Joy Casino Ап Икс Is Carbon Capture Essential to Fighting Climate Change? - Open to Debate
May 5, 2023
May 5, 2023

When it comes to carbon dioxide, last year was a record year. The world emitted more of the climate-warming gas in 2022 than in any year since scientists began recording levels in 1900. The culprit, says the International Energy Agency, is society’s voracious appetite for fossil fuels, and the need to burn them. So … what can be done to prevent dangerous levels of warming? One potential method is called carbon capture and storage, a technology in which CO2 is extracted and stored in underground facilities. In fact, as recently as February, Exxon Mobil announced that it will use Honeywell technology in Texas to capture some seven million tons of carbon dioxide per year. Other companies, meanwhile, have followed suit. But it is not without controversy. Critics say the technology is not cost effective, is unreliable in large scales, and that the level of carbon removal needed to help the planet is well beyond current capacity. As such, they say, it is a dangerous distraction in the broader fight against climate change, potentially diluting the urgency in reducing emissions. Others say these systems are ever more adept at capturing gases from the air, and that they have the potential to become a critical tool in the battle against rising emissions. It is in this context that we debate the following question: Is Carbon Capture Essential to Fighting Climate Change? 

12:00 PM Friday, May 5, 2023
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Background (5 RESOURCES)

  • 00:00:13

    Hi, everybody, this is Open to Debate. I’m John Donvan. And the subject is time is climate change. And no, this is not a debate about whether it’s a crisis or it’s something we can adapt to or regulate for. We have already debated those questions on this program, and I recommend you take a listen to those debates. They’re pretty good. But this one is about a particular solution for slowing down the Earth’s warming, it is called carbon capture. Now the name pretty much says it all, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere emitted by our factories and power plants and airplanes and cars is adding significantly to the greenhouse effect that’s heating up the Earth. We in fact, globally send 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the sky every year.

  • 00:00:54

    Carbon capture means using technology to literally suck that carbon back out of the air, or out of fumes and emissions put out by heavy industry right to the point where they come from. It is literally capturing the CO2, the carbon there, and either finding some good use for it or burying it deep in the Earth, where it originally came from. There are different ways of doing this. The technologies are already beginning to be used and others are in development. But there is a debate among people who are devoted to slowing the Earth’s warming, which is even if these technologies do what they’re supposed to, capture carbon, does that mean that they merit being used?

  • 00:01:37

    Now smart people disagree on this, pretty vehemently, in fact, and this debate is gonna tell us why. Here’s our question, is carbon capture essential to fighting climate change? So let’s get into it and meet our debaters. Arguing that the answer is yes, that carbon capture is essential to fighting climate change. Research Scientist for the Bureau of Economic Geology, Katherine Romanak. Welcome Katherine to Open to Debate.

  • 00:02:01

    Katherine Romanak:

    Thank you, John, happy to be here.

  • 00:02:03

    John Donvan:

    And arguing that the answer is no that carbon capture is not essential to fighting climate change, professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford, co-founder of The Solutions Project, Mark Jacobson, welcome Mark to Open to Debate.

  • 00:02:15

    Mark Jacobson:

    Thanks, John, for having me.

  • 00:02:16

    John Donvan:

    Okay, it’s a pleasure to have both of you for what we hope will be an informative, but also civil conversation, albeit, one in which I think the two of you are going to strongly disagree. So let’s get to it. We wanna give each of you a couple of minutes to explain why you’re arguing yes or why you’re arguing no one answer to that question. Katherine, you are up first. Your answer is yes, carbon capture is essential to fighting climate change. Tell us why.

  • 00:02:40

    Katherine Romanak:

    Thanks, John. Well, absolutely, yes, carbon capture and storage is essential for fighting climate change. And this is not my opinion, it’s actually the work of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is the global treaty, you know, where countries get together and they discuss, “How are we going to do this? How are we going to reduce our emissions?” And I wanna bring this up, because I don’t think many people understand how rigorous of a process they have for creating their roadmaps for achieving these climate goals.

  • 00:03:13

    For example, the latest report that recently came out of the UN was the 6th Assessment Report, um, written by the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And this report was actually written by 721 scientists from 80 countries, it was reviewed, uh, by hundreds more and cited 14,000 scientific references. And the summary for policymakers was actually approved line by line by 197 governments. So, so really, you know, with this rigorous process, you know that whatever comes out of the UN, they have done their homework.

  • 00:03:53

    And this is really important, because I feel like right now, in the climate space, we have a lot of opinions and misinformed, uh, rhetoric going around in the space. And we really ne- need to know where we can go to get trusted information. So I think that’s really important to know. So within the UN, there was six years of rigorous debate on carbon capture and storage between 2005 and 2011. And in 2011, uh, all countries agreed that CCS was a critical mitigation technology that needed to be included in the framework, and actually I was there at the time, I was there at COP17 in Durban, when the decision by consensus occurred. I had been there in putting scientific evidence on the safety and efficacy of carbon capture and storage.

  • 00:04:46

    And it was really inspiring just to be in that, in that place and to see, you know, the formality of all countries coming together to agree on something that could help and save the planet. So, so that was a, a great moment. And, and what came out of that, really, and what’s coming out of the UN, is that CCS is absolutely, you know, needed. We need it. We can’t re- reach our emissions reductions goals without it. We need to put it-

  • 00:05:14

    John Donvan:

    Can I just jump in to ask you to tell folks what CCS stands for? Just so they get used to that term?

  • 00:05:19

    Katherine Romanak:

    Thank you. Yes, carbon capture and storage. And in fact, John, you did mention a lot about sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere. But actually, one of the main, um, applications of the technology is to put it directly on the flue stack. So we put the capture directly on the flue stack of cement, um, producing facilities, iron steel, chemicals and energy production. So that’s the primary, um, emissions reductions straight off the flue stack. And then because we are so far from meeting our targets, we’re going to need to, like you said, suck it out of the air, and that’s direct air capture.

