On the big red sofa with a highly intelligent polyglottal friend after a smoking vegan roast supper, discussing the notion of pricing Carbon Dioxide emissions, with some mint tea.
She said “like, ‘the Polluter pays’ ?”
“Yes”, I said, “that ‘Polluter pays principle’; except it should be ‘the Polluter pays to clean up’, but it doesn’t work like that. Either the corporates mess up and the governments take the money and don’t clean up; or the corporates mess up, pay the money, then try to recoup the cost from their customers, and don’t clean up; or they get told to clean up, but they don’t do a proper job.”
“It’s always so much more expensive to clean up environmental messes than to prevent them happening in the first place. It’s a Law of Physics – Entropy.”
Entropy, for those uninitiated, has quite a few meanings, but a general definition that could help is “leading to chaos, by a process of gradual dispersion, in a one-way change”. The big example always given is of heat dispersing from a hot thing into a cold place. It’s near-nigh impossible to collect that heat together again.
I explained to my friend that Carbon Dioxide emissions are essentially for life. Each individual molecule of Carbon Dioxide may get hoovered (vacuumed) up after about 12 years into a leaf, or a wave, but this increases the “Carbon pool” in the “current Carbon cycle” from which active natural processes emit Carbon Dioxide.
One molecule of Carbon Dioxide extra in the air means a larger Carbon cycle, rather like the money supply expands in a growth Economy. And a large Carbon cycle means more natural Carbon Dioxide emissions.
That means that the original extra molecule of Carbon Dioxide is recycled, but that this causes extra natural emissions. The “fertilisation effect” of the Carbon Dioxide on forests is counteracted by higher levels of leaf litter decomposing and giving off Carbon Dioxide in the process. So the effect of the original molecule is higher levels of Carbon Dioxide in the air, for several thousand years.
It’s not really possible to think of ways of collecting the Carbon Dioxide out of the air again. It would use so much Energy to do that, and Energy creates Carbon Emissions, so…
“What about that technology they are working on ?”
“Geoengineering ?”, I checked.
“What about Carbon sequestration ?”, asked my friend, rather probingly.
I explained that once the Carbon Dioxide is out there, dispersed in the general atmoshere, there’s no easy way to catch it. Once the exhaust from 400 million cars goes up into the air, we can’t capture it. This is the Entropy effect. We discussed common-or-garden everyday examples of one-way change from order to chaos.
I said that Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is just an excuse to carry on burning Coal. You can capture Carbon Dioxide at the power plants before they disperse into the atmosphere, and then pump it into the ground, and it will hopefully stay there. The IPCC commissioned a special report on CCS in 2005, worked on by the big corporates, but nobody is doing much of it (hint : it’s expensive).
“Couldn’t they find a way to shoot it all off into Space ?”, my friend postulated, “Space is very large and we could lose a lot in it.” I asked how it could be possible to filter out the Carbon Dioxide to eject, and what kind of rocket would be required and how much Energy (and therefore Carbon Dioxide emissions) would it take ?
So there you have it. Carbon Dioxide is for life, and I mean that in the sense of “jail term”, rather than “Carbon Dioxide helps things grow”.
The Biosphere is taking up a higher amount of our Carbon Dioxide, but our total emissions are still progressively increasing. And there’s no way of catching large quantities of Carbon Dioxide out of the sky mechanically or artificially, chemically. That’s why this news in particular is of concern :-
“CO2 levels rise despite recession : Tuesday, 16 March 2010 : The average concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere continued to rise over the past year, despite worldwide recession slowing industrial emissions of the main greenhouse gas. Latest measurements from Norway’s Zeppelin station on the Arctic island chain of Svalbard show the median CO2 concentration reading in 2010 rising to 393.71 parts per million (ppm), up from 393.17ppm a year ago. While this increase is less than the average increase in recent years it shows that in a year where industrial production in many developed economies was well below par, global CO2 concentrations still rose. The International Energy Agency forecast that CO2 emissions would fall 2.6 per cent last year…”