Carbon capture’s cost

Addressing the critical problem of carbon dioxide emissions is a shared responsibility. To cast blame on industry and government is to ignore the average person’s role in creating pollution.

Addressing the critical problem of carbon dioxide emissions is a shared responsibility.

To cast blame on industry and government is to ignore the average person’s role in creating pollution.

We buy cars and trucks, and we drive them too often, too fast and let them idle too long. We use natural gas to heat our homes and coal-fired electricity to light them. We indulge in consumer patterns that inspire a great many manufacturers to make goods at a remarkable pace, and ship them great distances. We take planes to lavish vacation destinations. We cook steaks over barbecues, and burn wood in fireplaces.

Yet the current discussion about the government of Alberta’s carbon capture and storage pilot project, and its likelihood of success in the future, seems to be focused on government and industry’s roles in creating the problem, how they will solve it, and the ultimate cost to consumers/taxpayers.

Nowhere in the discussion has it been made clear that personal consumption and personal choices are at the root of the problem.

When it comes to big problems and even larger questions, we are mostly satisfied to push responsibility up the ladder.

And certainly government and industry must carry a great portion of the burden: they have the resources, they derive the profit, and their political or fiscal survival depends on it.

Certainly there should be no doubt now that greenhouse gas emissions are a critical issue and must be addressed.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calls for an 85 per cent cut in emissions by 2050.

Global warming cannot be curtailed without such drastic measures, and countries around the world are examining possible solutions. Carbon capture and storage is being pursued in a number of industrialized countries, and Alberta seems intent on following suit.

To do that, a report commissioned by the Alberta government estimates that our province and the federal government will together have to invest of as much as $3 billion a year — and Albertans will face significant increases in other costs, including electricity and gasoline rates of at least twice the current value.

The push for a carbon capture and storage solution, and the presence of the new report, Accelerating Carbon Capture and Storage Implementation in Alberta, was driven by Ed Stelmach’s government. For that they deserve credit.

The report details the long-term cost of implementing technology that we are only just now testing.

The province ($2 billion) and the federal government ($650 million) are funding three pilot carbon capture projects to develop workable methods. In total, they would capture about four million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2015.

Alberta’s goal by 2050 is to capture, compress and inject 140 million tonnes annually into cavities emptied by the extraction of oil and gas in the province. The compressed liquid could also be forced into slow-flowing wells to enhance oil and gas recovery.

But all of this suggests a continued commitment to current — and inferior — energy sources. It’s a cycle we need to break.

It’s not practical to capture the emissions from every vehicle and home, compress it and store it. We would simply be chasing our tail.

So if the province is intent on ridding itself of the problem, rather than simply burying it underground, it needs to more aggressively fund alternative energy projects and research.

And if the consumer is going to take a role in the resolution of this problem, we must advocate for solutions like conservation and alternative energy sources (solar and wind energy). And we must make better personal choices that affect energy consumption.

If carbon capture and storage is the only solution, we’re simply not addressing the problem.

John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.

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