  • 00:05:57

    And for, for direct air capture, really, carbon capture and storage technologies are the only technology that can give us permanent large scale emissions reductions. We’re gonna need to use CCS for about 10 to 12% of our total emissions reductions. And the technology is not new, I hear it all the time, people saying that it doesn’t exist. It’s absolutely not new. We currently have 26 projects operating around the world, capturing and storing, uh, 40 million tons per year, and at least 80 projects moving forward global… globally. So we know it’s safe.

  • 00:06:35

    We know it’s effective, it’s ready to deploy. And it’s essential, along with the other low carbon technologies, including renewables, which Mark is an expert in, um, but we need them all. And I feel personally that to s- say otherwise, that we could, um, omit one of these technologies is not understanding the seriousness of the climate problem that we have.

  • 00:06:59

    John Donvan:

    Thank you, Katherine. So, um, that brings us to Mark, whose answer to the question whether carbon capture is essential to fighting climate change is a clear no. Mark, tell us why.

  • 00:07:10

    Mark Jacobson:

    Yeah, so I’m saying it’s clearly not needed, and it’s not useful. In fact, I think carbon capture increases carbon dioxide, it doesn’t decrease it. First of all, taking carbon dioxide out of the flue of, uh, of the, of the emissions stack, like say a coal-fired power plant, taking carbon dioxide out, has the same effect as preventing the coal emissions in the first place. So say, or taking it out of the air, like direct air capture is another type of carbon captured where the carbon is taken right out of the air instead of, and that has the same effect as preventing emissions in the first place.

  • 00:07:47

    So the IPCC, which I am a reviewer of, and I’ve contributed many papers to, uh, is a body that reviews previous work. While all previous work on carbon capture has made these really egregious assumptions that the average carbon capture rate from, uh, CCS equipment is around 90% or more, it’s made the assumptions that in many cases, that there’s no energy required to, um, run the carbon capture equipment. It’s ignored the emissions associated with the upstream mining of the fuels. And in addition, it ignores air pollution, which is a larger cost problem even than climate. 7 million people died today, worldwide from air pollution from the same power plants and, and refineries and other, uh, and combustion sources.

  • 00:08:37

    And that air pollution increases when you have carbon capture. So the problem with carbon capture is multifold. Uh, one, it doesn’t eliminate air pollutants, it doesn’t eliminate the mining of fuels, and it requires a lot of energy. So I actually performed the only study today in the world, uh, that actually examines data from a carbon capture plant and looks at the air pollution impacts, the cost impacts and the carbon dioxide impacts simultaneously. And that was from the Texas Parish Plant in Tex- that, uh, was a coal-fired power plant. Carbon capture was added in 2016, that plant… and it cost $1 billion, and that plant was shuttered in 2019.

  • 00:09:16

    Uh, the carb- what happened was, uh, this coal plant, carbon capture equipment was added to it. But to run that carbon capture equipment a natural gas plant was built, for the sole purpose of powering the carbon capture equipment for the coal plant. None of the upstream mining of the natural gas was captured. Methane leaked from that, uh, from the upstream mining. Uh, none of the natural gas plant emissions were captured. Uh, the actual first year carbon capture rate was only 55%. It wasn’t 90%, this… the average over three years was 65%. There’s a Boundary Dam Project in Canada the average over three years is, is 65%. Yeah, the largest net, uh… carbon capture project in the world is the Gorgon Project in Australia. Uh, over five or six years, the average car- carbon capture rate is 20%.

  • 00:10:04

    So if you look at all the actual projects, uh, the average capture rate from the carbon capture equipment is ranges from like 20% to 65, 70%, or is maybe 75% in the best cases, it’s not 90%. 90% capture is full load under ideal conditions for a short period of time, but never in the annual average. So, but first of all, it’s a back to that Texas project, they added a natural gas plant to run the carbon capture equipment for the coal plant. Well, when you accounted for all the emissions from the gas plant, and the upstream mining and the upstream mining of the coal and the low capture rate, the actual… and you counted for the actual lifetime, the relevant global warming potential lifetime of, for example, methane, over 20 years of timeframe, the capture rate over 20 years was 11%, and even over 100 years was 20%.

  • 00:10:52

    So it was 11 to 20% capture rate, not 90%. And that’s before you looked at what happened to the carbon capture, the CO2 that was captured. Well, that went to enhanced oil recovery, which 75% of all carbon dioxide capture today goes to enhanced oil recovery. That process 40% of the CO2 that’s captured during enhanced oil recovery goes immediately right back to the air. And so you’re only captured 60% of 11% and 20%. So that’s really a 7 to 12% capture rate. That’s ridiculous for a $1 billion of investment, and plus air pollution increased, you needed 30 to 50% more energy to run the capture equipment, all the natural gas emissions resulted in more air pollution.

  • 00:11:30

    So more air pollution, more mining of fuels, longer lifetime in the fossil fuel industry, more CO2 than if that money were spent just to replace a portion of that coal plant. So there’s no benefit whatsoever, I cannot see a single benefit of carbon capture, except to give the fossil fuel industry more life, more money, and to cause low income ratepayers to pay a higher fraction of their income for electricity.

  • 00:11:54

    John Donvan:

    Thanks very much, Mark. Katherine, I wanna bring back to you now, uh, a couple of points that I think I heard Mark say, one is that, um, he’s actually done a study. And let’s assume as, um, we always like to assume these programs that people who are on our programs doing studies are doing them in good faith and are doing them to the best of their ability. While you are saying that the United Nations has spent years studying this issue, and was extremely rigorous in the process with which it did that. Mark is saying, “Yes, but I have something new, I have an actual study from a, uh, carbon capture facility in Texas. And it is demonstrating that there are, uh, unintended consequences, less safety, less efficiency than, uh, than, than we’ve seen before and that has been demonstrated before.”

  • 00:12:43

    And I guess, my question to you is, what about having to take on, or is there a need to take on his information as a serious challenge, given that it’s, again, his, uh, assertion being that it’s, it’s new research, it’s a, it’s a new finding, instead of kind of finding that wasn’t, uh, ever done before?

