernism with a leftish veneer? I hope not, but the signs aren’t good. The first book in the new Jacobin Book Series, Four Futures, by Peter Frase, offers future scenarios based on science fiction movies and books: as Antony Galluzzo says in a review, this approach allows Frase to ignore “the technological, ecological, or social feasibility of [his] predictions.” The forthcoming second book in the series is co-authored by Leigh Phillips, who works with both the Breakthrough Institute and Spiked-Online and who wrote Austerity Ecology & the Collapse-Porn Addicts, an appalling anti-green screed that includes chapters titled “In Defence of Stuff,” and “There Is No ‘Metabolic Rift’.”
Frase and Phillips both advocate massive technology deployment in this issue of Jacobin — the former supports geoengineering, the latter nuclear power. Neither discusses the environmental, social and financial costs that such megaprojects would entail. If these are Jacobin’s advisors on climate change, it is definitely on the wrong track.
Ecomodernism is incompatible with ecosocialism. If Jacobin recognizes that and changes course, it can make important contributions to the fight against climate change.
I’ll keep my fingers crossed, but I’m not holding my breath.