Carbon Abatement - the Other Side of Alternative Fuels

This is first feature I've written in awhile, and the reason for my diminishing output is my engagement in two very time consuming projects, my report on oil shale and my participation in a project having to do with the creation of an information portal for carbon capture and sequestration. This same portal will also deal with the pursuit of carbon neutrality by other means such as renewable energy, improved energy efficiency, and various reforestation and sustainable agriculture projects which will fix more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis.

Given the rather scant attention devoted to climate change and carbon in this journal thus far, I feel that an account of my recent research in this area is in order.

Global warming gets a lot of coverage these days, but proposed remedies for dealing with it other than renewable energy projects don't get an awful lot of publicity. I'm not sure why that is—perhaps the multiplicity of approaches has something to do with it—but I must confess I didn't pay a great deal of attention to carbon mitigation until I was assigned to cover it.

It turns out that there is a hell of a lot going on in this area.

The Uncertain Future of Carbon Mitigation

It is no secret that most of the governments of the world have accepted the idea that anthropogenic (of human origin) CO2 lies behind the rise in temperatures we have been experiencing over the course of the past decade. The U.S. of course has been intransigent in this regard, ostensibly because of lack of scientific consensus on the matter, but actually because to admit the problem exists would be to open the door to regulation of carbon emissions. And indeed that is a very good reason to oppose action. In Western Europe where every nation is a Kyoto signatory today, several governments have already imposed taxes on carbon and carbon caps, and believers in laissez faire capitalism, including the huge majority of the Republican Party, view such developments with consternation and as harbingers as to what would happen here if Congress legislated on CO2. It's bad enough that legislation has been passed to limit particulate emissions and sulfur dioxide. Legislation directed at CO2 emissions would go ever so much further and could result in mandated changes occurring throughout the entire industrial sector.

Whether such legislation and regulation will come to pass in the U.S. remains to be seen. Assemblies of state governments in the West and in the Northeast have already agreed to act collectively to limit carbon emissions, effectively bypassing the Federal Government, and some local governments have taken similar actions. It could be that such local and regional initiatives will become a groundswell, thereby rendering Federal actions irrelevant. I wouldn't count on that now.

Currently, polls indicate that the Republican Party will retain control of the Presidency, and it is a safe bet that the next Republican occupant of the White House will not sign the successor to the Kyoto treaty. And even if a Democratic Congress legislates carbon controls, there is no certainty that the President would enforce them. Indeed, he might effectively overturn them. With the support of the Scalia Supreme Court, the next Republican President acting on the unitary executive theory propounded by Dick Cheney and Alberto Gonzalez could simply refuse to enforce Congressional legislation regulating carbon on the grounds that Presidential wartime powers permit such arbitrary actions. President Bush's extensive use of signing statements provides a model for such executive overreach. Such a crisis is by no means improbable, though the likelihood of its occurring would depend to some extent on whether Rudolph Giuliani or Willard Romney ascends to the White House. Giuliani strikes one as being more comfortable with such impetuosity and imperiousness. Romney appears more cautious.

In any case, carbon abatement will proceed apace elsewhere in the world. In some measure it will be accomplished by new technologies and new infrastructure, but it will continue to involve carbon offsets, the principal means for pursuing carbon reductions today.

I will have more to say about both approaches in the piece that follows.