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Partial automated driving systems don’t make driving safer, study finds

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A Nissan steering wheel with ProPILOT assist buttons on it

Enlarge / Nissan's ProPilot Assist was one of two partially automated driving systems to be studied for crash safety improvements. (credit: Nissan)

Driver assists that help steer for you on the highway haven't contributed much to road safety, according to a new study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute. That's in contrast to other features often bundled together as "advanced driver assistance systems," or ADAS, many of which have shown a marked reduction in crash and claim rates.

"Everything we’re seeing tells us that partial automation is a convenience feature like power windows or heated seats rather than a safety technology," said David Harkey, IIHS president.

However, we should note that, as a follow-up to a pair of earlier studies published in 2021, the new research by IIHS and HLDI focused on two older partially automated driving systems, model-year 2017–2019 Nissan Rogues with ProPilot Assist and model year 2013–2017 BMWs with Driving Assistant Plus.

Those earlier studies found plenty of benefits to some ADAS features. Of BMW's various collision avoidance systems, many reduced the claim frequency for various types of vehicle damage, property liability, and injury claims.

Crash rates

But when IIHS's senior vice president of research, Jessica Cicchino, analyzed crash rate data for this population of cars, she found that despite an apparent modest reduction, there was no significant difference in lane departure crashes between BMWs equipped with lane departure warning and prevention and cars fitted with both systems plus partial automation, versus cars without any steering assist, after controlling for variables like driver age, gender, model year, and so on.

However, BMWs with lane departure warning and prevention did have significantly fewer lane departure crashes during daylight hours than cars without such systems.

The ADAS in Nissan Rogues did significantly lower rear-end and lane departure crash rates, with the greatest benefit being in the cars with the most assists (partial automation as well as forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane departure prevention) versus Rogues without such systems.

But Cicchino found those effects persisted on surface streets and roads with speed limits lower than 35 mph (56 km/h), speeds at which ProPilot Assist won't keep centered in a lane unless following another car. That suggests some other factor at work here—possibly the fact that the better-equipped Rogues also had more effective headlights, IIHS says. (This year, IIHS started requiring an automaker to fit all trim levels in a model with the best headlights in order to be eligible for a Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ rating.)

Not the first time lane-keeping has claimed credit

This isn't the first time that a different bit of equipment bundled together under a specific trim package or option has confounded attempts to determine the safety of lane-keeping systems. In 2018, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told Ars that Tesla misattributed the safety benefit of its Autopilot partially automated driving system when in fact, the safety impact was likely due to automatic emergency braking and forward collision warning.

Testing for the safety of lane-keeping systems is more challenging than other crash-avoidance systems, because it must be actively engaged by the driver as opposed to constantly monitoring for danger, like an imminent forward crash. Not everyone with lane-keeping systems engages them, and even those who do don't engage them on every journey.

Studies that look at actual telematics data from cars, which would accurately record when such systems are turned on, would help better answer this question, according to the study. And even then, the benefit is likely to be small—only 6 percent of police-reported crashes in the US "were run-off-road or same-direction sideswipes resulting from unintentional lane departures, or rear-ends, that occurred on interstate highways," Cicchino wrote.

"With no clear evidence that partial automation is preventing crashes, users and regulators alike should not confuse it for a safety feature," Cicchino said in a press release. "At a minimum, safeguards like those IIHS promotes through its rating program are essential to reduce the risks that drivers will zone out or engage in other distracting activities while partial automation is switched on."

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FBI Stats Show Crime Still Declining, Despite The Assertions Of Alarmists And Political Opportunists


There’s a large contingent of people who want you to believe each successive year is worse than the last one. Despite being the beneficiary of a two-decade run of historically low crime rates, the United States is often portrayed as a crime-ridden wasteland where only the bravest dare to police the mean streets.

This year is no different. Opportunists and alarmists are claiming crime rates are spiking again, backing up these assertions by pointing to highly local anomalies. They then make this worse by conjuring up their favorite ideological boogeymen to support their claims about the Dangerous States of America.

They claim “progressive” prosecutors are increasing crime rates by not prosecuting enough low-level crimes and prosecuting too many police officers. That claim might make sense if there were actually enough “progressive” prosecutors to have this sort of effect. But there are thousands of prosecutors across the nation, ranging from the county to the federal level and only a couple dozen of them could generously be considered to be “progressive.”

