Congenital Innumeracy

By Willis Eschenbach – Re-Blogged From

I came across an article that hypes a new “carbon capture” plant with the following headline:

The world’s first “negative emissions” plant has begun operation—turning carbon dioxide into stone

The article starts out as follows:

There’s a colorless, odorless, and largely benign gas that humanity just can’t get enough of. We produce 40 trillion kg of carbon dioxide each year, and we’re on track to cross a crucial emissions threshold that will cause global temperature rise to pass the dangerous 2°C limit set by the Paris climate agreement.

carbon capture.png

But, in hushed tones, climate scientists are already talking about a technology that could pull us back from the brink. It’s called direct-air capture, and it consists of machines that work like a tree does, sucking carbon dioxide (CO2) out from the air, but on steroids—capturing thousands of times more carbon in the same amount of time, and, hopefully, ensuring we don’t suffer climate catastrophe.

So … CO2 “problem” solved, what’s not to like?

Well, down near the bottom of the article they say:

Jan Wurzbacher, Climeworks’s director, says it hopes to bring costs down to about $100 per metric ton of carbon dioxide. That’s close to the price Carbon Engineering is targeting, according to Geoffrey Holmes, the company’s business development manager. Peter Eisenberger, co-founder of Global Thermostat, says their technology will be even cheaper: when scaled up, he says, costs will drop to as low as $50 per metric ton.

OK, let’s take that as gospel even though they may never get there. They confidently say the cost will get down to $50 per tonne … so if we want to capture the “40 trillion kg of carbon dioxide each year“, it will cost a mere two trillion dollars per year

Two trillion dollars??? And not just once, but each and every year???

Now, humans are not good at visualizing big numbers, so here’s a comparison. Suppose someone with deep pockets started a business way, way back in the year zero, the year when Christ was born. And suppose further that the business lost a million dollars a day. A million bucks, that’s a lot of scratch … and the business lost that every day.

So, time passed, as it tends to do. The Roman Empire fell, the Dark Ages came, and the business was still losing a million bucks each and every day. Medieval times came and went, the Victorian era bloomed and faded, and all the way up to the present, the business lost a megabuck every day.

So … if the million dollars per day loss continued every day right up to the present, how many trillions of dollars would you estimate the business would have lost in total?

Well … um … not even one trillion.

And these numeric geniuses are proposing that we waste two trillion dollars per year to capture CO2? That’s more than five billion dollars per day … really? There are not any pressing global problems left to solve? Have we conquered poverty? Does everyone have clean water? Think of what problems we could solve and what we could achieve with five billion dollars to spend, each and every day, year after year.

And given all of the world’s problems, they propose wasting two terabucks per year on this madness?

Congenital innumeracy …



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