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We’re not sure that George Monbiot is being serious

Summary:
Not just George Monbiot either. The claim here is that climate change is just absolutely terrible so we’ve got to do everything, anything that might help, right now:So the target that much of the world is now adopting for climate action – net zero by 2050 – begins to look neither rational nor safe. It’s true that our only hope of avoiding catastrophic climate breakdown is some variety of net zero. What this means is that greenhouse gases are reduced through a combination of decarbonising the economy and drawing down carbon dioxide that’s already in the atmosphere. It’s too late to hit the temperature targets in the Paris agreement without doing both. But there are two issues: speed and integrity. Many of the promises seem designed to be broken. At its worst, net zero by 2050 is a device

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Not just George Monbiot either. The claim here is that climate change is just absolutely terrible so we’ve got to do everything, anything that might help, right now:

So the target that much of the world is now adopting for climate action – net zero by 2050 – begins to look neither rational nor safe. It’s true that our only hope of avoiding catastrophic climate breakdown is some variety of net zero. What this means is that greenhouse gases are reduced through a combination of decarbonising the economy and drawing down carbon dioxide that’s already in the atmosphere. It’s too late to hit the temperature targets in the Paris agreement without doing both. But there are two issues: speed and integrity. Many of the promises seem designed to be broken.

At its worst, net zero by 2050 is a device for shunting responsibility across both time and space. Those in power today seek to pass their liabilities to those in power tomorrow. Every industry seeks to pass the buck to another industry. Who is this magical someone else who will suck up their greenhouse gases?

We have our doubts about that insistence upon right now. For we’ve observed that the target - 3oC, 2.5, 2, 1.5 - seems to get lower every time that capitalism and free markets, suitably incentivised, seem to be getting to grips with the claimed problem. We have more than a sneaking suspicion that the increasingly shrill screaming is more about abolishing capitalism and markets than it is anything else. If it turns out that - just to give an example - the experiments on making synthetic avgas out of cheap electricty in the Abu Dhabi desert do in fact work and thus make flying carbon neutral then some other excuse for curbing air travel will be found. So too with a collection of such processes leading to 1.5 oC being happily and easily met - the claim will then move to 1oC being so terribly dangerous so we must still institute global socialism right now.

But those are doubts. We do have a proper test here though. There is an available technology that would reduce atmospheric CO2 concentrations - iron fertilisation of the oceans. We know this is a natural process, wind blown sand from the Sahara does this regularly in the Atlantic. It’s possible to increase the area this happens in thereby sucking perhaps 1 billion tonnes a year out. The end result is more fish plus another layer of rock. The raw material is ferrous sulphate, so cheap that you’d probably be paid for carrying it away. A few thousand tonnes is all that’s needed, out of vast stockpiles available. Distribution is, quite literally, sending a ship or two out with a stoker shovelling it over the side.

True, a billion tonnes of CO2 isn’t a total solution - it’s about two Britains - but then nothing is a total solution. Any one thing only helps a bit, many things to be done to solve it all in aggregate.

So, people who were serious about we must do everything right now would be shouting that we must do this. In reality the environmental movement has made it somewhere near bureaucratically near impossible and legally impossible to even conduct further experiments, let alone deploy the technology.

A few years back we did go and talk to the people who did the last set of proper scientific experiments (no, not the guy making claims about salmon off British Columbia) and they indicated that yes, it works, it’s cheap (perhaps $1 per tonne CO2 permanently locked into rock) but there’s no legitimate manner of getting even permission for that further experimentation.

Which gives us our test. Anyone demanding that everything be done now, right now, should be demanding at least further experimentation with iron fertilisation of the oceans. If they’re not then they’re not being serious in their demand, are they?

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Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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