Carbon dioxide removal sucks. There are better ways to tackle global warming

November 13, 2020

Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) systems, touted as techno-fixes for global warming, usually put more greenhouse gases into the air than they take out, a study published last month has confirmed.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS), which grabs carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by coal- or gas-fired power stations, and then uses it for enhanced oil recovery (EOR), emits between 1.4 and 4.7 tonnes of the gas for each tonne removed, the article shows.

Direct air capture (DAC), which sucks CO2 from the atmosphere, emits 1.4-3.5 tonnes for

Biological carbon removal: a forest in Turkey. Photo: Fagus/ wikimedia

each tonne it recovers, mostly from fossil fuels used to power the handful of existing projects.

If DAC was instead powered by renewable electricity – as its supporters claim it should be – it would wolf down other natural resources.

And things get worse at large scale.

To capture 1 gigatonne of CO2 (1 GtCO2, just one-fortieth of current global CO2 emissions) would need nearly twice the amount of wind and solar electricity now produced globally. The equipment would need a land area bigger than the island of Sri Lanka and a vast network of pipelines and underground storage facilities. (See endnote 1.)

Claims made that CCS could be “green” – by generating the energy from biofuels, and/or storing the carbon instead of using it for oil production – do not stand up to scrutiny either, the article shows.

The paper – “Assessing Carbon Capture: public policy, science and societal need”, by Read the rest of this entry »


Hydrogen for homes is a terrible idea. We should fight it

October 30, 2020

A plan to pipe hydrogen, instead of natural gas, to millions of UK households is being pushed hard by the fossil fuel industry. It sounds “green” – but could wreck efforts to make homes truly zero carbon, using insulation and electric heat pumps.

Oil and gas companies support switching the gas grid to hydrogen, as a survival option in case of decarbonisation, as hydrogen is usually fabricated from gas.

But the hydrogen strategy cuts across the approach recommended for years by housing

The gas grid: better to replace it with heat pumps. Photo by Ran-Allen / Creative Commons

policy wonks and architects: to use insulation to slash the amount of heat needed, and install electric pumps (which work like fridges in reverse).

Leeds Trades Union Council (TUC) last month launched a campaign in favour of retrofitting homes with high-quality insulation and heat pumps.

It’s an issue many people can unite around – those fighting for better housing and tenants’ rights, campaigners against fuel poverty, trades unionists fighting building industry cuts, and all of us who want to tackle climate change.

And there’s a choice to be made we cannot avoid.

If the gas grid is switched to hydrogen, that will block for good the electrification-and insulation approach, that heats homes better, more cheaply, with technology that we know works, and is truly zero-carbon. We cannot have it both ways.

We will be locked into extra dependency on fossil fuels, instead of speeding the shift away from them.

That gas-to-hydrogen switch is being planned in north-east England by Northern Gas Networks (NGN): its H21 project would convert 3.7 million homes and businesses by Read the rest of this entry »


India climate crisis: this is about capitalism and inequality

October 6, 2020

Global warming is upsetting the monsoon, making droughts more likely, and changing the lives of hundreds of millions of Indians, writes NAGRAJ ADVE, in a guest post based on his pamphlet, Global Warming in the Indian Context.  

The average sea level rise worldwide over 2016-2020 was nearly half a centimetre per year, says the United in Science 2020 report, published last month by the World Meteorological

Photo: Fridays for Future Guwahati

Organisation (WMO), Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other scientific institutions.

The rate of sea level rise is now significantly higher than the 20th century average, largely due to the loss of ice from the great ice sheets on Antarctica and Greenland, besides warmer ocean waters expanding.

Reading the United in Science 2020 report made me think about sea level rise in terms of centimetres rather than millimetres – for the first time in the 15 years that I have been engaging with the climate crisis.

The impact of rising waters in the Indian sub-continent is one of the many issues covered in a new edition of my pamphlet, Global Warming in the Indian Context, published today by People & Nature.  I have updated the pamphlet – which was first published on People & Nature in June 2016 – to highlight many things about the climate crisis that have changed since then.

But the first thing to emphasise is that the social context in which climate change hits people in India is very different from that in the UK or mainland Europe.

■ In India, 650 million people rely on agriculture or related occupations; the average landholding per household is merely 2.5 acres, and half the area is under key crops such as rice and wheat;

■ Millions of small and marginal farmers have no access to irrigation, are entirely dependent on the rain, and hence more vulnerable to climatic changes; and

■ In the world’s most disastrous Covid-induced lockdown, 120 million people have lost their jobs or livelihoods – and there is no sign of economic recovery in sight.