They also claim “defunding” law enforcement agencies has led to spikes in crimes because there’s not enough money being spent on cops. This, again, is bullshit. There has been no serious “defunding” of any law enforcement agency anywhere. At most, some funds have been diverted to support the formation of units composed of mental health professionals to handle distress calls cops probably shouldn’t be handling anyway.

Then there’s the most ridiculous supporting argument for their false claims: cops aren’t doing their jobs because the public just doesn’t deserve their help. This is pretty much just blaming the victims. But the origin of this theory goes back to the cops themselves. An unjustified killing is often met with protests. Protests lead to legislators temporarily pretending to care about police accountability. Lots of stuff gets said. Every so often, a bill that barely changes the accountability status quo gets passed. A bunch of cop union reps say dumb things about cops being “unfairly targeted.” And then cops just stop doing their job because… they were threatened with, at most, a mild increase in accountability. TL;DR: cops won’t do their actual jobs if they’re not being showered with unconditional love from the public.

All of these arguments are stupid. And none of them can support the theory the country is descending into a new period of historically high crime rates.

You know what else doesn’t support this theory? Actual crime rates. The latest edition of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report has been released. And it shows across-the-board drops in violent crime rates.

A comparison of data from agencies that voluntarily submitted at least two or more common months of data for January through March 2023 and 2024 indicates reported violent crime decreased by 15.2 percent. Murder decreased by 26.4 percent, rape decreased by 25.7 percent, robbery decreased by 17.8 percent, and aggravated assault decreased by 12.5 percent. Reported property crime also decreased by 15.1 percent.

Now, there are caveats, of course. And some of those will be used by tough-on-crime opportunists to justify their latest fusillade of misinformation to score points with constituents or further their anti-criminal justice reform theories.

As the FBI notes, only 72% of the nation’s law enforcement agencies contributed to this report, so there’s still a lot of crime that hasn’t been reported to the FBI. Whether or not that would change the overall percentages is unknown, but this is not a completely comprehensive view of the nation’s crime rates.

On top of that, the FBI drastically altered how crimes were reported in 2021. This has led to less participation as local agencies get used to the new reporting requirements. It also means some crimes are being categorized incorrectly, which may result in under-reporting or over-reporting of certain types of crimes.

That being said, the UCR has never had a 100% participation rate. It’s always been much lower than that. And the add-on to this FBI reporting — use-of-force reporting — has been significantly lower since its inception more than two decades ago.

There’s reason to question what’s reported by those participating, as well. It’s not unusual for law enforcement agencies to polish stats, either to make their efforts look more useful than they are or to demonstrate spikes in crimes that might be useful when annual budgets are being discussed.

Like anything else, this reporting involves thousands of people with their own motivations and their own ability to generate clerical errors.

That being said, it has historically been used to provide a useful snapshot of crime rate trends. And for that reason, despite its drawbacks, there’s little reason to believe the decreases reported by the FBI are so off the mark, they can’t possibly be trusted. This is a straight-up year-to-year comparison utilizing the same reporting requirements and with basically the same amount of participation as last year’s reporting. So if the reporting is flawed, at least this year-to-year comparison involves similarly flawed data sets.

This is not to say there aren’t places in the United States where crime rates are going up. But it’s unhelpful, if not actually untruthful, to claim the US is becoming increasingly dangerous. It simply isn’t. And after two decades of historically low crime rates, we should probably expect a slight shift back towards the mean. But anyone telling you the country’s in worse shape than it’s ever been is trying to sell you something.

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The coming storm, part 2

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Almost exactly six months ago I blogged in The Coming Storm about how 2024 looked like a "somewhat disruptive" year. Hoo, boy!

Let's recap point by point from that piece.

Taiwan was first on 13th January and elected the incumbent VP as new President. Beijing was Not Pleased, but nothing Taiwan can do will please Beijing this decade short of rolling over and petitioning for admission, so there's that. There have been heightened tensions in the South China sea, but again: not unexpected. No invasions, anyway, which is ... well, there are worse outcomes.

Finland. Finland now has a crapsack right-wing coalition in office, with far-right representation at ministerial level. Hasn't U-turned on NATO and Putin, though, and no disastrous economic news outside of the usual to-be-expected-from-the-harsh-right austerity bullshit.

Pakistan, Indonesia—elections didn't cause massive shockwaves outside their borders. (Or maybe I'm reading the wrong news.)