  • 00:13:01

    Katherine Romanak:

    N- no, no, I, I don’t see it as new research that’s never been done before. I see it as, uh, a kind of, uh, a strange lifecycle analysis, because there’s so much there, I don’t even know where to start. So first of all, uh, okay, let’s talk about the flue stack. The minute you put the capture on the flue stack, you have to scrub out the sulfur dioxide, the particulates and the CO2. So right there, the minute you put the CO2 on the flue stack, you are making better air quality. So that’s one thing.

  • 00:13:35

    The second thing he’s doing is quoting the second of its kind ever in the world. And so we, you know, f- as far as, you know, global deployment goes on million ton, um, capture, uh… over million ton capture facilities, um, as far as that goes, this was the second one. So, you know, we’re learning by doing, by what we’re doing now is up scaling we’ve had this technology forever. The first capture that was put on a flue stack was in the 1920s. The first CO2 injected into the subsurface was in the 1970s. But now what we’re doing is… what we’re trying to do is upscale this in a way that all technologies need to be upscaled.

  • 00:14:15

    And, um, with respect to the capture rates, I mean, we, we, we know that we can get up to 95% capture rates, and Boundary Dam was 90%. And what he’s doing is he’s taking the downtimes for maintenance, and he’s saying that they weren’t capturing then, but when the, the, the facility is up and running all the time, the capture rates are above 90%. So I don’t know where he’s getting these statistics.

  • 00:14:41

    John Donvan:

    Mark that, that silence is an opening for you.

  • 00:14:44

    Mark Jacobson:

    So yeah, first of all, with regard to the air pollution, it’s completely wrong. I mean, first of all, there’s a natural gas plant that was added. And…

  • 00:14:51

    John Donvan:

    It… I think it’s hard for people to picture what we’re talking about here, when you say a natural gas plant was added. So the… as I understand it, a gas plant was added to this coal burning power plant. And the purpose of the gas plant is to power the process of removal of carbon dioxide from the, from the flue stack. Is that correct?

  • 00:15:13

    Mark Jacobson:

    Yeah, the sole purpose of the natural gas plant was to provide the electricity for the carbon capture equipment for the coal plant, there was no other purpose of it. They had to build pipes to go to the gas fields, you know, to get to the… from the gas fields to the, to the facility. There are… There’s, you know, there’s combustion emissions at the gas plant. Those combustion, uh, combustion emissions, they just meet normal air quality criteria, so there’s some equipment to, uh… but they’re still emissions of ammonia, uh, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, other chemicals from the coal plant.

  • 00:15:49

    Sure, they add, they already have sulfur equipment on there, they’re not adding new stuff. But that sulfur equipments does not remove 100% of sulfur. Just coal plants, even with diesel authorization equipment still produce a lot of sulfur and produce NOx there with NOx equivalent produced NOx. There’s even with particulate matter equipment, they do not eliminate 100% of particulate matter, there’s still pollution coming out of there.

  • 00:16:12

    But that whole natural gas plant that was added, that means more pollution from that plant, plus there’s more pollution from the upstream mining of the natural gas. And when you do mining, it’s a lot of… most of it, and 70% of natural gas is fracked in the US. So they have drilling equipment that runs on diesel exhaust. None of that’s captured. There’s no e- There’s, there’s just a lot of diesel emissions, smo- black smoke coming out of there, there’s natural gas flaring, there’s methane leaks. There’s just so much pollution coming from this whole thing.

  • 00:16:39

    John Donvan:

    I wanna be clear that when you’re talking about pollution, you’re talking about much more than the carbon dioxide emissions, you’re talking about carbon dioxide.

  • 00:16:46

    Mark Jacobson:

    Carbon dioxide is not a tr- standard air pollutant. It’s a greenhouse gas. So yes, so I’m talking about other air pollutants that kill people in the United States.

  • 00:16:53

    John Donvan:

    Okay, let’s let Katherine respond to some of what you’re saying.

  • 00:16:56

    Katherine Romanak:

    It’s just not true. That’s just not true. I don’t know where you’re getting that information. We have to scrub the particulates out of the flue stack in order to capture CO2. So we’re cleaning up the emissions. We’re cleaning up the CO2, we’re cleaning up the soot, as you call it, it’s the particulates. And we’re cleaning up the… and we’re scrubbing the sulfur dioxide out of it.

  • 00:17:17

    Mark Jacobson:

    Yeah, this is just absolutely nonsense. Fi- The… First of all, when you have a scrubber on a planet that does not remove 100% of emissions, it removes a portion of the emissions. Second of all, we’re talking about the natural gas plant, that is there’s no carbon capture equipment on the natural gas plant. Those are raw emissions. There’s no carbon capture equipment on the upstream mining of the natural gas. All those emissions are uncaptured, no capture equipment on the mining of the coal for, for the coal plant. All those emissions, including methane, carbon dioxide particles from the di- all the energy from the diesel combustion that’s going on. There’s no e- e- emission controls.

  • 00:17:51

    All the emissions from the coal plant that does have carbon capture equipment, they’re still SOx, not re-sulfur oxides, there’s still nitrogen oxides, there’s still sulfur… I’m sorry, there’s still, uh, mercury that comes out lo- lower levels than, um, when you don’t have, uh, like scrubbers on them. But those scrubbers are needed, in any case for… to meet regularish… re- regulations. You, you don’t have any… You know, there have been studies looking at what’s the effect of carbon capture on, uh, air pollutants.

  • 00:18:17

    Some air pollutants go up, some air pollutants, because of the additional scrubber equipment go down slightly. But that’s also an additional cost too. D- Lot better just to replace the coal plant, then you eliminate all these emissions. But let’s get to our capture rates. You said Boundary Dam that’s 95%. Again, these are full load rates, when you have perfect conditions, you’re running things at full load. Yeah, you can get 90… greater 90% capture rates or 90%, 91%, not 95%, as you’re claiming, but maybe 90 or 91%. But that’s not what happens in reality, the all projects to date, the ra- capture rate, on average is between 20%, and the best I could find is 78%.

