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A Publication
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Intergenerational Theft – For Every $1 For Coal Today Future Generations
Will Pay $1-$14 To Sequester CO2

By Dr Gideon Polya

 08 April, 2015

Remorseless greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution is leaving  a polluted and devastated planet for future generations. Further, present intergenerational inequity means that for every $1 received by climate criminal corporations for thermal coal, future generations will inescapably have to pay $1 to $14 (depending on location and technology)  to sequester the CO2 from coal combustion.  Young people must revolt, oppose this mounting Carbon Debt, and insist  “Keep it in the ground”.

Carbon Debt reflects the inescapable future cost in today's dollars of fixing the remorselessly increasing climate damage. Carbon Debt  is the historical contribution of countries  to the carbon pollution of the atmosphere and can be variously expressed as Gt CO2-e (gigatonnes or billions of tonnes of CO2-equivalent) or in dollar terms by applying a Carbon Price. Thus leading climate economist Dr Chris Hope from 90-Nobel-Laureate Cambridge  University has estimated a damage-related Carbon Price in US dollars of $150 per tonne CO2 [1].

The World added 1,285 billion tonnes CO2 to the atmosphere in 1751-2006 [2]. and currently adds a further 64 billion tonnes  CO2-e (CO2-equivalent) annually [3]  to give a total 1751-2015 GHG pollution of 1,797 billion tonnes CO2-e.  

At a damage-related Carbon Price of $150 per tonne CO2,  the World  has a total 1751-2015 Carbon Debt of 1,797 billion tonnes CO2-e x $150 per tonne CO2-e = $270 trillion (about 3 times the annual world GDP of $85 trillion)  that is increasing by about 64 billion tonnes CO2-e x $150 per tonne CO2 = $9.6 trillion or about  $10 trillion each year [4, 5, 6].

By way of a national example, Australia is a world-leading annual per capita  GHG polluter with a total 1751-2015 Carbon Debt of $5.6 trillion that is increasing at $300 billion per year. Thus Australia (population 24 million) with 0.34% of the world's population has 2.1% of the world's Carbon Debt. The Australian Carbon Debt will have to be paid by the young and future generations and for under-30 year old Australians is increasing at about $30,000 per person per year, noting that the annual Australian per capita income is about $65,000 [6].  

Unlike a personal debt that can be expunged by bankruptcy or a national debt that can be ostensibly reduced by reneging or by printing money (aka in the US as “quantitative easing”), the Carbon Debt is inescapable and future generations will have no choice but  to pay up or suffer horrendous consequences. Carbon Debt repayment can be concretely visualized as the ever-rising sea walls in response  to rising sea levels,  massive new building requirements to meet the increased severity of tropical storms, and the huge engineering projects needed to return the atmospheric CO2 concentration to a safe and sustainable pre-Industrial Revolution level of circa 300 ppm CO2 from the present dangerous and damaging 400 ppm CO2 as recommended by many scientists [7], whether by biochar production, bicarbonate  production, mineral carbonation or carbon dioxide capture and sequestration (CCS)   .

Another way of seeing this Carbon Debt currently being imposed on future generations  is to determine how much they will inescapably have to pay in today's US dollars for  every $1 paid today to mining corporations for thermal coal -  various estimates are given below in the areas of (1) damage-related Carbon Price, (2) biochar production,  (3) bicarbonate production,  (4) mineral carbonation,  and (5) CCS.

1. Damage-related Carbon Price.  

One way of assessing the Carbon Debt for future generations from burning 1 tonne of  thermal coal is via a damage-related Carbon Price  e.g. a Climate Change Tax or Carbon Tax equal to the mean estimate of the damage caused by 2.9 tonnes of  CO2 emissions from burning 1 tonne of thermal coal.


