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A Plan to Save Us From Global Warming? Industry's Colossal Experiment With the Future of Civilization at Stake

It's looking more and more like we're facing catastrophe from global warming, but the fossil fuel industry has prepared an escape for us. Too bad it looks like a nightmare, too.

By ignoring global warming, the U.S. is painting itself (and the world) into a corner. But now the fossil fuel industry has prepared an escape for us. You may not have heard of it, but the escape is called "carbon capture and storage" or CCS for short. It has never been tried on anything like the scale needed to limit global warming, so it's a colossal experiment with the future of civilization at stake. More on that in a moment, but first let's look at the corner we're in:

  • The chief economist of the International Energy Agency (IEA) recently said, "The world is perfectly on track to 11 degrees Fahrenheit increase in temperature, which is very bad news. And everybody, even school children, know this will have catastrophic implications for all of us."
  • We face unprecedented tornadoes like the one that ripped away much of Joplin, Missouri on May 22, 2011.
  • Parts of our Southwest (and Mexico) are now  dryer than the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, with irregular snow pack in the Rockies disrupting water supplies and reducing crop yields. By all accounts, the future of water in the Southwest is grim
  • Drought-induced insect  infestations are destroying forests across the western states and  mega-wildfires are increasing on  every continent except Antarctica.
  • Record floods disrupted the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys during 2011, not to mention Biblical floods in Australia, India and Pakistan where tens of millions of people were displaced.

And we're just in the early stages of climate chaos. As the song says, "You ain't seen nothing yet."

The 2005 Plan of Action

You don't hear much about it, but Bush-Cheney in 2005 endorsed a plan to bail us out of this mess and we're still following their script. Back then, the G8 nations, led by the U.S., formally adopted a " Plan of Action." In it, the G8 (Canada, England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the U.S.) committed to building a global infrastructure for "carbon capture and storage" (CCS), which means burying carbon dioxide (CO2) in the ground. Now, seven years later, that infrastructure is  being built worldwide. The centerpiece is the  Global CCS Institute created in 2009. (The "S" in CCS can stand for "sequestration" or "storage" but it's the same thing -- burying pressurized CO2 in liquid form about a mile below ground.)

CCS is by no means the only strategy in the 2005 Plan of Action -- there's plenty about efficiency (doing more with less) and renewable energy (solar, wind, and so forth). But the U.S. is playing down efficiency and renewables in favor of fracking for natural gas and  mountaintop removal mining for coal, both of which produce CO2. Therefore the plan says we'll develop CCS, which is a get-out-of-jail-free card for fossil fuel corporations. With CCS, we could continue burning fossil fuels as long as they last and pass the CO2 on to our grandchildren's grandchildren to worry about, manage, and pay for.

CCS is being readied for that time when the chaos, heat and misery from global warming become intolerable and people start begging (or rioting) for relief -- say, sometime between 2015 and 2030. If history is any guide, the 1 percent will use the crisis to stampede us into paying for their escape plan, which they're quietly preparing now. Although there are very few actual in-the-ground demonstrations of CCS today, in preparation for large-scale operations there are now hundreds of regional consortiums, research groups, think tanks, policy initiatives, interdisciplinary collaborations, engineering firms, trade associations, consultants, risk assessors, mathematical modelers, environmental impact assessors, public opinion managers, professional conferences, technical workshops, national laboratories, other federal, state and provincial government agencies, international agreements and treaties, summer schools, university degree programs, environmental organizations, and philanthropic foundations -- all committed to the plan to bury CO2 in the ground.

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