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Out of sight out of mind is not the answer to carbon emissions

By Anita O'Callaghan - posted Thursday, 2 October 2008

Kevin Rudd has admitted that so far, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) work has been “deeply disappointing”.

Disappointing? This was the bungee cord that was going to rescue us from dangerous climate change, and that Kevin Rudd and Penny Wong hope will break society's “free fall”.

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) was the jewel in the crown of the Federal Government's global warming strategy, recently being given $100 million of taxpayers’ money, yet it has been rapidly losing its sparkle.


Not a single light globe in the world is powered by coal with Carbon Capture and Storage technology today. The most prominent CCS project in Australia, BP's project at Kwinana in WA, was shelved in May after two years of investigation, costing millions of dollars. Gas "chimneys" made it virtually impossible to contain the CO2 under the sea floor. Similarly in the US, the “FutureGen” CCS project was branded “NeverGen” by energy insiders, according to Power Magazine.

Yet the Australian Government continues to push carbon capture and storage internationally as if nothing was wrong, partnering up last week with Norway and Britain to form a new international carbon capture and storage institute.

Like a dealer of fake jewellery or defective bungee equipment, Kevin Rudd is promoting the technology CCS to the rest of the world in the hope that it will rapidly reduce the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere - but in reality it is enabling the continuation of our dangerous global warming “free fall”.

Rudd believes that CCS will beat the odds and rapidly come on line to rescue us. In any conventional moral framework, this behaviour would be considered reckless, if not criminal.

The problem with CCS is its inherent instability. Carbon is stored in gaseous form under the ground or in the sea. As my friend Steve says, “there's only so long you can keep a fart under a doona”.

In order to maintain the Earth's life support systems, we must prevent global warming from spiralling out of control. This means both reducing the carbon intensity of our economic activity and capturing carbon in a stable, (preferably solid) form to reduce its atmospheric concentration. In reducing emissions we need to aim for a complete turnaround: not merely decelerating, but REVERSING the direction of atmospheric carbon production.


Bungee cords that allow for 180 degree changes in direction are supposed to be designed with technical competence. To achieve a turnaround in carbon emissions this would mean adequately powerful legislation, sensible incentives and proven technologies that break our free fall and allow society to bounce back safely.

All of the money currently being channelled into CCS research - those black holes of hot air - must be directed rapidly into proven technologies that extract and stabilise gaseous carbon such as bio char, restorative agriculture and forestry.

Good old 1980's environmentalism taught us there is no such thing as an “out there” to throw things. Carbon Capture and Storage is based on an “out of sight out of mind” view of waste.

This is the “teenage boy” solution to cleaning the mess in the room - throwing it all in the cupboard where the doors will open from the weight of all the junk. These irresponsible solutions come back to hurt us. The cupboard becomes full and when the doors do open from the strain of the junk, everything falls on top of you.

Humanity will only clean up its carbon emissions permanently if we devise systems that work: a stable storage and long term recycling system that functions effectively. A teenage boy's bedroom will only be cleaned if he devises a workable system: a place for everything. A bungee jumper can only bounce back from free fall by using a bungee cord that works.

And black holes that capture carbon may enable freefall a little longer, but still lead to a crash at the end.

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About the Author

Anita O'Callaghan is a member of the Australian Student Environment Network and the Zero Emissions Network.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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