Caterpillar and CleanAIR

We have never simply posted a press release, but they remain essential to keeping track of what’s going on out there. Today we received two press releases, almost back to back, that have a lot to do with each other.

The first one announced a major new partnership between Caterpillar, “the world’s leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, clean diesel and natural gas engines and gas turbines,” with CleanAIR Systems of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The announcement continues: “CleanAIR’s reduction technology will be installed on existing Caterpillar commercial engine applications to reduce diesel particulate matter, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and NOx.”

Literally minutes later, another press release arrived in the in-box, this one promoting a book entitled “The Coming China Wars,” by Peter Navarro. We certainly hope there won’t be “China Wars” on the way, but as the book describes, China’s challenges as such a huge and rapidly growing nation are many. Here’s an excerpt: “unlike in the United States, Germany, or Japan where sophisticated pollution-control technologies are deployed, much of what Chinese power plants and factories spew in the air is not just sulfur dioxide but also a high percentage of fine particulate matter. This is a critical observation because particulate matter is the most damaging form of airborne pollutants.”

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, this is what we should be worrying about with China right now – the genuine, immediately unhealthy pollution coming from burning fossil fuel. The problem is we are so focused on CO2 emissions, we are taking the spotlight away from particulate matter, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and NOx. Even if we aren’t ignoring these more immediate and deadly pollutants completely, and this is key, the trajectory of reductions is slowed down because we are so focused on CO2.

The ability of the fully industrialized nations to provide advanced technologies that would render the burning of fossil fuel virtually clean – except for the CO2 – is already here. We have proven technologies to accomplish these goals that get better and cheaper every day. And the Chinese certainly have the money and know-how to deploy these technologies. In fact, their coal plants use coal more efficiently than most of the plants in western nations, because they are newer plants. They simply need to install the scrubbers.

Even more ironic is the fact that if China accellerated the building of modern coal plants, it would actually reduce air pollution in China, because these plants would provide energy to countless millions of households that currently rely as well on coal because they are off-grid. And unlike power plants that produce hundreds of megawatts of power, off-grid coal is almost impossible to regulate.

If they aren’t already, Caterpillar and CleanAIR technologies should go to China and sell their clean technology. And if environmentalists might embrace a greater measure of complexity, they might advocate diplomacy and protocols that emphasize the possible – healthy clean fossil fuel power plants – instead of the impossible – pumping 25+ cubic kilometers per year of CO2 into fissures in the earth. And if we actually did that, the unintended geologic consequences might make the biofueled, CO2 offset subsidy enabled burning of Borneo look like a small campfire.

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