The United Kingdom underwent a generational political upheaval and although the outcome is not yet clear (it's been less than two weeks!) it looks like a comprehensive reboot of foreign policy is in progress, with the UK cosying up to the EU and pushing for rearmament in the face of Russia. Other areas of politics are in flux. Some of the past government's culture war flagships are in disarray: for example, the new government cancelled the program of deporting refugees to Rwanda on day one, and is now moving to introduce a refugee visa and immigration quotas. (Which is surprisingly uncontroversial, exposing how much of the hysteria over refugees was ginned up by their predecessors to support a political agenda.) Other areas are less hopeful: the new Health Secretary, Wes Streeting, is a notorious transphobe, and the transphobic policies of the previous government seem likely to continue for now.

President Macron of France surprised everyone by throwing his toys out of the pram and declaring a snap election. In the first round of the run-off Marine Le Pen's fascists did worryingly well, prompting everyone on the left to form a united front and—surprising everybody—emerged as the largest block in parliament, ahead of the centrist group supporting Macron, with the fash in third place. Which is good, but leaves open for now the question of who's going to form a government (presumably a coalition, with policies to the left of its predecessor).

And then there's the United States, which appears to be in the process of shitting the bed.

I am not going to provide a discussion thread for US politics. It's a side-show, and a discussion-killer for everyone else. Comments on current US presidential politics will be deleted.

What is becoming increasingly clear, however, is this: we're living through a once-a-century energy economy transition, from fossil fuels to renewables. Some time in 2019-2021, the number of jobs on renewables exceeded traditional fossil extraction employment for the first time; the political lobbying clout of the new energy sector is still trailing that of the fossil incumbents by a long way but it's growing rapidly. (Hint: elected politicians like industries that can deliver jobs for their voters. It gives them a tangible value proposition to justify re-election.) Meanwhile, climate change is gathering pace alarmingly, with record-setting high intensity storms unprecedentedly early in the hurricane season, and lethal heat events occurring in India and elsewhere.

The financial value of a fossil fuel industry is a function not just of the current spot price of their energy assets, but of how much their reserves in the ground will be worth in future. And most of the oil multinationals' value lies in their reserves. If we transition away from oil and gas, never mind coal, that hits the share price before the transition takes place because the markets will discount the future value of those reserves. So the trad energy industries are running scared.

This is the big underlying picture behind a bunch of disparate phenomena. Russia's invasion of Ukraine? Ukr has some of the largest untapped gas reserves in Asia (never mind the grain harvest, never mind the long history of political animosity between Muscovy and Kiev), and Russia is above all else a resource extraction economy right now—Putin failed to reorient the Russian economy after 2001 and is stuck in the 20th century model.

Wonder why China (the #1 installer of PV panels worldwide right now) is building EV factories like crazy, while US politicians are intervening to block imports of EVs and right wing politicians are threatening to ban them completely? Hint: the energy incumbents don't like electric cars and trucks (which can be charged up by consumer-owned PV panels without paying rent to Exxon or Shell). Never mind the moribund US car industry, which has gone all-in on selling ridiculously heavy luxury vehicles (they're more profitable than economic compact cars) and can't compete but can throw money at politicians to kneecap their rivals.

Wonder what's up with Saudi Arabia? Prince Bonesaw isn't an idiot and realizes he's going to live most of his life in the post-oil age. So he's trying to modernize—haphazardly and inconsistently, but at least he's trying to change the basics of his economy to be less dependent on oil exports.

And so on.

Anyway, the unexpected news this year seems to be that:

a. We're witnessing a revolution in military affairs field-tested in Ukraine, as a shift to drone warfare iterates through technology generations like aviation during the first world war, and has demonstrated the vulnerability of massed armour-led combined arms advances to smart weaponry (that is: conventional blitzkrieg is dead).

b. "AI" is the new cryptocurrency—it has turned into a hype bubble with eye-watering rapidity, and the snake oil salesmen are out in force. While there are undoubtedly some useful applications of LLMs, even Goldman Sachs have realized that it's being overhyped and oversold. Even the people we'd expect to know better (like Microsoft!) are stepping in bear traps.