  • 00:18:56

    John Donvan:

    Wait, wait. So what’s that? What’s the difference? Why is it sometimes you’re saying is 20%, and sometimes it’s up to 90% or 91%? What, what account to that?

  • 00:19:03

    Mark Jacobson:

    Because sometimes the carbon capture equipment is down sometimes where the… whereas the plant is still running.

  • 00:19:08

    John Donvan:

    But is the, is the carbon capture equipment down when the f- when the plant that it’s supposed to be cleaning is also down, or are those simultaneous mo- moments?

  • 00:19:15

    Mark Jacobson:

    No, not, not at the same time necessary. So the carbon capture equipment may be down, the carbon, the… whereas the coal plant may be still running. Sometimes it’s because there’s no demand for the carbon dioxide. And so they, they… because they don’t have anywhere to send the carbon dioxide. So-

  • 00:19:29

    John Donvan:

    Okay.

  • 00:19:29

    Mark Jacobson:

    … they keep running the plant and shut off the equipment.

  • 00:19:31

    John Donvan:

    All right. I, I wanna let Katherine again jump in to respond to.

  • 00:19:35

    Katherine Romanak:

    W- well, I guess what I’d say is, you know, every… we, we know that every single technology has pros and cons. You’re worried about the upstream mining of fossil fuels. What about the mining for, um, all the renewables that we have to do? I don’t hear you talking about that. So the bottom line is we have to make really good informed decisions. We need to weigh out what the options are and we need to do the best we can to, um, decrease these emissions. Fi- 50%, 60%, 90%, let’s reduce the emissions, we’ve got to get them down, we don’t have time, we’ve got to do it now.

  • 00:20:11

    Mark Jacobson:

    The best option so is to actually replace the coal plant with wind or solar. So when we actually looked at that, and you take the same money that you’d use to spend on the carbon capture equipment, when you use that money to replace the coal with wind or solar, you get more CO2 emissions than you would with a carbon capture equipment. So th- when you have a technology, that’s actually an opportunity cost, because it’s increasing CO2, compared to using that same money for replacing the coal, that’s not a good option. In addition to the fact that you’re increasing air pollution, and you’re increasing the mining of the fuel. So you have more land use required, and you’re increasing the infrastructure more pipeline.

  • 00:20:52

    Katherine Romanak:

    Mark, this, Mark, this just isn’t true because the I- the IPCC would not come be- behind supporting a technology that increases CO2, or increases air pollution. We’re only looking at the technology because it decreases CO2, it doesn’t increase CO2.

  • 00:21:08

    Mark Jacobson:

    It’s, it’s your… First of all, IPCC uses studies that are several years behind when it’s actually published. Okay, so it has… and when you ta- you talked about 2001 to 2015, I mean, first of all, this… our study that on this carbon capture came out in 2019. It’s not part of the, the past IPCC. And you have points in no studies that contradict this, there are no… there are none. This is the only study in the world.

  • 00:21:34

    Katherine Romanak:

    They kind of did what?

  • 00:21:36

    Mark Jacobson:

    Contradict our study that shows that you’re increasing CO2, you’re increasing their pollution, you’re increasing the social cost of energy, which is the health costs, plus the climate class, plus the energy costs.

  • 00:21:49

    John Donvan:

    I’m gonna jump in to say that it sounds like we might have reached an impasse on what the studies actually say at the moment in which studies have more validity, which I think is part of the challenge of this having this whole conversation, I’d like to return to that thought at the end of this conversation. But Katherine, I think I heard Mark’s bottom line argument, which was, “Let’s stop… Let’s, let’s, let’s, let the solution be move immediately or as quickly as we can to renewable power sources, wind and, um, wind and solar.” And I wanna ask you, is that a practical solution, or is part of the reason that you’re supporting, um, carbon capture that it’s not a practical solution in the medium term?

  • 00:22:33

    Katherine Romanak:

    So, listen, I think we all can agree that we need renewables to ramp up, and that we need to transition away from fossil fuels. But the, the, the real fact of the matter is that renewables have had a great increase, uh, recently, and yet our emissions are going up. So yes, absolutely, Mark, I support your work, you… we need to go out and make renewables happen. But the bottom line is such a huge transformation is going to take time, it’s gonna take at least, um, f- you know, we’ve had these transitions before, and they take time on the order of 50 to 60 years to make these transitions.

  • 00:23:12

    And so while you are going out and doing the good work of making renewables happen, what we need to be doing is using CCS, which is available now, to stop the emissions because the atmosphere doesn’t care where the emissions are coming from. We need to stop the emissions. And it’s not an either or it’s a both. And I think that’s the problem with your approach is that you think it’s either or, but it has to be both. Uh, the… that’s the… The UN Framework says over and over and over again, we need a wide portfolio of technologies, one technology will not, um, will not do it.

  • 00:23:49

    So we, we need to be working where we’re planted, Mark, go, please, yes, make renewables, m- m- you know, ramp them up as much as you possibly can. But the other issue here is energy security. The grid is not always stable with just renewables and we know that’s true. We need a little bit of fossil fuels with CCS to make the grid reliable. Like I was, I was in Austin during the great ice storm of, of 2021, and we were in freezing temperatures with no electricity, um, for weeks, and some people died during that. So we… you know, it- it’s, it’s almost even an adaptation measure. If you have a little bit of fossil fuels with CCS on it, it actually helps us ramp up renewables ’cause it stabilizes the grid.

  • 00:24:36

    The other point here is think about the renewables. Le- Okay, so let’s think about renewables during a time of climate change. So we’ve got sunny California over there, where we can put a lot of solar, great, but all of a sudden climate change happens and now we’ve had these rivers, atmospheric rivers of water coming through California, one after another over the last six months. So that’s something we couldn’t have known that would happen, and that’s gonna mess up our renewables in a time when we have climate change. So yes, we need renewables, but we need the stable grid, and we may need a little bit of fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage.

