Fossil fuels, the bane of environmentalists; and enormous profits for fossil fuel companies. Why is it so difficult to keep coal, oil and gas in the ground where it naturally belongs? Is it also a good idea to invest your hard earned money into it? So should Durham University divest from fossil fuels? Yes, they should!
We all know why we use fossil fuels and their by products. Heating our homes, driving cars, and buying ready packed tomatoes snuggled up in plastic are just a few things of many. Last February there was a debate to determine whether it is a good idea for Durham University to divest from fossil fuels. Before the debate got started participants watched “Do The Math”, a video by 350.org.
I want to focus on Professor Jon Gluyas’ case against divestment (as I am for Durham University divesting), specifically his piece “Fossil fuel divestment campaign is misdirected” written for University World News.
But first I would like to look at a piece in the Palatinate. I take issue with the idea that “academics’ jobs may be jeopardised”. So let me rattle my cage. It happens that Durham University is heavily into carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. That is probably why the university has partnerships with fossil fuel companies and is reluctant to divest. The concern is that fossil fuel companies will take their money elsewhere and in doing so some “academics’ jobs may be jeopardised”.
There is so much research to do in the area of green energies that academics need not fear that their jobs are at risk. The time is now for fossil fuel companies to invest their vast fortunes in green energies, it would be unwise of them not to. And I am not talking about CCS, which is not CO2 zero, as around 10% of CO2 is released into the atmosphere with CCS. 350ppm of CO2 is deemed to be a safe level of CO2 in the atmosphere, and it stands now around 400ppm, above the safe level of CO2 in the atmosphere, and CCS will add to this.
The article in the Palatinate ask the questions, “should this work be stopped? And if so, why?”
I will go back to Professor Jon Gluyas’ case against divestment to answer these questions. Professor Gluyas knows only too well the dangers of climate change, and it is noble to do research into technologies that will slow global warming, but CCS from what I can see will not do that. Any technology that involves the use of fossil fuels will mean these dirty, unhealthy fuels will always be dug up in one form or another. The best place for these fuels is in the ground where they belong, and the Professor agrees with that, so why not divest?
I gather that Professor Gluyas thinks that the best way to obtain energy security (until renewable energies are fully in place), is to keep power stations running (in the short term) with CCS technology. By burning the amount of fossil fuels in them that is deemed to be safe to burn (we seem to be on the edge of safe levels, extreme weather events are happening now), to keep within the 2C warming limit. Then transporting and storing the CO2 in old oil and gas fields (and/or oceans).
The big argument for continuing the burning of fossil fuels and the use of their offshoot commodities is always “economics”. The environment does not recognize economics, it just reacts to it when we throw a spanner in the works and upset the balance of nature. But governments adore economics so much so that they published a paper via the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee, about carbon capture and storage. From the “Ninth Report of Session 2013–14”:
“The cost of deploying CCS
26. Despite the potential benefits to the UK of deploying CCS, it is very unlikely to become commercial on its own (unless the CO2 is sold for EOR). The combination of significant energy and – in the absence of an effective carbon market–financial costs make CCS uneconomic.”
There you have it, CCS is “uneconomic”.
It is time to change and move away from fossil fuels and the technologies that keep them going. Professor Gluyas points out the benefits and consequences of fossil fuels, and it would seem in the Professor’s case that the benefits outweigh the consequences when he adds CCS to the equation. Fossil fuels, plus CCS, plus GDP (gross domestic product), equals global warming; and it is uneconomical.
Professor Gluyas writes “we have begun to experience the consequences in terms of climate change and the situation will get ever worse as we fail to act.” Yes, that is right but CCS is not the answer, CCS is not zero CO2 and it is zero CO2 energies that we need, and it is expensive. Wave technologies look promising, especially the floating kind. “Imagine then a wind turbine, but underwater, and not fixed to the seabed – these so-called “mobile floating turbines” are a cheaper and more adaptable alternative to big, fixed developments.” That is the kind of research we need, the whole of the UK can be powered by it, and it does not produce CO2, and looks cost effective. This wave technology may not put our energy bills up as much as CCS will.
If you give governments an alternative to fossil fuels by putting all efforts into cheaper renewable energies such as the floating turbines, governments need not be concerned with global markets. In any case all life should be above global markets. The world is in crisis, and putting people before profit makes sense. Hopefully at this year’s climate talks in Paris in December governments will be willing to enact laws to curb fossil fuel usage. Presenting CCS as a good option to meet future energy needs and curb CO2 emissions is folly, because CCS is not zero CO2, and is costly. Professor Gluyas makes another point that levels of “…carbon dioxide have risen. Moreover, there is plenty of remaining oil, gas and coal to ensure that, unabated, the rising trend will continue.” Yes, the rising trend will continue, it will continue with carbon-capture and storage! CCS will contribute to CO2 in the atmosphere.