c. We're surrounded by the signs of pervasive low-level brain damage on every side. Having come through an acute pandemic wave of COVID19 in 2020, governments everywhere now seem to be in denial that the pandemic is ongoing—and we have vaccines that diminish the acute impact of the virus from life-threatening to merely "a bad cold". But it's not a bad cold! It causes widespread inflammation throughout the lining of the blood vessels, including the brain's circulatory system. Cognitive damage is apparent and is one of the symptoms of long COVID: it causes symptoms ranging from stroke and Parkinsonism to dyscalcula and even dementia. If you've noticed poor, erratic, or angry driving in the past couple of years, road manners are one of the more evident signs of what's going on. Cars are a proxy for bodies in public space and elderly drivers are notoriously bad; we're now seeing a lot of aggressive, oblivious, and inexplicably bad driving behaviour routinely, and an uptick in accident rates. There may be other less obvious side-effects: I suspect the angry political discourse is to some extent inflamed by the brain inflammation of the folks who think COVID19 is over.

d. Climate tipping points appear to be arriving earlier than forecast, and much harder. It seems likely that we're going to lose the Greenland ice sheet and most of the north polar ice sheet within the decade, and a good chunk of the Antarctic ice cap not long after. Don't buy real estate in Florida without checking how much insurance will cost you: unlike Ron DeSantis, the insurance companies can't ignore sea level change. And this also goes for buying real estate on the coast of the Bay of Bengal ...

What else should we be paying attention to?

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This Might Be The Most Baller Parking Job Of All Time

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Adrian Newey is one of the most famous engineers in all of the world. The man behind some of the most successful F1 cars ever, he was on hand at the Goodwood Festival of Speed to debut the Red Bull RB17, a 1,200 horsepower slot car from Red Bull Advanced Technologies that was designed under Newey and  will cost about $7.5 million a pop. What does one drive to the debut of their own wild hypercar? The other wild hypercar they built.

The Aston Martin Valkyrie was a $3.4 million tie-up between Aston Martin and Red Bull, with numerous similarities to the RB17, including a high-revving Cosworth-sourced engine, hybrid powertrain, extreme aerodynamics, and an almost impossibly small cockpit. It is the first car not from a partnership.

There are a few differences, however, including the fact that the RB17 is decidedly track-only. Unless you’re the big cheese in some sultanate, you can only drive an RB17 on private roads. The sold-out Valkyrie, however, is a little different. It was designed and built for the road, featuring some delightful details like a legally required CHIMSL (safety light) that’s only large enough to fit the CE (Certified in Europe) logo and a front badge that’s extraordinarily thin (40 microns thick) and made out of aluminum.

As one of the designers of the car, Newey scored his own version of the car and decided to drive it to Goodwood. This isn’t a huge surprise as one of the pastimes of the Goodwood Festival of Speed is to show up in the wildest car imaginable. There were rare Zagato twin-tails,  steam-powered trucks, and even a turbo diesel Chrysler Voyager. Cars you’d only expect to see in your dreams, driven on Southern England roads.

Aston Martin Valykrie 5.49.51 Am Large

Newey’s Valkyrie was legit dirty. Road-crusted. A work of art that’s somehow more real because it’s been covered in street grime and not, as supercars are at most events of this type, waxed to a degree usually reserved for Only Fans. That’s not the Goodwood spirit. This isn’t a place for trailer queens.

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“This really defines Goodwood… get your supercar dirty,” Beau said, as he nibbled his delicious ice cream in front of Newey’s car. (Side note: The other thing that defines Goodwood is a preponderance of establishments selling ice cream. There are three ice cream trucks/stalls/gelaterias for every person. It’s still cold here!)

But all those road-driven super/hyper/sports cars are usually parked in the tony Ton Club parking area, the supercar paddock, or even in the Red Bull paddock. Newey didn’t park in any of those places. Nope. According to witnesses, he literally just drove his exceedingly rare, barely road-legal Aston right up to a wide spot of sidewalk in front of the Singer display and the Veuve Clicquot tent.

Aston Martin Valykrie 5.50.02 Am Large

He then tossed a parking pass on the planchette-sized dash and walked to the press conference with Gordon Ramsey, Christian Horner, and hundreds of rabid fans.

That is remarkable. So far as I could tell, he had the normal gate access pass that we had for our Renault van.  There are approximately as many security guards as there are ice cream shacks and none of them are too impressed by most vehicles, almost gleefully stopping Ferraris and telling them to turnaround.

That Newey was able to just casually park in front of a bunch of paid stands with nothing more than a hastily placed gate pass and assume that his car wouldn’t get messed with was quite impressive and goes to show just how much status you get when your cars when 14 world championships.

