What are China’s Priorities?

There is somewhat of a standoff going on between all the countries in the world over this cap and trade emissions idea.  Most notably is the US and China as we account for 40% of the world’s carbon emissions.

So what happens if we cap our emissions and China does not?

First we should look at what China wants because this is a hard thing to pin down.  It seems clear that the people in charge in China do not put the same value on human life or quality of life.  It follows that they could really care less about the environment or it’s inhabitants and wouldn’t pursue alternative energy on the grounds it poisons the planet.

China does want to be THE new superpower in the world and if they are clever they will have figured out that long term growth will inevitably require alternative energy infrastructure.  China already has some alternative energy initiatives in place.

if we cap and they don’t we could put carbon tariffs in place but that might just lead to a large black market…

So until peak oil declines and coal reserves run out, China won’t actually cap emissions because it is a short term economic restriction. They will invest in alternative energy but like everyone else they will use fossil fuels to the bottom of the barrel.

Of course we might be told that they have capped emissions but like most regulations in China, they will go unenforced.

garbage river

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The Carbon cycle

Go back two hundred years

The carbon cycle has been occurring for four billion years.  Plants take carbon from the air and store it in themselves. When the plants die the carbon is either composted or trapped underground to become coal. Animals take carbon from plants and become oil in death.

As a result the level of carbon dioxide is the air has been steadily decreasing since life started to flourish.

Present day

We are putting all the carbon back in the air.

Perhaps a good way to explain the complex phenomenon of global warming is just to say we are turning back the clock, rapidly. The earth will find it’s equilibrium again but it might be a bumpy ride.

carboncycle

Who will stop burning coal? Transferring our Carbon footprint to the Third World

Nobody.

By most estimates we have used about a third of the coal deposits on the planet.

Led by western Europe, industrialized nations are moving towards a sustainable future.  Unfortunately this may mean that developing nations will reject sustainable technology in favor of the technologies we left behind.

With the rise of Nanosolar it may eventually become more cost effective than coal, particularly given our dependence on cheap oil for extraction.  Most likely we will sell our coal to countries that want it.

So we will all feel better about getting our energy in a clean way but is it possible to stop the use of coal?

US Coal Deposits:

coal_regions_us_reserves_1996

My question about clean coal

What happens when the ground moves?

Quick background on clean coal (many seem confused by the ads):  The idea is to pump the CO2 emitted by the burning of coal underground and keep it there forever.  The underground storage containers would ideally be already existing geologic formations.

Say we found enough natural underground airtight spaces to put all our CO2 emissions, at what point does it leak back into the atmosphere? The earth’s crust will move as it inevitably does and decades of carbon emissions will go up all at once.

We should start accepting the fact that humans will eventually burn all the coal and oil and natural gas on the planet. We should strive to slow the pace at which we burn through all the life that existed before us but should also realize that we are rebooting the carbon cycle.

All the CO2 will go into the air eventually and given the extremely high costs of underground carbon storage, perhaps we should let it go up now and focus our energy on dealing with the consequences.

clean-coal

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