Extreme climatic events have been getting more intense and frequent in India (and worldwide) in recent years – particularly extreme rainfall events. These result in floods, loss Read the rest of this entry »


South Africa: ‘climate change intensifies gender-based violence’

September 1, 2020

This guest post is by ORTHALIA KUNENE, a South African writer and grass-roots activist in her community with Extinction Rebellion (XR) South Africa. It is based on a talk she gave at a zoom session last month, organised by Extinction Rebellion Greenwich (UK).

Global warming isn’t simply going to destroy our communities – it is also going to be a serious intensifier of violence against women and girls.

I am a feminist, an African feminist to be exact. African feminism acknowledges Africa’s historical colonial realities. Hence, our battle is twofold: to dismantle patriarchal capitalism and to dismantle neoliberalism.

I grew up in an environment that normalised the oppression of women, and I only realised later in life that I, like so many black women in my country, fell into the demographic that

A climate policy protest in South Africa

unfortunately suffers the most – because the reality is that global capitalism has placed women, especially black women, at the bottom of the economic system.

Climate change is a direct product of the patriarchal capitalist economic model, which is built on the destruction and exploitation of human and natural resources. The oppression of women through control of women’s bodies, minds, and labour is part and parcel of this system.

As Africa still bears the horrifying scars of gender-based violence, alongside Covid-19, climate change has placed African women in the eye of the storm. Gender-based violence Read the rest of this entry »


China’s coal-fuelled boom: the man who cried “stop”

April 30, 2020

Download this article (and the linked one) as a PDF

“We can no longer act on nature with impunity.” The “classic” model of economic development “poses a threat to humanity’s very existence”. China needs a new development model, based on renewable resources used effectively and sustainably, that will be built on the old model’s ruins.

Deng Yingtao, a high-profile Chinese economist, made this call to action thirty years ago in his book A New Development Model and China’s Future.[1] Its message was ignored by the political leaders it was addressed to. In this review article, I will consider why.

In the 1990s, the Chinese Communist party leadership prioritised expansion of export-focused manufacturing industry. The industrial boom really took off in the 2000s, fuelled by mountains of coal – the classic unsustainable resource.

In every year since 2011, China has consumed more coal than the rest of the world put together;

Steelmaking is one of China’s coal-hungry industries

more coal than the entire world used annually in the early 1980s; and more than twice what all the rich countries together used annually in the mid 1960s, during their own coal-fired boom.[2]

The primary beneficiaries of this economic model are not China’s 1.3 billion people. The big fuel users are in China’s giant east-coast manufacturing belt – which produces, in the first place, energy-intensive goods for export to rich countries: steel bars, cement, chemical products, agricultural fertilisers and electronics products. Household fuel consumption remains extremely low.

This level of fossil fuel use can not go on, not in China and not anywhere else, without courting the most horrendous dangers brought about by global warming.

Deng Yingtao made a compelling argument against going down this road, BEFORE the decisions were made.

In the Introduction to his book, he pointed to the yawning gap between rich and poor countries; the multinational companies’ rising power; and the damage done to the global south by capitalist boom-and-bust.

The “classic” development model had led to “a world economy dominated by the developed West Read the rest of this entry »


China: reform economists who sought the road not taken

April 30, 2020

Download this article (and the linked one) as a PDF

Deng Yingtao, who in the 1990s called on China to reject the western-oriented industrial development model, was neither a dissident nor an environmentalist. As a senior economist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, he first made his mark in the late 1970s, in debates about reforming agriculture. (See MAIN ARTICLE about Deng’s work here.)

Deng’s father, Deng Liqun, was high up in the Chinese Communist party. He joined it in 1936, and served as a military leader, both before the revolution of 1949 and in the suppression of revolts in western China in the 1950s.

In the 1970s, during the cultural revolution, Deng senior, like many leading and middle-ranking Communists, was sent to the countryside. He worked in Henan province. There his son Deng Yingtao

Farmer with buffalo, 2007. Photo: Andy Siitonen / Creative commons

met Chen Yizi: their discussions about how the collective farm system obstructed the development of agriculture started a long collaboration.

Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, the purge of the Maoist “gang of four” that followed, and Deng Xiaoping’s emergence as the undisputed party leader in 1978, marked a big political turning-point. The cultural revolution was repudiated.

A “Beijing spring” was declared, allowing open political discussion that had been impossible under Mao. The “four modernisations” (economy, agriculture, science and defence) reform policy was adopted; the use of market mechanisms and some opening-up to capitalism were key elements.

