The “Fatal Conceit” in One Letter (‘carbon-negative’ power plants ready to go!)
‘You get what you pay for’ is a saying that is often invoked when the cheaper product disappoints. And when it comes to subsidizing agenda-driven intellectuals (versus open-minded scholars), you also get what you pay for–and way too much of it.
Such is the case in the greatly over-financed climate change/energy transformation field where the participants assume what must be debated.
Recently, the New York Times published a letter-to-the-editor under the title Carbon Capture. The missive stuck me as a problematic one in its public-policy leanings. And it (negatively) impressed me as an example of intellectual conceit,with both the problem and the solution being wildly exaggerated.
Here it is:
“Possibly Unavoidable Answer on Climate,” by Eduardo Porter (Economic Scene, Nov. 20), is commendable for its recognition that we are in a race against time to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
His confidence in nuclear energy as a means for heading off the impending crisis, however, is misplaced for several reasons, the most important of which is that technology is available that can be scaled up far more rapidly, cheaply and with no risks to the health and safety of adjacent communities.
Capturing carbon from air is now possible in a way that not only eliminates emissions but also reduces carbon levels and uses carbon for business purposes.
One such “carbon negative” power plant that I helped create is fully operational at SRI (formerly Stanford Research Institute) in California. Others are coming online and attracting investors.
Carbon-negative technologies are essential, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns, after years of policy makers’ procrastination. They also offer a way to transfer clean energy technology to developing countries, whose economic growth now depends on steadily increasing, disastrous use of fossil fuels.
New York, Nov. 22, 2013
- The writer, a professor of economics and statistics at Columbia University, is director of the Columbia Consortium for Risk Management.
Assume the problem and then trumpet the solution–but don’t mention cost. Economics and opportunity cost matter not when the earth is in the balance, right?
Wrong! How about false problem, false solution—but good enough for the New York Times to take at face value.  (One can surmise that the lofty credentials of the author, doctorates and publications aplenty, were reasons for the pass.)
Her most recent venture is the Global Thermostat (globalthermostat.com) pilot plant in Silicon Valley, California. The technology takes waste heat from a solar-generating plant and puts it to good use, thanks to a refined chemical process that (apparently) sucks carbon out of the air, before sequestering it underground. The fact that, according to Chichilnisky, they are able to reallocate this low-cost energy is key: other carbon-capture techniques have come unstuck because they consume too much energy to sequester the carbon, making them uneconomic. Global Thermostat estimated that its process can remove 5lb of CO2 per kWh of electricity, as opposed to coal-fired power stations which currently (in the US) emit 2lb of CO2 for every kWh of electricity created.
Chichilnisky’s claims her innovation reverses the “current paradigm” in which the more energy is created the more emissions are created. With her pilot plant she insists that the more energy is produced, the more carbon emissions are reduced. This is a bridge too far for many environmentalists who believe the only way to avert disaster is to turn out the lights – yesterday. Global Thermostat is the embodiment of the optimistic belief in a “technical fix” to global warming, but Chichilnisky is determined to prove it is also economically viable. “The first principle of creating change is you have to make the change profitable,” she says.
The technology, developed by “a brain trust of leading experts in the fields of energy, science and climate policy,” was put together by Peter Eisenberger, Chichilnisky, Edgar Bronfman, and Benjamin Bronfman.
Do you want to invest? Do you want the U.S. taxpayer to invest? Or captive ratepayers to involuntarily pay? A “no,” “no,” “no” is a reasonable answer.