Canadian politics have been riven and even toxified by the debate over Ottawa’s plans to impose a ‘carbon tax’ on greenhouse gas emissions (GGE) on all provinces lacking such a levy. The ostensible goal is to induce the use of less fossil fuels, and thus emit less carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4, the main component of natural gas and decaying organic matter). The proponents of the theory of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) assert that rising GGE will cause global temperatures to rise, ultimately, to untenable levels later this century. They urge governments and politicians to control, centrally regulate and tax GGEs – to save the world from a climate cataclysm.
Yet, even if you subscribe to the CAGW theory (see footnote), this punitive impost may be unnecessary. Technology and the inherent amorphous genius of Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand may already be at work, reducing GGE without even directly intending to.
A recent CBS program 60 Minutes informed viewers of a new technology that revolutionizes energy production, and much more. Xyleco, an American firm, with an illustrious roster of directors, including two Nobel Prize winners, has developed a multi-patented process that converts cellulose (the material that composes all plant life) into sugars, plastic feedstock, and, perhaps most importantly, fuel for motor vehicles, ships and aircraft.
Why this is important is that biomass is the waste of forestry, construction and demolition, paper and wood use, harvesting on farms, gardening and landscaping, household garbage, and grocery, restaurant and food processing. As very little is recycled into usable materials or energy, the CH4 and CO2 from the decay of the material is emitted goes into the atmosphere. Accordingly, millions of tons of this mostly refuse – construction and demolition wood or plant based excepted – is thus turned into the ‘stuff’ that the CAGW activists are so indignant and angry about. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, CH4 and CO2 from these sources represent roughly 27% of total GGE emissions.
If Xyleco’s technology, or other similar or complementary ones, start to make inroads in the world’s economy, conceivably most of the targeted waste would be converted to other materials or fuel, and be diverted from directly increasing the ‘dreaded’ GGE. If sufficient fuel is produced, it could displace a substantial proportion of oil and natural gas, or at least a large amount of the expected growth in demand – expected in undeveloped areas over the next decades – for fuels used for more motor vehicles and aircraft.
Simultaneously, prodigious quantities of natural gas are being discovered and commercialized by enterprising firms via fracking, and not just in North America but increasingly in China, South America and elsewhere, giving the world ever-cheaper clean gas for many years to come. Gas abundance could stop the construction of hundreds of coal-fired power generating plants in China, India, Africa; gas will fire them instead, with far less GGE.
New developments in batteries (zinc ion, vanadium redox flow, lithium-vanadium-phosphate, litium-nickel-manganese-cobalt; others), while some way off, could make non-grid solar and wind power authentically viable for many businesses, institutions, and residential complexes. Also, new wood building materials and techniques appear to be much more efficient and less costly than concrete and steel construction, giving good value for money for many office, retail, and even residential high-rises. Such buildings have the added advantage, incidentally, of using renewable less GGE-intensive energy. The materials also lock absorb carbon dioxide by their nature.
None of these developments are because government edict forced them. The free market system, human ingenuity, and investors and entrepreneurs seeking profits brought them forth as possibilities. Hence, taxing carbon dioxide is proving to be unnecessary; GGE will be an insignificant issue without messianic and draconian intervention by self-appointed green CAGW sub-deities. The great inundation-of-horse-manure scare of circa 1900 in London and New York did not happen; internal combustion and electric conveyances made equine transport obsolete after only short two decades of being introduced. Similarly, for those caught up in the angst over GGE, it’s scare is misplaced and could end more easily than it started.
Progress often occurs in erratic and unexpected disruptions; what is feared today to be replaced by yet another apocalyptic vision by the ambitious green central planners and taxers. While we should never be complacent, we should look forward with eager curiosity at and for new developments that can quickly change lives and make futures cleaner, safer and better.
* Footnote – Disbelief of CAGW theory is based on basic science, astrophysics and chemistry. Global temperatures are closely correlated with solar activity and the orbits of the sun and earth. CO2 is not pollution but a beneficial trace gas that stimulates plant growth. It is comparatively rare -making up only .04% of the atmosphere. About half of that .04% was already in the atmosphere before humans relied on hydrocarbon fuels. Most atmospheric CO2 (97%) comes from natural sources like ocean evaporation, plant decomposition, forest fires, and volcanoes leaving the human produced portion of atmospheric CO2 (3% of .02%) at an infinitesimally small .0006% of the atmosphere – equivalent to 6 pennies in a jar of 10,000. CO2 levels have little relationship to temperature in geological time scale records (500 million years plus). Shorter term records show that C02 levels lag temperature changes – the opposite of what CAGW theory predicts. About 550 million years ago during the biologically thriving Cambrian Period of the Paleozoic Era CO2 levels were almost 20 times present levels. Finally, the computer models at the foundation of CAGW theory predict warming where none is occurring. Against these facts, taxing and regulating human-produced CO2 has no impact on climate but will seriously damage living standards by unnecessarily increasing conventional energy costs.