Coal is a filthy way to produce energy. Everything about it–from extraction to transportation to combustion–has a negative impact on the environment. The good news is, the coal industry is dying. Finally.
Surely we’ve learned our lesson and can now throw our full weight behind clean, renewable energy like solar and wind power, right? Not if the United Nations gets to carry out a stupid plan recently discovered in documents leaked to the Guardian.
Three days after new analysis of biomass power plants are more polluting and worse for the climate than coal, investigators discovered a draft report from the UN climate panel that includes “a controversial new technique that would involve burning biomass – trees, plant waste, or woodchips – to generate electricity, and then capturing the released carbon, pumping it into geological reservoirs underground,” reports the Guardian.
Wait, what?! If the implied logic there makes your head hurt, you’re not alone. Maybe we’re just not smart enough. Let’s take another look:
“Proponents of the technique – known as bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) – suggest that regrown trees and crops might sequester additional carbon, making the technology ‘negative emission’ because it might reduce the overall amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
“It is part of broader group of geoengineering technologies to suck carbon dioxide out of the air – most of them experimental – that the IPCC is now forecasting may require ‘large-scale deployment’ to keep global warming below rises of 2C.”
Anyone else notice a few scary words in there? Words like “might” and “experimental”? Yeah, that’s because we know almost nothing about geoengineering–except that it probably won’t work and the side effects would likely be worse than whatever we’re trying to fix. Even these words are too optimistic when the technique is examined in light of what we already know about biomass. Here’s more from Mary Booth, director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI) and author of the new analysis mentioned previously:
“The biomass power industry portrays their facilities as ‘clean,” said Booth. “But we found that even the newest biomass plants are allowed to pollute more than modern coal- and gas-fired plants, and that pollution from bioenergy is increasingly unregulated.”
The report revealed that biomass power plants across the country are “permitted to emit more pollution” than coal plants or commercial waste incinerators, are “subsidized by state and federal renewable energy dollars,” are “given special treatment and held to lax pollution control standards,” and “markedly inefficient.” That last bit means they emit almost 50 percent more CO2 than coal per unit of energy produced.
According to the Guardian, even the UN draft report admits that “the potential costs and risks of BECCS are subject to considerable scientific uncertainty,” and the most recent UN report on climate change impacts advised that such CO2 removal technologies “might invite complacency regarding mitigation efforts.”
If we know all this, why in the world is the UN Climate Panel, a body that’s supposed to be working on real solutions for slowing climate change, pushing the preposterous idea that biomass and sequestration is somehow a good idea? Maybe it’s because one of the co-chairs of the UN report’s drafting team, Prof Ottmar Edenhofer, is a long-time cheerleader for the BECCS technology. The Guardian also hints at pressure from Russia.
Either way, let’s hope this report is the only bit of biomass the UN burns any time soon.
Image via Thinkstock
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