The impact of anthropogenic greenhouse gases, emitted when burning fossil fuels to generate energy, are generally accepted and have risen global temperatures by 1℃, affecting climates across the world (Worldbank 2020). Even so, fossil fuel power stations provide 80% of the energy used around the world for heating, transportation and electricity (Shell 2020).
The challenge we therefore face is how the energy sector can meet constantly rising energy demands, whilst minimising the production of GHG. Carbon Capture and storage is a method of capturing waste carbon emissions from fossil fuel power plants and depositing them in a storage site where it will not enter the atmosphere, this is a new technology which offers a different route to mainstream renewable systems. Although all climate change technology has the potential to cause harm, as Brown states, “these potential harms need to be balanced against the innate risks of impending global warming” (Brown 2003).
Mitigate or Adapt
Within the scientific and ethical community it is generally acknowledged that we should take action against global warming by two methods, mitigation and adaptation (Gardiner 2004). It is also generally agreed that a large part of this should be mitigation as adaptation does not suffice (Stern 2008). CCS would therefore be considered as a form of mitigation in this context, as a retrofit technology for fossil fuel power plants to reduce GHG released into the atmosphere.
Using mitigating technology such as CCS is seen by Littlecott as a way of justifying our ongoing reliance on fossil fuelled energy sources and perpetuates an ignorant “business as usual” attitude, detrimental for developing a society with completely clean energy sources (Littlecott 2008)(Wuebbles 2001).
Although the world is moving towards this goal as it is capable; a global increase in population means, discontinuing the use of fossil fuels will have a negative impact on human well-being (Hughes 2009). The problem in this argument therefore becomes a question of comparing energy longevity for future generations by adapting to alleviating the suffering of current generations through mitigation. CCS would therefore be a technology to allow the continued use of fossil fuels which can improve the current energy impoverished societal groups and the general comfortability of the world’s population. In this respect CCS should not be seen as a barrier to cleaner energy sources but a step towards finding more time to achieve them.
Adapting fossil fuel power stations with CCS technology incurs an energy penalty, which equates to an increase in GHG emission. CCS reduces the energy efficiency of a power plant as it requires power input to compress, transport and process CO2 on top of initial installation; this means more fossil fuels would need to be burnt for the same level of power production (Rubin 2012). House et al estimates the energy penalty of CCS to the amount of “15-20% reduction in overall electricity use”, such a significant energy waste would be detrimental to developing countries, however recent researchers have identified CCS as vital to any technology combating climate change (House et al 2009)(Liang et al 2011).
Similarly a major disadvantage of storing CO2 is leakage, especially considering the long time period. Shafer suggests a leakage rate of 1% per 10 years would be enough to cancel out the initial benefits implementation would offer (Shaffer 2010); however, allowing 100% of the emissions to enter the atmosphere would surely be worse. Clearly analysing the inherent risks of new technology such as CCS, with accuracy, is a complex task and applying this to the public perspective even more so. Risks are heavily dictated by the distinction between objection and societal constructs, Huijets shows that people can accept risks with clear benefits depending on the perceived severity and irreversibility to themselves and friends (Bradbury et al 2009) (huijts et al 2007). Taking this into account applying CCS technology would have to find a balance between local immediate impact, long term risks to the environment and potential overall benefits to global warming.
As of 2019, only 17 large industrial plants have installed CCS. This partly stems from the research and development costs being carried out to the consumer, but since there are no strict policies which mandate the use of CCS, this remains high. The research period for CCS to take place is constrained by the limits set by de Coninck et al, who says “the usefulness of the technology is predicated on it being well established by 2030”(de Coninck et al 2009). Similarly to paragraph four, critiques have argued that the cost of CCS can be seen as a delaying strategy, so that the cost of adapting technology is left as a burden for future generations; however as Nordhaus states the current climate should be valued much more highly due to uncertainty in economic growth and human nature (Nordhaus 2007). Taking this into consideration,CCS would therefore be a justifiable means for research in order to reduce the cost of the devices to a commercial level and solidify the technology as an acceptable forerunner in mitigating technology.
As seen in the arguments above it is clear that CCS is a young technology, with an undefined status in the public eye due to a lack of research and media coverage. In order for fossil fuel power plants use a high cost mitigating technology the long term perceived benefits and intentions need to be clear, as currently CCS is not an option within the topic of climate change.
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