Dispatches from Fantasy CCS-Land

By Josh Ran

I woke up this morning to the sight of a coal train rumbling below my window and the image of a shiny new ‘clean coal’ billboard fresh in my mind. I’m here in Pittsburgh for the 7th Annual Carbon Capture and Sequestration conference to present RAN’s perspective on CCS – which, for those anyone with any remaining doubt, is that CCS is too expensive, dangerous, experimental and energy intensive to be a real solution to the climate crisis and that we have better options. My panel was moderated by NRDC’s David Hawkins who set the tone by summarizing Greenpeace’s fantastic report on CCS: False Hope (released today) – David’s message to the industry reps and academics crowding the room was that although he doesn’t agree with most of the report conclusions himself – they had better damn well get to know the environmental arguments because they’re going to have to deal with us whether they like it or not. Faint praise indeed, but to his credit I was set up nicely for my own presentation.

You see, the striking thing about this conference is how the proponents of CCS are, how can I say this delicately, their own worse enemies. More or less every presenter has agreed that the technology is expensive, that there are tremendous uncertainties, that liability is an issue, leakage is likely and safety is a concern. So my talk was nothing new until the part where I said that my team and I wake up every morning thinking about how to shut down all the remaining coal plants on the books. Because here’s the thing: CCS proponents look at the long list of problems with the technology and see it all being overcome by massive taxpayer subsidies to cover R&D, liability and increased electricity rates. We look at the long list of problems, and we add the oft overlooked fact that (surprise!) the coal itself has to come from somewhere and we see: a dead end.