Basically, Labour MPs simply add the word "clean" to the words "coal technology" whenever they possibly can presumably in the hope that people will think burning coal is some kind of environment saving measure. Their claim however is not well founded. The term "clean coal" started some years ago when it was realised that coal burning was adding significantly to levels of acid rain. Nitrous and sulphurous oxides released by burning coal had to be scrubbed from emissions to stop their forming airborne acids when they dissolved in water droplets which then fell as rain. Carbon emissions were never reduced. Indeed, if anything, carbon emissions went up in net terms because resources had to be put into cutting acidic emissions.
What Labour MPs are hoping for is the technology of carbon capture will developed quickly to the point where it actually makes a significant impact on carbon emissions and is not prohibitively expensive. At the moment neither of these conditions is being met. At this point in time, industrial carbon capture has not even reached an embryonic stage as a solution to our emission problems. And furthermore, use of industrial carbon capture will significantly reduce the net output of energy from a given quantity of coal. As with removing acidic emissions, a large amount of energy will be required to remove the carbon emissions of coal burning. The end result is that even more coal will have to be burnt just to get the same energy output.
That said, carbon capture is something that should be pursued but, it should only be used as a short to medium term solution to our emission problems. Our ultimate goal has to be to ween ourselves off fossil fuels and nuclear as both leave a lasting and damaging environmental legacy. Both give us a short term boost in terms of the energy provided for us, but both leave subsequent generations and the planet generally with the problem of how to deal with the waste.
The solutions to our energy problems must start with energy efficiency. As an industrialised society we are enormously wasteful with the energy we have. We need to cut the waste by using energy more efficiently. Secondly, we need some lifestyle changes. These cannot be forced on people but we all need to understand the consequences of our actions and lifestyle choices. So, when replacing your car, do you really need that 4 litre gas guzzling 4 wheel drive or are you just buying it as a status symbol to show off to everyone when you take the kids to school or do the shopping at Tescos? (No doubt the 4 wheel drive comes in very useful to drive up the rugged peaks of Tesco car parks!)
The more effort we put into renewable energy, the less we need to put into carbon capture. This should be the next strand of energy policy. Nevertheless, as I mentioned previously, we will need some degree of carbon capture for some time to come as for some decades we will continue to be dependent of fossil fuels. We also need carbon capture to reduce the levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide to more natural levels, after centuries of deforrestation and industrialisation.
There is of course one natural form of carbon capture that does not need a major industrial complex to make sure it happens. Indeed, it is something I do myself. Growing trees captures and locks up atmospheric carbon. I have 40 sycamore saplings growing at the moment and I am about to plant 20 acorns. Yet even growing trees cannot address all out carbon emission problems. Firstly it is a slow process. It takes years for a tree to soak up one persons carbon emissions. Secondly, we will not have sufficient land to grow the trees to soak up the required amount of carbon. Whilst it is a reasonable response to the problem, it is not the total solution and it does not reduce the problem. Ultimately, we have to cut the amount of fossil carbon we emit.
So my message to Labour MPs in particular who claim that coal is a green fuel is, think again. Burning coal adds to the problem, and the solution to reducing emissions from coal is not yet available. Focus instead on energy efficiency and and renewables. Give up your coal addiction.
Meanwhile, over to David Anderson, Labour MP for Blaydon who wisely spends some of his time reading my blog! A pat on the back from JW. I like the EDM you have sponsored calling for much more effort to be put into using waste cooking oil as a fuel. This is all about making maximum use of the resources we have. But that said Dave, you need to kick the coal habit.
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