  • 00:25:14

    John Donvan:

    So, Mark, what I… to boil down again, as a layperson in this what I think I hear Katherine saying, and I’d like you to take it, take it on this way is, um, wh- wh- why not included in a… in an arsenal of responses, especially as a stopgap as time appears to be running out. And secondly, uh, in the sense that there will always need to be a little bit, she’s arguing there will always need to be, uh, a little bit of, um, of, uh, carbon based, uh, power generation in order to keep the system safe and up and running.

  • 00:25:45

    Mark Jacobson:

    It’s very clear that it’s an opportunity cost, and it’s not useful or necessary, all it does is lengthen the life of the fossil fuel industry. The problems with… You, you know, we can’t spend… You’re, you’re, you’re talking about an al- what’s called the all-of-the-above approach. The all-of-the-above policy is a failed policy. That’s where we just try a little bit of everything, hope something works. We have seven years to solve 80% of the problem. We need to transition 80% of our energy by 2030 and 100% by 2035 to 2050. We cannot waste time on technologies that are not useful or very… or hardly useful, and in fact, that make problems worse.

  • 00:26:20

    So when we spend in the fla- in the Inflation Reduction Act, you know, a good portion, I don’t know if it’s half or third or half is spent on technologies such as carbon capture, blue hydrogen, direct air, air capture small modular reactors, bioenergy. These are all useless technologies for helping solve the climate problem. I mean, I’m a climate scientist, in addition to an energy scientist and engineer, I built my own climate model. I’ve been studying climate for, uh, 30 years now. And first of all, the E-folding lifetime of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, when it’s increasing, uh, da- the data constraint lifetime.

  • 00:26:54

    When you look at the lifetime of carbon dioxide against data, it’s on the order of 50 to 70 years. When you’re decreasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that goes up to about se- uh, 70 to 90 years. So simulations that we’ve run ourselves find that if we eliminate 80% of emissions by 2030, 100%, by 2050, CO2 gets down naturally, by dis- dissolution of the oceans, photosynthesis, and some other minor processes by 2100 to 350 parts per million. So you do not need carbon capture to get CO2 down.

  • 00:27:24

    And CO2 is only about 45% of the carbon… of the climate problem. Black carbon is the second leading cause of global warming. Uh, methane is the third leading cause of global warming, and there’s nitrous oxide, there’s ozone, there’s halogens, there are, there are other chemicals that we need to reduce too. Spending money on a technology that merely lengthens the life of fossil fuel industry, uh does nothing-

  • 00:27:45

    Katherine Romanak:

    Okay, stop right there. I can’t let you say.

  • 00:27:47

    Mark Jacobson:

    … does nothing but damage the climate.

  • 00:27:49

    Katherine Romanak:

    I, I cannot… O- okay. So you actually think that carbon capture and storage is going to be something that lengthens the fossil fuel industry? You… Do you actually think that whether we have carbon capture and storage or not, is gonna make any difference to fossil fuel companies doing what they do? Uh, the… It has nothing to do with it. Fossil fuel companies are gonna do what they’re gonna do. If there’s, if there’s a reason that we need fossil fuels, they’re gonna keep producing them, whether we have carbon capture and storage or not. So why don’t we while we’re transitioning away, while we’re getting rid of fossil fuels, why don’t, why don’t we get rid of the emissions? The atmosphere doesn’t care where the emissions come from. We just need to reduce them as quickly as possible.

  • 00:28:33

    John Donvan:

    Mark. Yeah, I, I, I also wanna ask you about that statement, because it, it goes to, you know, we, we are a debate program, and we look for logical fallacies and one of them is an argument among the hominum, which means, as, you know, the argument is wrong because of who’s making it or who’s associated with it. What is the fact that the fossil fuel industry right now is interested in carbon capture have to do with anything?

  • 00:28:52

    Mark Jacobson:

    Oh, it’s very easy, because policies are set up, there are, there are certain laws that are set up that you, you can only, uh… will only allow certain technologies to be included in certain portfo- renewable portfolio standards, if their emissions are less than such and such. So if c- the fossil fuel industry can claim that their emissions are less than such and such, that then they can be included, and that can, uh… they, they can get subsidies and they can lengthen their lives, and they… so they will be able to run forever mining more fuels digging up. You know, there are 50,000 new oil and gas wells drilled every year in the United States alone. And there are 1.3 million active oil and gas wells, there are 3.2 million abandoned ones. The fossil fuel industry takes up 1.3% of US land area, and this is going to increase when… by the… you know, the… when you’re, uh, when you’re allowing, uh-

  • 00:29:41

    John Donvan:

    Okay, okay, I hear what you’re saying. But the fact that they’re allied with this does not mean that the technology is not functio- safe and efficient. Uh, in itself, it does not prove or demonstrate that.

  • 00:29:50

    Mark Jacobson:

    I’ve just told you a case. There’s ma- (laughs) I just, I just told you a study that we did that showed that this capture rate is much less than claimed. The study on the Boundary Dam Plant by, Plant by Schlissel, the Schlissel, Schlissel Group, Group show that the average capture rate is 65% in the Boundary Dam Project. So when there’s… they’re claiming they’re 90% capture rates, when in fact they’re not. That’s not, that’s… Then they’re using that… these fake claims of these fake capture rates to s- try to claim that they can meet these standards, or they can, uh… yeah, they can meet emission standards. You know, th- you know, this is how… this is… You know, the (inaudible

  • 00:30:30

    ) , and they can use those claims also to get, uh, you know, po- policies in place to allow them to get subsidies.

  • 00:30:36

    John Donvan:

    What we’re hearing, Katherine from Mark is, is, is, uh, is the sense that the, uh, the, the, the oil companies are, uh, have conflict of interest, a vested interest and great influence to serve their interests before the actual interests of climate, uh, change control. So your response to that?

  • 00:30:55

    Katherine Romanak:

    I just know that that oil companies are putting a lot of money into… to developing carbon capture and storage. Because people, you know, people that work for oil companies are normal people. They don’t want the emissions either. They are working to decrease their emissions. Let’s get rid of fossil fuels if we can. But what I, what I don’t like here is this lopsided argument that Mark has about all of… all the mining and the air pollution? And yet I don’t know, uh, um, uh, do you ever look to assess what the pollution is from the mining of the chemicals that we need for all these renewables for the waste disposal and the mining of, of cobalt and other, you know, um, minerals that we need? It’s like this lopsided argument.