Dr Chris Hope (BA (Univ. of Oxford), MA, PhD (Univ. of Cambridge), and Reader in Policy Modelling,  Fellow of Clare Hall, Cambridge Judge Business School, [90  Nobel Laureate] University of Cambridge) (2011):  “If the best current scientific and economic evidence is to be believed, and climate change could be a real and serious problem, the appropriate response is to institute today a climate change tax equal to the mean estimate of the damage caused by a tonne of CO2 emissions. The raw calculations from the default PAGE09 model suggest the tax should be  about $100 per tonne of CO2 in the EU. But correcting for the limited time horizon of the model, and bringing the calculations forward to 2102, in year 2012 dollars, brings the suggested tax up to about $150 per tonne of CO2. There are good arguments for setting the initial tax at about $250 per tonne of CO2 in the US, while starting off at a much lower  level, maybe $15 per tonne of CO2, in the poorest regions of the world, all in the year 2012, in year 2012 dollars. That such policy advice would not pass the laugh test [if it can be carried out without laughing about it], particularly in the US, shows that the rhetoric about getting to grips with climate change has not been seriously thought through to its logical conclusion. As a result, rather than falling, greenhouse gas emissions are continuing to rise (Le Quere et al, 2009). A fiscally neutral significant climate change tax is the best chance we have of bringing the climate change problem under control” [1].

Combustion of 1 tonne thermal coal yields about 2.9 tonnes CO2. In February 2015 the coal price was US$66 per tonne Australian thermal coal corresponding to  ($66 /tonne  coal) x (1 tonne  coal/2.9 tonne CO2) = $22.8 per tonne  CO2 subsequently generated [8].

The  damage-related Carbon Price of  $150 per tonne  CO2 [1] means  that. the damage-related cost per tonne CO2 generated by burning thermal coal  is $150 per tonne  CO2 /$22.8 per tonne  CO2 = 6.6   times greater than  the amount received for the coal generating that tonne of CO2. Thus for every $1 received by a mining company for thermal coal, future generations will be forced  to pay 6.6 times more in today's dollars for repairing the global consequences of that  pollution of the atmosphere  and ocean with CO2 .


If, as recommended by Dr Chris Hope, the Carbon Price for the US is $250 per tonne CO2 [1], then for every $1 received for thermal coal by climate criminal mining companies within  America,  future Americans would be obligated to pay $250 per tonne CO2/$22.8 per tonne CO2 =  11 times as much  or $11 in today's dollars for repairing the global consequences of pollution of the atmosphere  and ocean with CO2.


2. Biochar.


Another way of assessing the Carbon Debt for future generations is via the cost of sequestering excess atmospheric CO2 as biochar - carbon generated from the anaerobic pyrolysis at 400-700 degrees C of photosynthetically-generated cellulose and related biopolymers [4, 9].


According to Simon Shackley and colleagues (2011): “Depending on the assumptions used, biochar in the UK context may cost between GB£-148 t-1 and  389 t-1 (US$-222 to 584) produced, delivered and spread on fields, which is a provisional carbon abatement value of (GB£-144 tCO2–1 to 208 tCO2–1) [(U$215 tCO2–1  - 310 tCO2–1 ] … [or if US corn straw-based] $49 to US$74 t-1CO2” [10].


A thermal coal price of $66 per tonne thermal coal means  receipt of $22.8 per tonne CO2 generated by burning 1 tonne of thermal coal. The cheapest cost in the UK for sequestering the CO2 is  $210 per tonne CO2 sequestered/ $22.8 per tonne CO2 =   9.2 times the price of the coal generating 1 tonne of CO2. Thus for every tonne of  CO2 sequestered as biochar in the UK    the cost will be 9.2-13.6 times as much as the amount received for the coal generating that tonne of CO2. Similarly, for every tonne of CO2 sequestered as biochar in the US mid-West using corn straw (the most cost effective  way of generating biochar) ,  the cost will be 2.1-3.2  times as much as the amount received for the coal generating that tonne of CO2 on combustion.


Accordingly, for every $1 received by mining corporations  for their thermal coal about $2 - $14 (depending  on location) will have to be paid by future generations in today's dollars to sequester the resultant  CO2 as biochar [10, 11].  


3. Accelerated Weathering of Limestone (AWL).


A further way of assessing the Carbon Debt for future generations is via the cost of sequestering atmospheric CO2 as bicarbonate from the reaction of CO2 with suspended limestone (calcium carbonate) (Accelerated Weathering of Limestone or AWL) [12-16].


