Pie in the sky, a la carbon

  In the story about Montana Gov. Schweitzer, Samuel Western seemed confused by the terms "pollution" and "climate change." In the science community, we rarely refer to either of these words. They tend to be used by people who study policy. Typically, climate change is used to mean changes in long-term average patterns of temperature and precipitation due to changes in concentrations of "greenhouse gases" (carbon dioxide, methane, etc.) Pollution has historically referred to changes in near-ground level concentrations of physically harmful chemicals. However, carbon dioxide is slowly starting to be seen by many as a pollutant.

Western writes, "With climate change making conventional uses of coal less palatable, the two plants could provide a relatively clean future use for it." And later, "The process gives off carbon dioxide, but in a form that is easy to re-use, although plenty of questions remain about carbon dioxide transport and storage."

It seems as if there is an attempt to claim that this technology will help with the big problems of climate change. In fact, it seems to me as if this form of energy production is likely to produce more carbon dioxide molecules per watt of energy than other fossil fuels, and as such is likely to be worse for the problem of climate change. However, it seems as if it is likely to help with the problem of low-level atmospheric unhealthful emissions from coal plants.

Furthermore, there are not "questions about carbon dioxide transport and storage." There are only "pie in the sky" thoughts about storage and removal.

Andrew Conley
Boulder, Colorado