Hofmeister: Treat Climate Change as a Waste Management Problem

I, along with my editor Sam Avro, recently conducted a broad-ranging interview with John Hofmeister, former President of Shell Oil and currently the head of Citizens for Affordable Energy, a non-profit group whose aim is to promote sound U.S. energy security solutions for the nation. Previous interview with Mr. Hofmeister were:

A Difficult Decade Ahead For Oil Prices and Supplies

An Energy Plan for America

Surging Demand and Flat Production Equals High Oil Prices

In the current installment, he outlines his ideas for what would constitute a sound plan of attack on climate change.

Global Warming Debate is Settled — With a Twist

I began by asking Mr. Hofmeister whether he agreed that the debate on global warming is over. He responded that he is not a scientist or climatologist, but said that once a critical mass of public officials has determined that something is a problem, then the debate is effectively settled. He also agrees that humans create significant waste, and that if this waste is cleaned up, that would address the climate change issue:

The debate for me is over because I believe we have the technology available to us today to develop hydrocarbons and to use those hydrocarbons in ways in which we can use them fully and clean up after ourselves; with respect to physical waste, liquid waste, and gaseous waste.

So if we approach the issue of global warming/climate change as an issue of waste management – which I would prefer to do – rather than some kind of global crisis which remains undefined and unresolved. Let’s deal with what we know how to deal with. We know how to deal with waste.

This is certainly an unconventional view of the climate change issue. Most environmentalists approach this issue from the viewpoint that if ancient carbon is never burned, the carbon dioxide does not add to the atmospheric carbon dioxide inventory. Mr. Hofmeister’s position is that we should continue to develop and use our fossil carbon resources, but that we also must control the wastes which come about from using those resources. (Read More: Global Carbon Dioxide Emissions — Facts and Figures)

Some of the uses suggested by Mr. Hofmeister for carbon dioxide are in the production of vegetables and other plants, for enhanced oil production, or to simply capture, liquify it, and bury it.

He concluded his answer by saying that the issue is really not that of a warming planet, but rather the failure to manage wastes. By managing those wastes, he suggested that the climate change issue would ultimately fade away.

Because what we are really dealing with are the waste issues – not the issue of the planet warming but the issues that eliminate the wastes that may contribute to global warming.

My own view is that this problem is much more intractable than that. Certainly in the short term that is the case. There is no technology on the horizon that will allow us to capture the waste from automobiles. A widespread move toward electric cars — and then capture of the carbon dioxide at a central power plant — could address this issue. But adoption of electric cars is expected to be slow. Further, I believe it is likely that commercial viability of carbon capture and sequestration at power plants also remains at least a decade away, so for now I don’t view capture of the carbon we burn a realistic option.

I (Robert Rapier) am in attendance at the Total Energy USA conference, November 27-29 in Houston, Texas. More information is available at www.TotalEnergyUSA.com. Feel free to email me if you’re in the area and would like to meet: rapier [at] consumerenergyreport [dot] com