G.H. Rau has proposed an electrochemically accelerated   version of such sequestration: “ Electrochemical splitting of calcium carbonate (e.g., as contained in limestone or other minerals) is explored as a means of forming dissolve hydroxides for absorbing, neutralizing, and storing carbon dioxide, and for restoring, preserving, or enhancing ocean calcification. While essentially insoluble in water, CaCO3 can be dissolved in the presence of the highly acidic anolyte of a water electrolysis cell. The resulting charged constituents, Ca2+ and C03(2-), migrate to the cathode and anode, respectively, forming Ca(OH)2 on the one hand and H2CO3 (or H2O and CO2) on the other. By maintaining a pH between 6 and 9, subsequent hydroxide reactions with CO2 primarily produce dissolved calcium bicarbonate, Ca(HCO3)2aq. Thus, for each mole of CaCO3 split there can be a net capture of up to 1 mol of CO2. Ca(HCO3)2aq is thus the carbon sequestrant that can be diluted and stored in the ocean, in natural or artificial surface water reservoirs, or underground. The theoretical work requirement for the reaction is 266 kJe per net mole CO2 consumed. Even with inefficiencies, a realized net energy expenditure lower than the preceding quantity appears possible considering energy recovery via oxidation of the H2 produced. The net process cost is estimated to be <$100/tonne CO2 mitigated. An experimental demonstration of the concept is presented, and further implementation issues are discussed” [16].


Setting aside the limitations of this proposed AWL technology (it would be most effective when associated with coastally-located coal- or gas-burning power stations), a  cost of $100 per tonne CO2 sequestered would mean that for every tonne of CO2 thus sequestered as bicarbonate, the cost would be $100 per tonne CO2 sequestered/$22.8 per tonne CO2 generated = 4.4 times as much as the amount received for the coal generating that tonne of CO2 on combustion. Accordingly, for every $1 received by mining corporations  for their thermal coal, about $4.4 will have to be paid by future generations in today's dollars to sequester the resultant  CO2 as bicarbonate.


4. Mineral carbonation.


Mineral carbonation involves reaction of CO2 with minerals using  wollastonite (CaSiO3) or steel slag as feedstock. W.J.J Huijgen et al.: “A cost evaluation of CO2 sequestration by aqueous mineral carbonation has been made using either wollastonite (CaSiO3) or steel slag as feedstock. First, the process was simulated to determine the properties of the streams as well as the power and heat consumption of the process equipment. Second, a basic design was made for the major process equipment, and total investment costs were estimated with the help of the publicly available literature and a factorial cost estimation method. Finally, the sequestration costs were determined on the basis of the depreciation of investments and variable and fixed operating costs. Estimated costs are 102 and 77 €/ton CO2 [$111 and $84] net avoided for wollastonite and steel slag, respectively. For wollastonite, the major costs are associated with the feedstock and the electricity consumption for grinding and compression (54 and 26 €/ton CO2 [$59 and $28] avoided, respectively). A sensitivity analysis showed that additional influential parameters in the sequestration costs include the liquid-to-solid ratio in the carbonation reactor and the possible value of the carbonated product. The sequestration costs for steel slag are significantly lower due to the absence of costs for the feedstock. Although various options for potential cost reduction have been identified, CO2 sequestration by current aqueous carbonation processes seems expensive relative to other CO2 storage technologies. The permanent and inherently safe sequestration of CO2 by mineral carbonation may justify higher costs, but further cost reductions are required, particularly in view of (current) prices of CO2 emission rights. Niche applications of mineral carbonation with a solid residue such as steel slag as feedstock and/or a useful carbonated product hold the best prospects for an economically feasible CO2 sequestration process” [17]. 


Setting aside the large-scale feasibility of this mineral carbonation technology, an IPCC Report estimates the cost of mineral carbonation at $50-$100 per tonne CO2 sequestered [17] that would mean that for  every tonne of CO2 thus sequestered as magnesium carbonate , the cost would be $50-$100 per tonne CO2 / $22.8 per tonne CO2 = 2.2- 4.4 times as much as the amount received for the coal generating that tonne of CO2 on combustion i.e. for every $1 received for coal about $2.2- $4.4 would have to be paid for subsequent CO2 removal through mineral carbonation.


