AN environmental campaigner once asked a roomful of hard-core activists what they would do with the help of a fairy who could magic away the global warming problem:
I am the carbon fairy and I wave a magic wand. By waving my magic wand I will be interfering with the laws of physics; not with people – they will be as selfish, they will be as desiring of status. The cars will get bigger, the houses will get bigger, the planes will fly all over the place but there will be no climate change.
As she told the story, only a couple of the 200 people present would have asked the fairy to wave her wand and make global warming disappear.
This (true) story highlights some uncomfortable facts about global warming campaigners, many of whom are motivated by anti-capitalism or agrarian romanticism rather than any particular concern for the environment. But opposing solutions that might actually work does not seem to have done the green blob any harm. Indeed, such ideas have been rather influential.
Readers with longer memories may recall that when fracking first came on the scene, a shift from coal to gas was seen as a good way quickly to reduce greenhouse gases (as indeed has subsequently happened in the USA). That was until the greens realised, to their horror, that a shale gas revolution would cause gas prices to fall through the floor, undercutting renewables, and promising cheap heating for all. At that point the scare-story press releases started to appear, appear faithfully relayed to the public by the BBC and the Guardian, inevitably leading to foot-dragging, moratoria and outright bans.
Similarly, governments have gone slow on nuclear power stations, and at worst have actively opposed them, including even new designs that promise to be considerably cheaper and much safer than current ones. Environmentalists have applauded them for it. The green blob can get away with this because of the decades of work that they and their media allies have put into demonising the nuclear industry. In the face of all those years of scaremongering and disinformation, public opinion remains lukewarm at best.
But what would happen if another climate ‘fairy’ came along – a new technology that promised to wipe out a significant swathe of greenhouse gas emissions without requiring everyone to revert to an agrarian existence? Could the green blob pull off the trick of opposing a practical solution yet again?
We may soon find out. Last year, in Texas, an experimental power station was fired up for the first time. If it lives up to its billing, it could revolutionise the climate and energy debate. The plant is the first to use a revolutionary approach to burning fossil fuels called the Allam cycle, the invention of British engineer Rodney Allam.
Traditional power stations use the heat generated by burning fossil fuels to make steam, which then drives a turbine. The carbon dioxide generated along the way is vented to the atmosphere. In the Allam cycle, however, the carbon dioxide itself is used to drive the turbine, after which it is captured, either for industrial use or for long-term storage underground. So-called ‘carbon capture and storage’ (CCS) has long been proposed as a way to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, but the approach of tacking a CCS plant on to the back of a power station has mostly turned out to be a very expensive dead end. Allam cycle power stations, it is suggested, will essentially give operators CCS ‘free’, with the extra costs involved compensated by the higher operating efficiencies of the new technology. And unlike renewables, the electricity generated will be cheap and available whenever it is required.
In the energy sector, it is never a good idea to get too carried away with claims made for a new technology, and it may well be that Allam cycle machines turn out to be more expensive than claimed. But if the hype turns out to have some foundation, you can imagine the consternation it will cause. Cars will get bigger, houses will get bigger, and planes will indeed ‘fly all over the place’ and the planet will be none the wiser.
It would be the green blob’s worst nightmare.