Aston Martin Valykrie 5.49.36 Am Large

It doesn’t hurt that the car is spectacular.

The post This Might Be The Most Baller Parking Job Of All Time appeared first on The Autopian.

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To help with climate change, carbon capture will have to evolve

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Image of a facility filled with green-colored tubes.

Enlarge / Bioreactors that host algae would be one option for carbon sequestration—as long as the carbon is stored somehow. (credit: Getty Images)

More than 200 kilometers off Norway’s coast in the North Sea sits the world’s first offshore carbon capture and storage project. Built in 1996, the Sleipner project strips carbon dioxide from natural gas—largely made up of methane—to make it marketable. But instead of releasing the CO2 into the atmosphere, the greenhouse gas is buried.

The effort stores around 1 million metric tons of CO2 per year—and is praised by many as a pioneering success in global attempts to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Last year, total global CO2 emissions hit an all-time high of around 35.8 billion tons, or gigatons. At these levels, scientists estimate, we have roughly six years left before we emit so much CO2 that global warming will consistently exceed 1.5° Celsius above average preindustrial temperatures, an internationally agreed-upon limit. (Notably, the global average temperature for the past 12 months has exceeded this threshold.)

Phasing out fossil fuels is key to cutting emissions and fighting climate change. But a suite of technologies collectively known as carbon capture, utilization and storage, or CCUS, are among the tools available to help meet global targets to cut CO2 emissions in half by 2030 and to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. These technologies capture, use or store away CO2 emitted by power generation or industrial processes, or suck it directly out of the air. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body charged with assessing climate change science, includes carbon capture and storage among the actions needed to slash emissions and meet temperature targets.

Governments and industry are betting big on such projects. Last year, for example, the British government announced 20 billion pounds (more than $25 billion) in funding for CCUS, often shortened to CCS. The United States allocated more than $5 billion between 2011 and 2023 and committed an additional $8.2 billion from 2022 to 2026. Globally, public funding for CCUS projects rose to $20 billion in 2023, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), which works with countries around the world to forge energy policy.

Given the urgency of the situation, many people argue that CCUS is necessary to move society toward climate goals. But critics don’t see the technology, in its current form, shifting the world away from oil and gas: In a lot of cases, they point out, the captured CO2 is used to extract more fossil fuels in a process known as enhanced oil recovery. They contend that other existing solutions such as renewable energy offer deeper and quicker CO2 emissions cuts. “It’s better not to emit in the first place,” says Grant Hauber, an energy finance adviser at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, a nonpartisan organization in Lakewood, Ohio.

What’s more, fossil fuel companies provide funds to universities and researchers—which some say could shape what is studied and what is not, even if the work of individual scientists is legitimate. For these reasons, some critics say CCUS shouldn’t be pursued at all.

“Carbon capture and storage essentially perpetuates fossil fuel reliance. It’s a distraction and a delay tactic,” says Jennie Stephens, a climate justice researcher at Northeastern University in Boston. She adds that there is little focus on understanding the psychological, social, economic, and political barriers that prevent communities from shifting away from fossil fuels and forging solutions to those obstacles.

According to the Global CCS Institute, an industry-led think tank headquartered in Melbourne, Australia, of the 41 commercial projects operational as of July 2023, most were part of efforts that produce, extract, or burn fossil fuels, such as coal- and gas-fired power plants. That’s true of the Sleipner project, run by the energy company Equinor. It’s the case, too, with the world’s largest CCUS facility, operated by ExxonMobil in Wyoming, in the United States, which also captures CO2 as part of the production of methane.

Granted, not all CCUS efforts further fossil fuel production, and many projects now in the works have the sole goal of capturing and locking up CO2. Still, some critics doubt whether these greener approaches could ever lock away enough CO2 to meaningfully contribute to climate mitigation, and they are concerned about the costs.

Others are more circumspect. Sally Benson, an energy researcher at Stanford University, doesn’t want to see CCUS used as an excuse to carry on with fossil fuels. But she says the technology is essential for capturing some of the CO2 from fossil fuel production and usage, as well as from industrial processes, as society transitions to new energy sources. “If we can get rid of those emissions with carbon capture and sequestration, that sounds like success to me,” says Benson, who codirects an institute that receives funding from fossil fuel companies.

