The global climate stalemate
Kyoto, Rio de Janeiro, Bali, Copenhagen and Cancun have produced many words, but little action. The Western industrialized world and the emerging economies have opposite views and interests, and do not move from their positions. The West insists on emission reductions, backed up by carbon capture and storage (CCS).
The priority of the emerging economies, with China, India and Brazil in the frontline, supported by S Africa and Indonesia, is on economic development and raising the standard of living for their people. The foremost requirement to achieve this is the availability of cheap and abundant energy. The mentioned nations all possess large coal reserves, so their choice is obvious.
There is a promising way out of this stalemate, which opens the way to stabilization, and ultimately even to reduction of the CO2 levels of the atmosphere. The West should accept, while opting themselves mainly for emission reductions, that the emerging economies follow a different path, but with the same effect against climate change. They all possess huge deposits of the mineral olivine. This mineral, when exposed to the atmosphere, reacts fast with CO2 and water, particularly in wet tropical climates. By this weathering reaction the greenhouse gas CO2 is transformed into an innocuous bicarbonate solution. Rivers transport these solutions to the oceans, where the bicarbonate is captured in solid form as limestones and dolomites. These rocks are the ultimate sustainable storage of CO2.
By mining and milling olivine and spreading it over farmland, plantations, beaches, tidal flats and shallow seas the emerging economies can compensate their emissions. In doing so, they don’t have to slow down their economic development and can still make a huge contribution to mitigate climate change. This “olivine option” is considerably cheaper than the capture and storage of CO2 from coal-fired power plants, cement factories, oil refineries or fertilizer plants. As the process of weathering has kept the CO2 levels of the Earth within reasonable bounds throughout the geological history of the Earth, no negative environmental effects are expected.
Olaf Schuiling is professor emeritus geochemistry at Utrecht University, the Netherlands
Geochemistry is the chemistry of the earth’s crust
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