  • 00:31:39

    The bottom line is, we need to reduce CO2 emissions. And we need renewables and, and, um, efficiency as the pillars of that. But we need these other technologies too. We have so far to get to before we can meet these emissions reductions. We need to be working together, not creating this competition and discrediting other technologies that are, you know, that are viable. We need to be working together, Mark. I, I support what you do. We, we, we need to support the other technologies that are definitely viable that we need to… We need to upscale everything right now. So that’s my answer to that.

  • 00:32:21

    John Donvan:

    I wanna get us back on track by bringing in some guest questioners, uh, who, who are joining the conversation, who are subject matter experts in the topics we’re talking about. And first up is Alexandra Kaufman. Alexandra Kaufman is an award-winning senior reporter at HuffPost. He has reported on climate change and energy issues from around the world, including from Brazil, and Greenland, Taiwan, China, Finland, the Netherlands, and others. Uh, Alexander, thanks for joining us, and please, uh, come on in with a question.

  • 00:32:46

    Alexander Kaufman:

    Thank you so much for having me and for debating, you know, such an important topic. Uh, my, my question is, what if not carbon capture should we be using to decarbonize many of these heavy industries, uh, that we can expect to grow, as we see a lot of, uh, new infrastructure built to accommodate renewables and, and other forms of clean energy?

  • 00:33:08

    Mark Jacobson:

    So, um, for steel production, there’s a hydrogen reduction process that replaces the use of, of coke or coal in reducing iron oxide to iron. And if you use green hydrogen, which is hydrogen produced from clean, renewable electricity, uh, and you use, uh, clean, clean, renewable electricity to produce the high temperatures needed for that whole process, you can reduce ni- more than 98% of the carbon emissions from steel. In fact, there’s a factory in Sweden right now that’s operating producing green steel and they in Europe, and many countries plan to make green steel, uh, pro- in the next few years, so that’s already, there’s already way to do that.

  • 00:33:43

    For cement, well, there’s an alternative geopolymer cement, there’s already an airport, I think was in Brisbane, Australia, that’s built from geopolymer cemented, firstly, no carbon dioxide emissions from the process emissions. But even i- let’s say, you, you have Por- Portland Cement as the main type of cement that’s produced and there’s a chemical… there is CO2 that’s emitted, uh, during the chemical reaction of, of in cal- with… from calcium carbonate. It’s a byproduct. So the question is, well, should you capture their carbon dioxide? I argue, no, I think it’s better because you need renewable energy to run their carbon capture equipment.

  • 00:34:20

    If use that same renewable energy, you can replace a coal plant or a natural gas plant, and not only reduce more CO2 than you’re gonna get from using that energy, that renewable energy to capture that carbon from the co- from the cement plant, but you’re gonna eliminate the air pollution and the mining and the infrastructure of the coal plant. So the social cost benefit is on the order of 5 to 10 times higher of using clean, renewable electricity to replace a coal or gas plant or some other fossil fuel process than trying to capture the CO2 from the cement.

  • 00:34:49

    John Donvan:

    Uh, I now wanna bring into the conversation John Quain. John is a freelance, um, science and technology reporter. He has written for the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Esquire, US News and World Report, other places for more than 20 years. John, thanks for joining us, and come, uh, on in with your question.

  • 00:35:05

    John Quain:

    Uh, thanks very much for this debate. It’s been really, uh, interesting and fascinating so far. Um, I wanted to throw to the discussion, um, elements from bioethics as an area of my, um, academic work right now. And in, in that area, I’m sure you’re both aware that the discussion is somewhat shifted in the last couple of years, and it’s gone from discussion about mitigation efforts to adaptation, in other words, in sh- in short form, we’re not gonna make it. So the shift has been towards adaptation, “What do we do now that global warming is a real thing, and it’s happening?” Um, so my question is, i- with carbon capture even at 20%, that sounds pretty good. If you’re looking at adaptation, isn’t it one of the only technologies or approaches to help us if adaptation’s what we’re facing?

  • 00:35:53

    John Donvan:

    It sounds like a challenge to Mark’s position more than to Katherine. So I’m gonna let Mark go first.

  • 00:35:58

    Mark Jacobson:

    You know, we have a limited amount of renewable energy, we have so much. We have little time, se- seven years to solve 80% of the problem. And we have… we don’t have like massive amounts of renewable energy just ready to go. So if we build a new wind farm, why would we wanna use that wind farm for Bitcoin mining? Why would we wanna use it for carbon capture? When all it does in carbon capture, all it does is take out some CO2. When you’ll get just as much or more CO2 by replacing the fossil fuel plant with renewable energy, plus, you get air pollution reduction. 7 million people die every year. It cost the world $30 trillion in terms of statistical cost of life each year for air pollution.

  • 00:36:35

    That’s a… The social the st- the social cost of carbon right now, you know, the cost of, uh, uh, of global warming to date is maybe 10 trillion a year, there’ll be 30 trillion by 2050. But air pollutions right now $30 trillion a year. That’s… People are ignoring that problem entirely. And when you look at the total picture, that’s when you see that carbon capture is an opportunity cost, it’s a waste, it doesn’t do any benefit from a social cost perspective.

  • 00:37:02

    John Quain:

    Just one point of clarification too, when you say carbon capture, you’re assuming it only means on a plant, that I’m not taking it out of the air.

  • 00:37:10

    Mark Jacobson:

    Uh, I’ll say I’ll put those two together, it doesn’t matter if you’re taking it out of the air or from a plant.

  • 00:37:14

    John Quain:

    Okay.

  • 00:37:15

    Mark Jacobson:

    It’s the same result.

  • 00:37:16

    John Quain:

    So the, the issue about taking out of the air is it’s going to be there, we have to adapt. I think that’s what some of the technology people are arguing, we’re gonna have to be able to take it out of the air.