At the top of the party, Deng Xiaoping sidelined Hua Guofeng, Mao’s obvious successor. In the ranks, intellectuals and officials who had been sent to the countryside returned to Beijing – including Deng Yingtao and Chen Yizi.[1] Along with Wang Xiaoqiang, Deng and Chen became central figures in a group of reform economists who in 1979 began to meet on weekends in parks and empty offices in Read the rest of this entry »


Coronavirus, economic crash and climate change: this could go either way

April 28, 2020

Download this article as a PDF here

The coronavirus pandemic has given human society a jolt, sent the world economy into depression – and is producing what looks like the sharpest-ever cut in the level of greenhouse gas emissions.

Is this going to help or hinder us in tackling climate change in the coming years and decades? Will it speed up or slow down the transition away from fossil fuels?

It could go either way, in my view. It depends on what governments do – but also on what

American health workers’ picket line. Photo: Elizabeth Lalasz / Labor Notes

society does, what we all do. This is a question with many moving parts, and below I list 12 of them.

A couple of themes run through all the parts. On one hand, capitalism thrives by emerging from the crises it has created; its powerful drivers endlessly seek new ways of producing, profiteering and exploiting. We will be up against that logic, whatever happens.

On the other hand, those crises – and the pandemic, with the resulting economic chaos, certainly counts as one of the greatest – produce glimpses of how we could live differently. They contain the possibilities of futures free of capitalism, in which we can take effective strides away from the wretched fossil-fuelled economy.

  1. The historical analogies are not comforting. Past economic crashes gave way to accelerated economic expansion and accelerated greenhouse gas emissions.

The 1930s depression and the second world war, the greatest dislocation of the world economy in the twentieth century, was followed by the post-war boom. That was the longest Read the rest of this entry »


South Asian coalition links climate demands with social struggles

February 21, 2020

In a guest post, NAGRAJ ADVE reports on an alliance that is working out new strategies and organisational forms

The climate justice movement in South Asia, and India in particular, is moving in new directions with the formation of the South Asian People’s Action on Climate Crisis (SAPACC).

In September last year, more than 300 people – representing farmers’ organisations, trade union federations, indigenous people’s organisations, fisher groups, women’s

Students for Climate Resilience launching their campaign in Thrissur, Kerala

organisations, environmental groups, and a few progressive political parties – from Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and many parts of India had met over four days in Hyderabad in South India.

The meeting discussed key impacts of the climate crisis, critiqued the inadequacy of governments’ policies, presented ways forward, and demanded that the United Nations and their respective governments declare a planetary climate crisis.

Following that launch meeting, a number of SAPACC’s constituents have organised Read the rest of this entry »


A year of record climate disasters in Africa

February 10, 2020

This article by NNIMMO BASSEY is republished, with thanks, from the African Review of Political Economy

While the world literally burns from climate and political turmoil, it is possible for Africa and other vulnerable regions to be overlooked. In an age where powerful leaders and corporations are wilfully in denial of the unfolding climate catastrophe, the news media

Women walking through flooded land in Mozambique after cyclone Idai. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/EOSDIS Worldview

could be drawn to focus more on assassinations, upcoming elections and the warmongering triggered by the petro-military complex. It is critically important that the world pays attention to the disastrous impacts already being experienced in Africa, and other vulnerable territories.

2019 was a year of extreme weather events across the world. Sweltering heat hit much of the world. Raging wildfires were recorded in Brazil, Bolivia, Australia and the United States of America. Massive floods ravaged even cities like Venice, famed to be able to handle floods.

Climate change was implicated in exposing over 33 million Africans (spread across Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Sudan, Sudan, Ethiopia, Read the rest of this entry »


People and Nature greatest hits of the 2010s

December 23, 2019

I hope, dear readers, you get time for reflection, rejuvenation and relaxation in the midwinter holidays. If you find yourself reaching for your phone for something to read – then, rather than winding yourself up with news of Boris Johnson’s vileness, go a level more thoughtful: look at those People & Nature articles you missed out on first time round. Here is some stuff that has stood the test of time. Thanks for your interest, and see you all (virtually or really) in the 2020s. GL, 23 December 2019.

Climate and ecological emergency

Disaster environmentalism: looking the future in the face (5 December 2019). A critique of Rupert Read, Jem Bendell and other writers linked to Extinction Rebellion

Climate grief, climate anger (25 June 2019). How different global warming looks to young people

What does “climate emergency” mean? Let’s define that OUTSIDE parliament (2 May 2019)

Still bigger mountains of plastic on the way (March 2018). The petrochemicals companies are driving it

Global warming in the Indian context (June 2016). A pamphlet by Indian climate campaigner Nagraj Adve

Let’s face it. Melting ice has passed point of no return (23 November 2015)

The Paris climate talks and the failure of states (February 2015)

Stop tailoring global warming scenarios to make them “politically palatable” (July 2013). An interview with Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research Read the rest of this entry »


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