Monthly Archives: March 2018

‘Carbon Bombs’ – A Slow-Burn Narrative

by Hugh Richards, March 2018

I have written this blog-post at the request of other GlosCAN Steering Group members. It follows a meeting I had on 9 March 2018 with David Drew MP, at his request. This was in response to me emailing him a copy of my note entitled ‘Fantasy Climate Control’, [updated to newer version of 2020 – ed.] about three years after he asked me to write it. That was back in February 2015, at the end of a meeting in Stroud Old Town Hall convened by Global Justice Now, at which David Drew stated that ‘Ed Miliband gets it’ on climate change. Indeed, the following day, Ed Miliband himself spoke at the Stroud Subscription Rooms and said that (if elected) his government would ‘put climate change at the heart of industrial strategy’ – a statement that seemed to vanish without trace in reporting of that election campaign. At that event I unexpectedly found myself asking the aspiring future prime minister whether he agreed that it would be easier to regulate the extraction of fossil fuels than the emissions from their use. He professed to not understand the question, which made me question whether (at that time) he really did ‘get it’ on climate change, at the fundamental global scale that matters.

Of course, the pollsters got it all wrong in May 2015, and neither Ed Miliband nor David Drew realised their electoral ambitions. David Drew declared his withdrawal from politics, which is why I did not send him ‘Fantasy Climate Control’ until recently. I have shared it with others, ranging from George Marshall (Climate Outreach) to David Hone (Shell), who in different ways have responded politely and not dismissively, but no-one has taken up the challenge to either ‘shoot down’ the ideas or ‘pick up and run’ with them. I have referred to the basic concept (which is not mine) in a review of David Hone’s recent book, a shorter version of which has been published in the on-line version of GeoScientist (the magazine of the Geological Society). However, I don’t take myself seriously enough on this to want to promote it more actively. If someone else with better connections to opinion-formers or policy-makers can do something with it, I would be more than satisfied.

I realise that the emphasis given to carbon capture and geo-sequestration/storage (CCS) may be unappealing to some. As I have written in a previous blog-post, I am unsure what the real potential for CCS is. But including it as a possibility just might make a fossil carbon extraction regulatory/permitting regime more palatable to at least some producer countries and corporations.

Likewise, the inclusion of the possibility of a role for nuclear power (even in a footnote) may be a step too far for some. But all I am calling for is a ‘level playing field’ in which a real cost of fossil carbon emissions is paid. If renewables out-compete nuclear, so be it.

Do I think the current state of international relations is favourable to the kind of concept explored in ‘Fantasy Climate Control’? Clearly not. Perhaps a ‘threat narrative’ needs to develop, in which unregulated extraction of fossil carbon could be seen as a hostile act akin to nuclear weapons programmes of ‘rogue states’ such as North Korea. The notion of ‘carbon bombs’ (such as gigantic new coal mining projects) is not new but perhaps its time has not yet come.


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