  • 00:37:25

    Mark Jacobson:

    If you eliminate emissions, that’s the exact same thing as taking CO2 out of the air. If you stop a ton of emissions, that’s exact same thing as taking a ton of CO2 from the air.

  • 00:37:35

    John Donvan:

    How, how is that the same?

  • 00:37:36

    Mark Jacobson:

    So I’m saying it’s, it’s more efficient to get CO2 out of the air, to stop emissions than actually trying to pull it out here.

  • 00:37:43

    John Donvan:

    How is that the same?

  • 00:37:44

    Mark Jacobson:

    How is it the same?

  • 00:37:45

    John Donvan:

    Yeah.

  • 00:37:45

    Mark Jacobson:

    Because CO2 molecules, whether they’re in the air, and you take them out, or you don’t add them to the air, it’s the same thing.

  • 00:37:53

    Katherine Romanak:

    I completely disagree with that.

  • 00:37:55

    John Donvan:

    I, I don’t know that. Um-

  • 00:37:57

    Mark Jacobson:

    (laughs) Not CO2 molecules.

  • 00:37:58

    John Quain:

    Yeah.

  • 00:37:58

    John Donvan:

    Well, Katherine wanting to jump in.

  • 00:38:00

    Katherine Romanak:

    We need to keep it out of the air to begin with, because it creates an impact when it’s in the air. So if you, if you overshoot your emissions targets, which is exactly what John is talking about, if you overshoot your emissions targets, you- your glaciers melt, you have more global warming, you have things happening, you have impacts happening that you can’t reverse. So what we need to do is keep it out first and foremost, we need to keep it from even getting in there in the beginning. But like he says, because we’re overshooting and we will overshoot, we need to start developing these technologies to suck it out.

  • 00:38:36

    John Donvan:

    Uh, we have one more, uh, guest questioner and that’s David Kirkpatrick, uh, who is founder of Techonomy. And he’s now writing about climate tech and climate action. David, it’s great to see you again.

  • 00:38:45

    David Kirkpatrick:

    Yeah. Thanks, John. W- I, I really find it somewhat w- worrisome that the concept of carbon capture in the context of this conversation has been used only to refer to a very specific type of tu- tu- uh, smokestack removal, carbon capture, utilization and storage technology, whereas in reality, there is a tremendous range of forms of carbon capture, some of which Katherine just mentioned before, whether it’s enhanced mineralization, there’s ways of using agriculture with enhanced mineralization that have extremely long duration storage.

  • 00:39:23

    There is some very interesting work being done on biochar. There’s a couple of very interesting new startups working on technologies to sequester carbon using seawater treatment, and of course, there’s a lot of agricultural and forestry innovations. And I just wanna clarify because it sounded like Mark, something you said earlier would suggest you are in favor of all that kind of stuff. Am I right? If so, I think that would be important to get on the record.

  • 00:39:49

    Mark Jacobson:

    Yeah. So I’m in favor of what’s called… what I call natural carbon capture, trees that are land use, plants, reforestation, reducing deforestation, that’s a big one, reducing deforestation as well. But not synthetic carbon capture, which is adding a carbon capture equipment to a coal plant or any other industrial facility for taking it right out of the air, direct air capture or synthetic direct air capture.

  • 00:40:13

    David Kirkpatrick:

    What about enhanced mineralization in agriculture or biochar, for example, those two?

  • 00:40:17

    Mark Jacobson:

    Um, I thi- I think enhanced… I’d have to g- get m- more specifics on the enhanced mineralization. What you’re, what you’re referring to, I think that’s fine. I… Biochar I’ve always been not so great about because it does result in some air pollution, and I’m… my goal is to eliminate air pollution. So that I… that I’m not so supportive of.

  • 00:40:35

    Katherine Romanak:

    I definitely agree with that. Um, I think that the volumes of CO2 reduction are, are not gonna be as much as if we use direct air capture, but that doesn’t matter. We need it. We need as much as we can get.

  • 00:40:47

    David Kirkpatrick:

    My second question. And, and that has to do with this geopolitical dynamics that the developing countries have every right and even obligation to continue to develop. And in many cases, they are necessarily going to have to do that to some degree with fossil fuels, simply because of cost of logistics, of the implementation, et cetera. In my opinion, it is immoral for the West and particularly rich, rich countries like our own, not to be doing everything possible to remove carbon, with all the assumption that some additional fossil fuel burning is going to be inevitable, out of a pure global environmental just as point of view in those other countries. And I’d like to very directly ask you, Mark, do you disagree with that?

  • 00:41:33

    Mark Jacobson:

    I don’t disagree with the concept that we need to reduce carbon. But the, uh, the best mechanism to do that is to replace fossil fuel plants with renewable energy. Why would you use renewable energy to run, run carbon capture equipment, when that will result in more CO2 than if you use the renewable energy to replace fossil plants?

  • 00:41:51

    David Kirkpatrick:

    But my response to that would be, if you hold that view, you should be in Washington lobbying for global climate development assistance for energy plants i- that are sustainable in Bangladesh, in Peru, in Indonesia, which we are not doing, which our country is completely absent from doing, that we have not even come close, even at a, at a global or national level to meeting promises made in the Paris Climate Accords. So are you, are you advocating for that sort of big political and e- economic intervention?

  • 00:42:23

    Mark Jacobson:

    I mean, we’ve developed plans for 145 countries of the world representing 99.7% of all emissions. And our goal has been to get these plans out to stakeholders in all these countries. And, yeah, so we’ve… I mean, I’ve been working on this for since 2009 in th- in th- in these worldwide plans.

  • 00:42:41

    David Kirkpatrick:

    My question is the financing on that, where’s the financing for that going to come from?

  • 00:42:45

    Mark Jacobson:

    You re- you reduce energy costs by 60% worldwide and social costs by about 90% worldwide by implementing 100% renewable energies. So they will pay for themselves in five years. But to speed things up in terms of actually getting the infrastructure in place. Yeah, subsidies help from developed countries to developing countries. So that’s to get things and… at the pace we need it. The subsidies are really needed, uh, to get things at the pace we need it by 80% by 2030. But I do think that they will pay… these inf- this infrastructure will pay for itself very quickly. Because you reduce costs so substantially, you need 56% less energy without fossil fuels.