5.  Carbon Capture and Sequestration  (CCS).  


Finally,  Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)  involves concentrating  CO2 as a liquid , piping it  to a suitable location and then storing  it  underground or at the bottom of the ocean [18, 19]. The economic and practical difficulties of CCS mean that it has yet to be applied on a large scale. The IPCC reports that the cost of such capture from a coal- or gas-fired power station would be up to $75 per tonne CO2 sequestered [18] and thus the cost would be 3.3  times as much as the amount received for the coal generating that 1 tonne of CO2 on combustion. The Global CCS Institute states (2011): “The cost of mitigating, or avoiding, CO2 emissions for a coal power plant fitted with current CCS technology ranges from US$23-92 per tonne of CO2 and is a little higher for natural gas fuelled power plants” [20]. This would give a CO2-removal cost of  $23- $92 per tonne of CO2 sequestered / $22.8 per tonne CO2 generated = 1.0 – 4.0 times as much as that for the coal generating that 1  tonne CO2 sequestered  i.e. for every $1 received for thermal  coal about $1 - $4 would have to be paid for the removal of the subsequently generated CO2  through Carbon Capture and Sequestration.  (CCS).




A damage-related Carbon Price of  $150- $250 per tonne  CO2 [1] means  that for every $1 received by mining companies for thermal coal, future generations will be forced  to pay $6.6 -$11.0 in  today's dollars for repairing the consequences of that  pollution of the atmosphere  and ocean with CO2 . This assessment is in agreement with estimates that for every $1 received by mining companies for thermal coal, the  cost of sequestering the CO2 from burning that coal by a variety of means (biochar, Accelerated Weathering of Limestone, mineral carbonation or Carbon Capture and Storage ) ranges from $1 to $14.


Young people should be appalled that,  in addition to being bequeathed mass species extinction, widespread ecosystem destruction and massive economic disruption, for every $1 paid to climate criminal mining corporations  for thermal coal future generations will have to pay $1 to $14 for adaptation measures and sequestering CO2 pollution.   Young people and those who care for them must take a stand against this horrendous climate theft, climate injustice, climate crime and intergenerational inequity [5, 6, 21] and must act urgently by (a) informing everyone they can, (b) demanding of fossil fuels “Keep it in the ground” and (c) urging and applying Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against all those people, politicians , parties, companies,  corporations and countries disproportionately complicit in the worsening Climate Emergency and Climate Crisis.




[1].  Dr Chris Hope, “How high should climate change taxes be?”, Working Paper Series, Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, 9.2011: http://www.jbs.cam.ac.uk/fileadmin/user_upload/research/workingpapers/wp1109.pdf  .

[2].  James Hansen, “Letter to PM Kevin Rudd by Dr James Hansen”, 2008: http://www.aussmc.org.au/documents/Hansen2008LetterToKevinRudd_000.pdf .

[3] Robert Goodland and Jeff Anfang, “Livestock and climate change. What if the key actors in climate change are … cows, pigs and chickens?”, World Watch, November/December 2009: http://www.worldwatch.org/files/pdf/Livestock%20and%20Climate%20Change.pdf .

[4]. “2011 climate change course”: https://sites.google.com/site/300orgsite/2011-climate-change-course .

[5]. “Carbon Debt Carbon Credit”: https://sites.google.com/site/carbondebtcarboncredit/

[6]. “Climate Justice & Intergenerational Equity”: https://sites.google.com/site/300orgsite/climate-justice .

[7].  “300.org – return atmosphere CO2 to 300 ppm CO2”: https://sites.google.com/site/300orgsite/300-org---return-atmosphere-co2-to-300-ppm .

[8].  “Coal, Australian thermal coal Monthly Price - US Dollars per Metric Ton”, Index Mundi: http://www.indexmundi.com/commodities/?commodity=coal-australian&months=60 .

[9]. Gideon Polya, “Forest biomass-derived Biochar can profitably reduce global warming and bushfire risk”, Yarra Valley Climate Action Group: https://sites.google.com/site/yarravalleyclimateactiongroup/forest-biomass-derived-biochar-can-profitably-reduce-global-warming-and-bushfire-risk .

