Oilsands not a good candidate for carbon capture

Turns out that carbon-capture is not the panacea for Canada’s oilsands that certain politicians have been saying, according to a briefing note (marked “secret”) obtained by the CBC:

Little of the oilsands’ carbon dioxide can be captured because most emissions aren’t concentrated enough, the notes say. For efficient capture, there must be a high concentration of CO2 coming out of a smoke stack.

“Only a small percentage of emitted CO2 is ‘capturable’ since most emissions aren’t pure enough,” the notes say. “Only limited near-term opportunities exist in the oilsands and they largely relate to upgrader facilities.”

The Canadian and Alberta governments are spending about $2.5 billion on developing carbon capture and storage, and the oilsands generally come up as the first reason for spending the money.

This doesn’t mean that carbon-capture and storage is a useless technological innovation, just that it’s of negligible use in the oilsands, which are extremely energy-intensive. CCS can be of some help in reducing emissions from upgraders — where sandy tar mined from the ground gets turned into flowing oil — but that’s only part of the production process. The upgraders on the drawing board now, which are likely to get built eventually even if they’re on hold till the economy recovers, are planned to meet pretty high standards, which is a mixed blessing. It’s good that they’re efficient and relatively low-pollution, but they’re not going to be low-hanging fruit in the hunt for emissions reductions.

The oilsands are an environmental nightmare. No getting around it.

Libertarianism doesn’t mean a free-for-all

Matthew Yglesias usefully rips into the wilfully dumb kind of “libertarian”:

It’s worth going back to first principles on markets, property rights, and air pollution. To have a functioning market, you need to have property rights. And property rights need to be defined in some way or other. This includes taking some view of the relationship between property rights and particulate emissions into the air. On one conceivable conception of property rights, the Sierra Club could buy up a field somewhere and then assert that its property rights over the field give it the right to exclude any form of air pollution from wafting into its field. On that definition of property rights, which is the one “the Greens” would favor if we really wanted Stone Age economic conditions, industrial production would swiftly become impossible. You couldn’t so much as warm yourself with a fire before neighbors were accusing you of tresspassing for depositing microscopic soot particles in their lawns.

Two oily quickies

1) This would be wrong morally, economically and practically, but poetically, there’s no denying the appeal:

So the oil companies are once again boasting record profits and yet the auto makers are asking for some government cheese.  Does anyone else see the irony here?  So I’ve got a little trickle down theory of my own.  As long as Detroit continues to make cars for the Gas-Capades let the oil companies bail them out.

(Hat-tip: Sullivan.)

2) It’s a little surprising this didn’t happen more six months ago, when the cargo would have been worth twice as much, but it’s a hell of a target of opportunity.

Nanny McGuinty strikes again

I understand the thinking that piling a whole bunch of young people into one car can be a bad idea, but I’m stunned that the Ontario government wants to forbid it entirely. Under legislation introduced today in the interests of road safety, teens can’t carpool for a night out (or to summer jobs) and they can’t be designated drivers.

It amounts to a whole lot of pig-headed moralizing on the part of the McGuinty government:

Premier Dalton McGuinty said Tuesday the “modest restrictions” will include a zero blood-alcohol limit for all Ontario drivers aged 21 and under and escalating sanctions for young drivers who speed, starting with a 30-day licence suspension.

Drivers between 16 and 19 will also be limited to having only one teenage passenger in the vehicle, which Mr. McGuinty conceded will mean three 19-year-old adults could not go to a movie — or church — in the same car.

“Perhaps the most precious thing we have in society is our children, and that includes our older children,” Mr. McGuinty said.

Adam Radwanski dissects it all skilfully here. And one of his commenters points out an additional problem: the 30-day licence suspension for younger drivers caught speeding to any extent at all will put them in an impossible position, given that the normal speed on any road anywhere is usually 10 to 20 kilometres per hour above the legally posted limit.

