Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Good News, Bad News on Greenhouse Gases and Energy

Today, I was preparing to post these two stories with good news about energy generation:

  • From NPR, solar and wind may be nice, but how can we store it? The answer, in this case, is a molten salt battery, explained in the story. It allows storage from solar panels or wind turbines for up to 10 hours, enough time to shift the power from low-use to high-use times so that renewables could become the "on-call" energy source to the grid, which now is provided by nuclear or natural gas or coal.
  • From Vox, Fossil fuel with no pollution? This company is building a power plant to prove it. That story tells of a natural gas power plant that would be able to "capture the carbon without a separate facility, as part of the combustion process itself, at no extra cost." And not only that, but it would "generate power more efficiently than conventional power plants, in a smaller physical footprint, with zero air pollution, and capture the carbon — all at a capital cost below traditional power plants." Oh, and it uses significantly less water in the cooling process, too. Which leaves the problem of how the natural gas is acquired — through fracking, as part of the process of drilling oil generally, with major leaks of methane into the atmosphere — but at least by the time it's burned for energy, it's greenhouse-gas-neutral.
But then I saw this story, which is the opposite of good news:
  • Hundreds of coal plants are still being planned worldwide, enough to cook the planet (also from Vox). Which sounds horrible. The story contains reasons for hope, too: just because they're planned, doesn't mean the plants will be built, first, and even if they are built, they could be shuttered well before the end of their "useful" lives. People in the countries involved are fighting the plants. As the story says, "The only way countries will turn away from coal is if cleaner alternatives become available that can accomplish all those goals." 
Which brings us back to the other two stories, since they may provide part of that solution.

In response to the Vox story, Dave Roberts produced this tweet storm:

The coming wave of coal plants is arguably the biggest, most pressing danger facing the next 2 or 3 generations. Only nuclear war comes close.

Coal - not fracking, not nuclear - is the most looming, most obvious, most dire threat to the climate and public health.

What's more, we have alternatives to coal and know how to block coal plants (through legislation, regulation, or activism). It's winnable.

...everyone should remember, when the choice is "coal or X," coal is worse. Always, always, always.

Coal mining is worse than fracking. Coal combustion is worse than natural gas. Coal waste is worse than nuclear waste. Coal kills more people.

It's wildly more important to shut down coal plants than to shut down nuke plants. If keeping nuke plants open can shutter coal, do it.

Plenty of reasons to oppose fracking, but if *climate* is your concern, it should be a distant fourth after 1. coal, 2. coal and 3. coal.

The grassroots battle against coal is arguably the most important social movement on the planet right now (though the left doesn't treat it so).

This is one reason I worry about the climate movement getting conflated with the environmental movement. The latter has a wide variety of concerns and motivations. The desert tortoise. Plastic in oceans. Groundwater. Whatever. Good for it!

But when it comes to climate, the concern is carbon, and if the concern is carbon, the problem is coal. Coal, coal, coal.

Coal is the enemy of the human race.

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