A Zero Emission Future?

The Paris climate talks—Conference of the Parties 21– recently concluded to considerable fanfare. The nearly 200 nations in attendance agreed to work to meet significant CO2 reduction goals. However, the true ramifications of talks are not quite so straightforward. In order to get this agreement there are virtually no mandatory requirements or enforcement mechanisms. The countries are essentially on the honor system, with the retribution coming from global shame.

The deliverable fuels industry tends to be more sympathetic to environmental issues than other sectors in the industry. The competition has marketed against oil as a “bad” fuel and the industry has more than responded creating ultra-low sulfur, bio-blended fuels that can stand up to or exceed the competition.

On the propane side, fuel marketers have similarly promoted the environmental benefits of that fuel product (admittedly often against oil).

But for those whose livelihood involves distributing a fossil fuel, or for that matter even a pure biofuel that still creates combustion byproducts, it pays not to get too excited about events like COP 21. As I’ve pointed out on several occasions, there is a core element within the climate change movement that does not see any place for solutions that are not “zero emission.” Ironically, but certainly not surprising, that same core has little interest in the only really practical mass scale zero emission technology—nuclear.

In order to meet what climate activists see as essential reductions in carbon output there really is little room for any emissions moving forward. In Paris, the Obama Administration fell back on its established target to reduce emissions 26%-28% (compared to 2005 levels) by 2025. The long-term goal is 80% by 2050. Other countries are committing to a similar if not more aggressive reduction scheme. The good news, I suppose, is that the arch enemy natural gas is no more a favored fuel than oil or propane. For example, as was recently noted in the UK’s Daily Mail:

Bob Ward, who is policy director at the Grantham Research Institute of Climate Change, said that to meet Britain’s commitments the days of cooking with gas were numbered.

He said: ‘The only possible use of fossil fuels that will continue is if they are used to generate electricity, but this will only happen if the carbon dioxide they create is captured and stored.

‘Gas cookers will be phased out, probably as soon as possible. I suspect manufacturers will simply stop making them.’

He added that in years to come some form of carbon tax putting up the cost of gas is inevitable – which will make electric cookers much cheaper than their gas rivals.

CCC chief executive Matthew Bell said: ‘For something like heating, by 2050 gas will be playing a much more limited role and a range of other technologies will have taken its place, meaning low-carbon sources of warmth – heat pumps and so on.’

Of course, such lifestyle changes will be extremely disruptive to the common folk. So far, the impact of climate change initiatives has been allowed to basically exist in the background, mostly absorbed by an ever-expanding national debt unless you happen to be a Kentucky or West Virginia coal miner. Just how strongly these initiatives will be supported moving forward remains to be seen, especially if it becomes clear that China and India have no intention of taking similar actions. I have my opinions on how far things will advance should any real pain become apparent, but for any of us earning a living relative to fossil fuels you cannot be dismissive of the potential reality.


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