[10]. Simon Shackley, Jim Hammond, John Gaunt and Rodrigo Ibarrollo, “The feasibility and costs of biochar deployment in the UK ”, Carbon Management, 2(3), 335-356 (2011):  http://www.geos.ed.ac.uk/homes/sshackle/CostsBiochar.pdf .

[11]. Gideon Polya, “Expert Witness Testimony To Stop Gas-Fired Power Plant Installation”, Countercurrents, 14 June 2013: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya140613.htm .

[12].  Long Cao and Ken Caldeira, “Atmospheric carbon dioxide removal: long-term consequences and commitment”, Environmental Research Letters, 5(2) (2010): http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/5/2/024011 .

[13]. Ken Caldeira and Greg H. Rau, “Accelerating carbonate dissolution to sequester carbon dioxide in the ocean: geochemical implications”, Geophysical Research Letters, 27 (2), 225-226 (2000): http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/1999GL002364/abstract  .

[14]. Greg H. Rau, Ken Caldeira, Kevin G. Knauss, Bill Downs and Hamid Sarv, “Enhanced carbonate dissolution as a means of capturing and sequestering carbon dioxide”, First National Conference on Carbon Sequestration, Washington DC, May 14-17, 2000: http://www.netl.doe.gov/publications/proceedings/01/carbon_seq/p24.pdf .

[15]. G.H. Rau, “CO2 mitigation via capture and chemical conversion in seawater”,  Environ Sci Technol 45:1088–1092, 2011: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es102671x .

[16]. G.H. Rau , “Electrochemical splitting of calcium carbonate to increase solution alkalinity: implications for mitigation of carbon dioxide and ocean acidity”, Environ Sci Technol., 2008 Dec 1;42(23):8935-40: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19192821 .

[17]. W.J.J Huijgen et al, “Cost evaluation of CO2 sequestration by aqueous mineral carbonation”, Energy Conversion and Management, Volume 48, Issue 7, July 2007, Pages 1923–1935: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0196890407000520 .

[18]. IPCC, “Special Report on Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage”, 2005: https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/special-reports/srccs/srccs_wholereport.pdf .

[19].  “Carbon capture and storage”, Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_capture_and_storage .  

[20]. The Global CCS Institute , “The cost of CCS and other low carbon technologies”, 2 November 2011: http://www.globalccsinstitute.com/publications/costs-ccs-and-other-low-carbon-technologies  .

[21]. “Stop climate crime”: https://sites.google.com/site/300orgsite/stop-climate-crime .


Dr Gideon Polya has been teaching science students at a major Australian university for 4 decades. He published some 130 works in a 5 decade scientific career, most recently a huge pharmacological reference text "Biochemical Targets of Plant Bioactive Compounds" (CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, New York & London , 2003). He has published “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950” (G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 2007: http://globalbodycount.blogspot.com/ ); see also his contributions “Australian complicity in Iraq mass mortality” in “Lies, Deep Fries & Statistics” (edited by Robyn Williams, ABC Books, Sydney, 2007: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/ockhamsrazor/australian-complicity-in-iraq-mass-mortality/3369002#transcript

) and “Ongoing Palestinian Genocide” in “The Plight of the Palestinians (edited by William Cook, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2010: http://mwcnews.net/focus/analysis/4047-the-plight-of-the-palestinians.html ). He has published a revised and updated 2008 version of his 1998 book “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History” (see: http://janeaustenand.blogspot.com/ ) as biofuel-, globalization- and climate-driven global food price increases threaten a greater famine catastrophe than the man-made famine in British-ruled India that killed 6-7 million Indians in the “forgotten” World War 2 Bengal Famine (see recent BBC broadcast involving Dr Polya, Economics Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen and others: http://www.open.edu/openlearn/history-the-arts/history/social-economic-history/listen-the-bengal-famine ). When words fail one can say it in pictures - for images of Gideon Polya's huge paintings for the Planet, Peace, Mother and Child see: http://sites.google.com/site/artforpeaceplanetmotherchild/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/gideonpolya/







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