Born from the oil industry

CCUS technology was not conceived as a climate solution. It dates to the 1970s and 1980s, when oil production in the United States began to decline. Oil companies started using a process called enhanced oil recovery that injects CO2 (or water) into sedimentary rocks to recover hard-to-reach dregs of oil, a precursor to today’s CCUS.

CCUS technologies are now capturing CO2 from a variety of operations—including at traditional power plants that burn coal or other fossil fuels; in nontraditional plants where energy is produced from biofuels such as ethanol; and during the production of ammonia, which is used in fertilizer. All such efforts complement other practices that turn to natural processes to remove carbon from the atmosphere to help reach net zero, such as planting forests or locking CO2 in soils using sustainable farming practices.

The strongest criticisms are lobbed at using CCUS to extract fossil fuels. Today nearly three-quarters of the carbon captured through CCUS projects is used to extract more oil from dregs. The largest CCUS operation, ExxonMobil’s $656 million Shute Creek facility in Wyoming, aims to capture around 8 million tons of CO2 each year from methane extracted from the nearby LaBarge gas fields. ExxonMobil sells the captured CO2 for enhanced oil recovery. Though the effort cuts emissions because some of the CO2 remains in the ground, the burning of the additional fossil fuels it helps extract still releases CO2.

Just 12 of the 41 existing projects included in the Global CCS Institute database inject CO2 with the exclusive aim of storing it underground, thus keeping its climate-warming effects at bay. Half of those 12, including the Sleipner project, are involved in methane production—and methane releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when burned.

Cement manufacturing and iron and steel manufacturing are also desirable targets for CCUS, because each produces around 6 percent to 9 percent of global CO2 emissions, and both processes are difficult to clean up in other ways. Only one project, run by the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, is capturing CO2 emissions from iron and steelmaking. There are no projects up and running to capture CO2 from cement manufacturing.

The Global CCS Institute’s database includes just a single fully operational, large-scale project that is currently sucking CO2 directly from the air and storing it underground. That project, in Hellisheiði, Iceland, is run by the Swiss company Climeworks. Another, bigger Climeworks project recently started operations but is not yet completed.

But the database omits direct air capture projects that are doing other things with the CO2, including one that is sealing it in concrete, and omits smaller-scale and pilot projects that are online or coming online.

A decade ago in a paper in the Annual Review of Environment and Resources, Benson and Heleen de Coninck, a climate change researcher at the Eindhoven University of Technology and Radboud University in the Netherlands, wrote that, to help mitigate climate change, CCUS needs to serve more than fossil fuel companies seeking to extract oil. In the decade since, Benson notes, CCUS has been slow to expand into other areas largely because of a lack of public policies supporting the technologies, such as government subsidies for new projects or a tax on CO2 emissions that would make it cheaper to sequester than to emit it. However, she notes, this is now changing.

Looking to the future

CCUS may be poised to turn a corner. As of July 2023, 351 new commercial-scale CCUS projects were in the works, according to the Global CCS Institute. Many of these forthcoming projects will capture CO2 with the exclusive goal of burying it underground rather than using it to squeeze out more oil. Around 22 of the projects are aimed at capturing CO2 at cement plants and five will capture CO2 directly from the air and store it underground. Still, a connection with fossil fuels remains: Around 30 will serve methane production, and others are planned for carbon capture at coal- and gas-fired power plants.

Even with this new bloom of projects, it’s not clear that the technology has a large part to play in solving our climate woes, says Sean O’Leary, a senior researcher in energy and economics at the Ohio River Valley Institute, a clean-energy think tank based in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

Current and future projects are unlikely to capture carbon in sufficient quantities to make much of a dent on global emissions, O’Leary says. Estimates suggest that existing projects could capture around 50 million tons of CO2 annually—cutting the more than 35 billion tons of gross global carbon emissions by around 0.14 percent. Once all 392 projects are online, they could capture a few hundred million tons — about 1 percent of carbon emissions. Estimates of how much carbon CCUS needs to capture to help achieve climate goals vary widely between 1 billion and 30 billion tons annually by 2050.

A recent analysis suggests that at least 5 billion tons annually is achievable. The research, not yet published, limits CCUS growth to an average of 20 percent per year until 2050 for most cases. “That’s a major contribution to climate mitigation,” says Samuel Krevor, an environmental engineer at Imperial College London and a lead author of the research. Krevor, like many researchers in the field, receives some funding from fossil fuel companies.