  • 00:43:25

    If we go 100% renewables, we need a lot less energy for combustion, like, uh, like ga- electric cars uses one-fourth energies as a gasoline car, electric heat pump uses one-fourth energy as a natural gas heater. So you’re using a huge amount of less energy just by electrifying everything going to clean renewable energy, that will save so much money just on its own, besides the fact that wind and solar are now half the cost of new natural gas.

  • 00:43:48

    John Donvan:

    Okay, I’m gonna jump in David, ’cause we’re gonna hit time but thank you very much for your questions. Now, I wanna turn to our closing round because I suspect you might wanna make that point again. We’re gonna have a very brief closing round of closing statements from each of our two debaters and Mark since Katherine one first in our opening, you have the floor now. Tell us one more time, why carbon capture is not essential in fighting climate change?

  • 00:44:08

    Mark Jacobson:

    Well, we have very little time to solve the air pollution, climate and energy security problems that we face. 7 million people die every year from air pollution. Global warming is a rising problems, energy security is a significant issue. But there’s really only one way to solve all three of these problems simultaneously, that’s transitioning the world to 100% clean renewable energy for all purposes. We need to eliminate fossil fuels eliminate combustion. So that means biofuels as well.

  • 00:44:34

    F- Carbon capture is just a technology that increases air pollution, it increases fuel mining, because it requires a lot of energy. And it re- increases fossil fuel infrastructure, and hardly reduces carbon, it’s always much more efficient. Even if you’re gonna use renewable energy to power carbon capture, it’s always more efficient to use that renewable energy to eliminate the fossil fuel power plant or combustion source, that will reduce even more carbon dioxide than using that renewable energy to run carbon capture equipment.

  • 00:45:02

    So there’s absolutely no purpose whatsoever for carbon capture equipment. Same with direct air capture, what do you do with the CO2 when you capture it? Well, it’s been claimed that it’ll, it’ll be sequestered underground. However, that’s… there’s no financial incentive to do that. All of… All carbon capt- carbon dioxide… Well, not all, but most, 75% of all, carbon dioxide capture today is used for enhanced oil recovery, dig more oil, oil out of the ground. That results in 40% of the CO2 captured going right back to the air. So you re- re- defeat the purpose.

  • 00:45:32

    The other use is electro fuels, where you use carbon dioxide plus other chemicals to produce some liquid fuel, for example, to replace gasoline. Well, again, you have the carbon capture problem, but then you have more energy required for the chemicals, for the electro fuels, you burn those fuels, or you still produce air pollution. So that’s what people are gonna be doing with carbon dioxide. Electro fuels, and enhanced oil recovery, that’s just gonna allow pollution to continue. It’s not gonna solve any problem.

  • 00:45:59

    John Donvan:

    I’m sorry, you’ve hit time on… your time limit on that. Thanks (laughs) very much, Mark.

  • 00:46:02

    Mark Jacobson:

    (inaudible

  • 00:46:03

    ) .

  • 00:46:03

    John Donvan:

    But, uh, Katherine, you get the final say here, your rebuttal, your final closing statement, once more on why carbon capture is essential to fighting climate change?

  • 00:46:12

    Katherine Romanak:

    Well, unfortunately, um, this position of the fallacy of just 100% renewables, it’s not working. It’s like we’re in a ship that is sinking, and we have five buckets to bail. And Mark is saying, “Let’s just use one of them, we’re not gonna use all five of them, just use one of them.” So I don’t, uh, I don’t agree in any way with that la- What we need to realize, first of all, is CCS is a waste disposal mechanism. It’s not an energy production technology. And so kind of comparing those two is a little bit like comparing apples to oranges. But in any case, um, you know, we… what we need to do is realize that we are in a climate emergency, okay? It, it definitely is.

  • 00:46:57

    And we don’t want to fall prey to biased rhetoric. Okay, we need to make informed choices, we need to look to the IPCC and the UNFCCC, we need to ca- we need to make sure that we are, you know, keeping them… ourselves informed, and thinking logically, and without too much emotion, we’ve got to try to come to the plans that are gonna work. We’ve got to definitely keep up the pressure towards divestment and transition away from fossil fuels. But while that’s happening, let’s take out the trash. Okay?

  • 00:47:31

    We need policies that are gonna incentivize carbon capture and storage like it did for, uh, sulfur dioxide. It’s a waste disposal mechanism. There’s, there… You’re right. There is no, um, economic value for it, but we have to make it happen. So while we’re are… while we are implementing these rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society, let’s take out the trash. Let’s do what Mark wants, let’s try to get as much renewables as we can. But in the meantime, we’ve got to reduce CO2 emissions, and carbon capture and storage is a viable, safe available technology to do that.

  • 00:48:13

    John Donvan:

    And that’s a wrap on our debate. I wanna thank our guest questioners, Alexander Kaufman, John Quain, and David Kirkpatrick. But I mostly wanna thank our debaters, Katherine, and Mark, thank you so much for taking on for what I think is most of us a technical topic, and making it understandable and also bringing your passion to it. I think it’s clear that two of you come to this in good faith as much as you might disagree. You know, as a nonprofit, our work to combat extreme polarization through civil and respectful debate is generously funded by listeners like you, The Rosenkranz Foundation and supporters of Open to Debate.

  • 00:48:46

    Open to Debate is also made possible by a generous grant from the Laura and Gary Lauder Venture Philanthropy Fund. Robert Rosenkranz is our chairman, Claire Connor is CEO, Lia Matthow was our chief content officer, Julia Melfi and Marlette Sandoval are our producers. Gabrielle Iannucelli is our social media and digital platforms coordinator. Andrew Lipson is head of production. Max Fulton is our production coordinator. Damon Whittemore is our radio producer, and Raven Baker is events and operations manager. Our theme music is by Alex Clement. I’m your host, John Donvan, we’ll see you next time.

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