If this technology is distributed around the world (and assuming poor countries can afford to buy it, it will be expensive), there will still be CO2 emissions adding to what is already there. CCS will not slow global warming with any effect, because with CO2 at around 400ppm at this moment in time, the world already experiences more droughts, floods, air pollution, heatwaves, bushfires, rising sea levels, ocean acidification and the melting of the polar ice caps. I could go on…
The Professor is concerned that “’Big Oil‘ is the wrong target”, and that trying to change these companies (presumably into green energy companies) “would not make any difference to emissions”. He argues that control would be shifted to companies in the world “oblivious” and “likely hostile” to 350.org. Climate change will effect them too. All fossil fuel companies will have to ditch unsustainable energies eventually, they may be “oblivious” but not for long. Whether they believe in what 350.org is saying or not, they cannot ignore their own senses and well-being.
Professor Gluyas is also concerned that we should not restrict the development of peoples who have not benefited from the “petroleum age”. Petroleum is a dirty fossil fuel that contributes to global warming. If you can call climate change a benefit of the petroleum age, these “peoples” do not need that kind of benefit.
The power that generates my electricity is wind, and the Sun heats my hot water six months of the year. We do not need to rely on fossil fuels or CCS for our energy needs if we get a move on with renewable energies such as wind, solar and wave technologies. And we do not have to be dependent on petroleum for plastics. Bioplastics seems a good route for further research, to obtain zero CO2 in the process and manufacture of bioplastics.
Putting captured carbon back into the ground (and/or oceans) is not the Holy Grail for our warming problem. Carbon capture and storage are not tried and tested technologies, not in the long term (and we do not have a long term). There are also problems with CCS. Oil wells that are not plugged properly could release CO2; part of the process that forms a seal to trap oil and gas can fracture due to overpressure, allowing CO2 to escape. Shallow oil and gas fields are unsuitable to store CO2, as CO2 could easily escape. The oceans can become more acidic. There is also transport safety, machinery failure, pipe fractures, the unknown and the fact that CCS is not zero CO2 to start with. Also geothermal energy is not economical and not zero CO2, and mucking about with aquifers is iffy. The floating wave technology seems cost effective, does not produce CO2, and can power the whole of the UK.
Carbon capture and storage and geothermal technologies, even working alongside renewables is unlikely to maintain a 21st century lifestyle. It is because of modern lifestyles past and present that we have global warming. If you have technologies that produce CO2 no matter how small, that still adds to the problem.
Professor Gluyas writes “Instead of condemning the fossil fuel industries, we should be working to change the attitude of governments that own the fossil fuel resources so as to keep those resources in the ground.” And that is what 350.org are trying to do, and other climate change organizations along with many many individuals who understand what is happening to our environment. But will fossil fuel companies lobby governments to keep fossil fuels in the ground, or will they just carry on as normal? CCS is not an encouragement to keep fossil fuels in the ground.
The fossil fuel industries have to change their attitudes. By continually providing technologies that use fossil fuels (even in the short term), these fuels will continue to be dug up and used, beyond what is deemed to be safe. That seems to be the nature of human beings, if they can turn a profit the temptation is too great. That is why we need renewable energies in place to make fossil fuels unprofitable.
No one wants people out of work but fossil fuels have had their day and much more. It is time for these companies to put their wealth into zero CO2 technologies, such as wave technologies for instance. That makes commercial sense, and it will keep people in employment.
Time is short, wave technologies can be in place quicker than CCS and geothermal, and could be cheaper and healthier for everyone. That is where your research should lie. Fossil fuel companies have been lobbying governments for years for their own concerns, it is time for them to lobby governments to get a move on with renewable energies. That is where energy security lies, so fight with 350.org not against them.
To answer the questions in the Palatinate; CCS and geothermal technologies are uneconomical, and there is a lot of research still to be done. CCS is not tried and tested (not in the long term), is not CO2 zero, and will take far too long to implement. In addition, accidents can leak CO2, and CCS could encourage the production and use of fossil fuels long past their sell by date. The work on CCS and geothermal should be given over to research on renewable technologies such as wave. There is a nice wear a stone’s throw from the university to get research into floating wave technology up and running. That is where BP should be putting their resources, and that is why Durham University should divest, to encourage fossil fuel companies to give up the ghost and go green!
We live on one world with no plan B, we cannot hop to another planet, and there is no room to get it wrong and try again. You have to be absolutely 100% sure you are going down the right path or we are all going to be taking an early bath.