But Hauber says the contribution is likely to be minor relative to other climate solutions, including shifting to renewable energy and planting and maintaining forests to help store away CO2 from the atmosphere. Using data from the IPCC, Hauber and colleagues calculate that by 2030, CCUS will provide just 2.4 percent of all emissions reductions.

What’s more, projects rarely meet their stated goals. An analysis by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis of 13 key CCUS projects, published in 2022, found that most failed to reach their targets. Relying on publicly available data, the analysis found, for example, that the Shute Creek facility has underperformed by 36 percent over its lifetime. When there were fewer customers for the captured CO2, the analysis finds, the facility released it into the atmosphere. A facility in Decatur, Illinois, run by Archer Daniels Midland, an agribusiness based in Chicago, was nearly 50 percent off its annual target at the end of 2020.

An ExxonMobil spokesperson said the company has made progress since the report, noting that the company has expanded CO2 storage capacity at its Shute Creek facility by over 1 million metric tons annually. And a spokesperson for Archer Daniels Midland said that how much CO2 it captures and stores depends on how much biofuel it produces. The company’s Decatur facility is looking at different strategies to decarbonize its operations including capturing CO2 produced by a new gas power plant that will provide energy for the company’s biofuel facility.

It’s also unclear how much CO2 capacity underground storage sites possess. Most global estimates suggest that between 10,000 billion and 30,000 billion tons of underground storage is available. Some estimates put it as a high as 55,000 billion tons. But Chris Greig, a chemical engineer at Princeton University who previously worked on a CCUS project for the fossil fuel industry, notes that those volumes could be way off. Assessments are based on estimates of the pore space in different geologic formations — those pores provide open spaces that can hold CO2—which gives only a rough picture, he says: “Subsurface storage is by nature uncertain.”

Such uncertainties have caused projects to veer off course, including a $2.7 billion project to separate CO2 from methane in gas fields in In Salah, Algeria, and store it 1.9 kilometers underground. The energy company Equinor and its partners started injecting CO2 there in 2004 with the aim of storing 1.1 million tons annually. But it suspended operations because of limits in underground capacity, according to an Equinor spokesperson. There were concerns that the gas was escaping up toward the cap rock, which acts as a final safety net sealing the CO2 in place.

On top of the uncertainty, money is a problem. Some skeptics say that the costs of building and operating CCUS projects ultimately make them unviable. According to 2019 data from the IEA, the costs of capturing CO2 range from $15 to $120 per ton, depending on how dilute the gas stream is. Cost estimates for capturing CO2 directly from the air, where it is very dilute, typically vary between $225 and $500 per ton, with some estimates as high as $1,000 per ton. Multiply that price tag by even a small portion of the 1 billion tons of CO2 that the IPCC says needs to be removed from the atmosphere by 2050, and the costs quicky add up.

Some experts point out that these costs will likely go down as the technologies mature and if the market increases, though not necessarily on the same scale as the dramatic costs reductions seen for solar and wind power technology. For example, the IEA notes that costs for CO2 capture from coal-fired power plants dropped from over $100 per ton in 2014 to $65 per ton in 2017, and it estimates that in projects built from 2025 to 2027, the cost will be around $45 per ton.

Partly because of the costs, CCUS should be prioritized for cases where there are no other reasonable approaches to reducing CO2 emissions, says Sabine Fuss, a climate economist at the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change and at Humboldt University of Berlin. She does, though, see a potential role for direct air capture despite its expense. And while researchers are divided on the feasibility of direct air capture, Fuss thinks it needs to be funded regardless. If the world overshoots its climate targets, she says, we will likely need this technology to reach net-zero emissions and forestall even worse effects of climate change.

How big a role CCUS will eventually need to play is up to us and what we do now, Fuss says. But given the uncertainties, we can’t continue to burn fossil fuels and release carbon and count on CCUS to clean it up afterward. “We have to do all that we can to reduce emissions in the short to medium term rather than rely on CO2 removals in the longer run,” she says.

This article originally appeared in Knowable Magazine, a nonprofit publication dedicated to making scientific knowledge accessible to all. Sign up for Knowable Magazine’s newsletter.


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the purpose of a system is you can't always get what you want


I am, I think, finally realising that the “POSIWID” principle is more trouble than it’s worth.  It’s a great slogan, and I don’t think I’m going to stop using it occasionally.  But it seems to cause lots and lots of confusion, and if that’s what it does, then … well, it’s not really available to argue that this is unfair, or the fact that it’s systematically achieving a result other than the one intended can be ignored.