Enforcing speed limits has always been at the discretion of the police, and discretionary laws are pretty much always bad because they give enforcers too much power, but this’ll crank up street officers’ authority over even 21-year-old drivers tremendously.

The reality-based community triumphs

Kunstler is his usual alarmist self this week as he examines the challenges facing Barack Obama’s presidency, but as usual he’s a fun read and dispenses nuggets of genuine wisdom:

Many observers think that Wal-Mart and its clones are immune to the larger forces swirling around us. Just because many cash-strapped people are hunting for bargains at WalMart these days does not insure the survival of the Big Box model very far into the future. In fact, in every trend we can see — from the oil markets to events in China to the impoverishment of the US working class to the coming crisis in truck transport — you can easily discern fatal weaknesses in this model. Local retail (and its support structures) is coming back. We just don’t know how, yet, and we don’t know how much capital and effort will be squandered trying to rescue WalMart, when the time comes. But the imperative re-scaling of commerce in America also represents huge opportunities for young people to get into their own businesses.

Mr. Obama will preside over the potential restructuring of all our systems, some of them in ways he and his supporters have not imagined. We haven’t begun to see where fate will take higher education, but my guess is that it will no longer be a “consumer” activity, and that the hypertrophied land-grant diploma mills will have to to shrink or die as state financial support withers away, and all sorts of unnecessary professions from “public relations” to “marketing” cease to require certified graduates.

The rough ride we’re all in for makes it even more of a relief that Obama will be the U.S. president instead of John McCain. He might be wrong about some things, maybe a lot of things, but there are lots of indications that he inhabits the real world and believes in evidence more than faith-based ideology. That puts him a step up on the last guy, and two steps up on the character McCain decided he’d play in an effort to win the presidential election.

Let failing companies fail

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Credit: “How not to take a roundabout in the wet,” Flickr/edvvc

The banks and investment firms arguablyneeded bailing out because they’re integral to having functional financial markets, which are in turn integral to, well, modern capitalism. If they go down, almost literally everybody goes down. But a failing carmaker is just a company that blew it. Those fail all the time.

They do not deserve to be bailed out.

In a letter to Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) asked Paulson to “review the feasibility . . . of providing temporary assistance to the automobile industry during the current financial crisis.”

The letter notes that Congress granted Paulson broad discretion to use the bailout money to “restore financial market stability. A healthy automobile manufacturing sector is essential to the restoration of financial market security,” the letter continues, as well as to “the overall health of our economy, and the livelihood of the automobile sector’s workforce.”

Stability and security are not the same thing any more than a mechanically functioning economy is the same thing as a prosperous one. Governments can arrange for the first; they can only temporarily pretend to arrange for the second, and only at tremendous cost.

The Post helpfully goes on to explain why this is a moronic idea for practical reasons, not just principled ones:

If the request is granted, it would expand the federal government’s role in private enterprise far beyond the financial sector. Critics have warned that a bailout of GM would attract a long line of other companies to Washington to argue that their survival, too, is critical to the economic health of the country. The move would push the Bush administration to decide winners and losers in yet another huge sector of the economy, and it would force President-elect Barack Obama to manage a complex restructuring of the ailing automotive industry.

I work for a newspaper. Where’s the New York Times‘s bailout? Or, more to the point, the Christian Science Monitor‘s? Or U.S. News and World Report‘s?

GM and Ford and Chrysler screwed up massively, failing to foresee a consumer demand for smaller, cheaper, drastically more efficient vehicles. They are very big companies, but they are not special companies, and the problem is not something that just happened to them; Nissan and Honda and Toyota haven’t had an easy ride the last couple of months, but they’re still going concerns. If the U.S. automakers can’t make it on their own, let them go.

Also on Obama

Subsidies for corn ethanol, and ethanol mandates generally, are bad.

“Clean coal” is very bad except as part of a bridging strategy to something better, in which case it’s only moderately bad.

If you think I’m being tough on the new guy, I should say that I think he’s a hell of a lot better than the alternative would have been.