Global warming: The Rosetta Stone of the anti-technology movement

Global warming: The Rosetta Stone of the anti-technology movement
September 1, 2001

James M. Taylor

James M. Taylor is senior fellow for environment and energy policy at The Heartland Institute, and... (read full bio)

What if mankind developed a simple, economically efficient method of sequestering greenhouse emissions? Removing man-made emissions from the atmosphere without harming the world's economies would be an ideal solution, right? Not so, according to many global warming advocates.

Oceans, forests, soils, assorted plant life, and even sand and rocks tend to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, reducing the effects of mankind's greenhouse gas emissions. According to studies by Princeton University researcher Stephen Pacala, America's forests, crops, and rivers alone absorb up to half of our nation's greenhouse emissions. Moreover, factoring in the rest of North America, our continent's biosphere absorbs roughly three-fourths of our greenhouse emissions. Through the use of modern technology, it may be possible to sequester most or all of the remaining CO2 emissions.

During the Clinton administration, Department of Energy Secretary Bill Richardson proposed carbon sequestration as a viable strategy to combat global warming. The Energy Department is spending $29 million this year to study sequestration, and is asking for additional funds in the years to come.

How to sequester

How would sequestration be accomplished? Doug Carter, who directs the Energy Department's Office of Planning and Environmental Analysis, proposes numerous options. According to Carter, the following alternatives are under study as viable solutions:

  • Oil fields: Oil workers frequently inject carbon dioxide into oil wells to aid oil recovery. The carbon dioxide is injected under oil reservoirs between layers of rock, forcing the oil above it to rise toward the surface. Currently, oil workers seek to recover the most oil with the least amount of carbon dioxide. "We'd want to completely flip that around," states Sally Benson, a researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
  • Soil: Plants absorb carbon dioxide from the air and pass it into the soil through their root systems. In agricultural areas, much of the carbon dioxide is later released into the air when farmers plow their fields. The agricultural and energy industries have devised a farming style that requires less plowing, resulting in additional carbon sequestration.
  • Coal seams: Much like the case with oil fields, injection of carbon dioxide into coal seams can assist recovery of deep coal deposits. Coal sequestration produces additional energy while reducing atmospheric CO2.
  • Sandstone: Natural gas producers in the North Sea off Norway currently extract carbon dioxide from the natural gas they recover and, instead of letting it escape into the air, inject it into porous sandstone 3,000 feet below the Earth's surface. Carbon dioxide can similarly be injected into briny water deposits 2,000 feet below the Earth's surface. Either strategy sequesters the greenhouse gas underground for eons.

What's the catch?

So, what's the catch? The catch is global warming is the Rosetta stone of the anti-West, anti-technology, anti-globalization movement.

Prior to the global warming scare, notes prominent American environmentalist Jeremy Rifkin, "environmental issues, and economic and social issues, could for the most part be addressed regionally and locally. Here we had a situation where the whole globe was affected."

For as long as global warming is seen as a serious problem whose solution mandates the curtailment of industrial activity, the anti-West, anti-technology, anti-globalization movement has a meal ticket for its ulterior motives. Feasible carbon sequestration as a solution to global warming destroys that meal ticket.

"Carbon sequestration could offer one of the best options for reducing the buildup of greenhouse gases, not only in this country, but in China, India, and elsewhere," observed former Secretary Richardson. But in a joint statement, Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund opposed this promising solution as a potential excuse for Western nations to preserve our industrial society.

"Sucking carbon out of the atmosphere is not the same as preventing it permanently from leaving the exhaust pipe or power plant," stated WWF climate change director Jennifer Morgan.

"Every ton of sequestered carbon that is allowed . . . would allow an additional ton of fossil fuel use," added Greenpeace climate change director Bill Hare.

Observes Christopher Dickey of Newsweek, "Without global warming, the growing protest movement against 'globalization' would be even less coherent than it already is. Because this slow-motion apocalypse can be traced to enormous multi-national corporations, who market the fossil fuels that generate carbon dioxide, it is a perfect unifying force for global protest. And activists know it."

James M. Taylor

James M. Taylor is senior fellow for environment and energy policy at The Heartland Institute, and... (read full bio)