So I’m going to have one more go at explaining what POSIWID really means, then give up.

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OK, to start with (and one of my main reasons for giving up on it), “The Purpose Of A System Is What It Does”, although it’s a fun thing to say, isn’t a fundamental principle of cybernetics at all.  It is not even an axiom of Stafford Beer’s own model, the Viable Systems Model.  What it is (as I started writing in a previous post) is a heuristic to try to explain to people how to draw the black boxes and go about applying the model.

It's important that this is a heuristic that’s only to be used in the context of something that’s at least potentially a viable system.  So, for example, if you have an air conditioning unit that’s emitting black smoke, you can’t say “the purpose of this air conditioning unit is to emit black smoke”, because it’s not an ongoing system that’s going to be allowed to keep doing that.  One of the big misconceptions that the POSIWID slogan fosters is that it should always be (but rarely is) mentally expanded to “the purpose of a system is what it systematically does, on an ongoing basis, with the permission of the other systems which form its environment”.

And that last clause about the other systems is really important.  Immediately after coining the POSIWID phrase in Diagnosing the System, Beer emphasises that the “purpose” of the system you are analysing is always going to be a compromise with other systems in which it is embedded.

So, for example, a (kind and clever) reviewer of my book applied the principle to his train journey and concluded that “the purpose of the [British] rail network is to disincentivise people from making train journeys”.  Is he right?

Well, to start with, we can definitely say that the purpose of the British railway system isn’t “to provide comfortable and affordable rail travel to everyone who wants to use it”.  As Beer says, it’s just not sustainable to claim that the purpose of something is an outcome that it almost never achieves.

(Of course, this is the other big source of confusion – the use of “purpose” language, which sounds like it’s attributing mental states, to systems which don’t have any mental states.  As I’ve said before, I think this is defensible because sentences like “the purpose of a screwdriver is to drive screws” seem to make sense. But it causes a bit of a lurching sensation in a lot of people.  One thing that’s very important to remember here is that POSIWID is not meant to be a claim about the universe – it’s a heuristic for deciding what information needs to be taken into account.  The whole business of cybernetic, and any other kind of, modelling is to decide what features of the world you’re going to pay attention to and ignore.  The step logically prior to POSIWID is “a variable needs to be taken into account if a change in that variable has the potential to affect the system’s purpose”, which raises the question “how do you define that purpose”. I’ll come back to this in a couple of paragraphs).

So, “the purpose of the rail network is to disincentivise people from making train journeys”, true or not?  Well, in my view more true than not true, but you have to be super clear what system you are analysing.  Lots of individual people working on the trains have the purpose of “driving it to Manchester on time”, “selling crisps”, “giving information to the passengers” and so on.  But each individual train is embedded in a system which has the purpose of “run the timetabled journeys safely”, which in turn is embedded in a system with the purpose “set a timetable consistent with the available resources”, which is embedded in a system to “balance the demand for rail travel with the politically sustainable subsidy”.

You could do a lot more work on identifying those systems and being more clear and rigorous about what they do, but the point is that the part of the rail network you interact with has to compromise its own priorities with those of the higher levels.  Given past decisions about investment and current decisions about subsidy, its does indeed, to a large extent have to disincentivise people from making the train journeys they might prefer to make if the constraints were different.  And that is a steady state for the rail network, so I think it’s right to say that the purpose of the consumer-facing part of the system is to act as a rationing system for rail journeys. 

Which affects the kind of information you might consider relevant to collect in analysing that system (this is the bit that I’m coming back to from two paragraphs ago).  For one thing, if you understand that the British rail system is a rationing system, you’ll be less inclined to compare the cost of a journey from Cardiff to London with a journey from Brest to Paris.  You wouldn’t post a photo on social media saying “this train in Denmark is nice and empty and the journey only cost £4, why is my commuter train from Surbiton three times the price and horribly overcrowded?”.  And conversely, you would start regarding a whole load of other information about electoral geography and politics as much more relevant to the higher levels of the British system than similar considerations might be to the SBB.

So anyway – POSIWID.  As you can see, I think it can be defended and I think it’s important.  But it’s complicated and confusing, and management cybernetics has enough problems getting off the ground.  So I think it’s adieu from me – I’ll try not to use it so much in future.

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